Meriwether Lewis (Virtual Show – Online Zoom)

Event details

  • July 13, 2020
  • 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
  • Virtual event
  • (864) 596-3503

 View Map  |  Cost: Free

Meriwether Lewis, presented by Ken Johnston

Get ready for the most famous Road Trip in American history – the Lewis & Clark Expedition!
With the near doubling of its nominal territory by the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the United States needed to find out just what President Thomas Jefferson had bought by putting “boots on the ground” – the boots of Captain Meriwether Lewis and his Corps of Discovery. Take part in a conversation with Captain Lewis in September of 1806 as he returns from over two years of scientific discovery, diplomacy with Native Nations aided by the translator Sacagawea and the African American slave York, mapping immense geographic expanses, and surviving several scrapes with death – all part of the adventure of a lifetime!

Who was Meriwether Lewis? He was a brilliant young man who dined most every night with President Thomas Jefferson. He delivered Jefferson’s State of the Union addresses to Congress. He led a military/commercial/scientific expedition up the Missouri, across the Rockies to the end of Land and back again. He and his men crossed an uncharted land inhabited by hostile and unknown nations and only once fired their guns in anger. In two years, he lost only one man. Some say he was being groomed to become President, and was assassinated. Some say he committed suicide. “Meet” him at Virtual Chautauqua Monday July 13 at 7pm and make up your own mind.

You’ll laugh – you’ll be challenged – you’ll have lots of questions. And “Captain Meriwether Lewis” will answer them. Nationally acclaimed historical interpreter Ken Johnston creates a compelling portrayal that reveals Meriwether Lewis not only as a brilliant commander, dedicated scientist, consummate frontiersman and savvy businessman, but also as a troubled soul.

Please register in advance for this FREE Online event. (Meeting room capacity is 300.) Everyone who registers for the meeting will receive a link to a recording of the program which will be available to view for one week.


After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing additional information about joining the meeting

This event is presented by the Spartanburg County Public Libraries.

Ken Johnston

Mr. Johnston graduated from LaGrange College, receiving the Ingrid Bergman Scholarship and the Irene Arnett Drama Award. He has done Museum Theatre and Historic Character Interpretation for Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, the Smithsonian’s National Archives, National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of American HistoryEnglish Heritage-UK, and the Atlanta History Center. Mr. Johnston, a member of the Screen Actors Guild, has appeared on National Geographic Channel, History Channel, Food Network, PBS, and Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. He has performed Shakespeare, jousted, toured with a rock band in North America/Europe, and is Curator of Education at the Northeast Georgia History Center.

Ken has performed live for Chautauqua as Francis Marion, Banastre Tarleton, Patrick Henry and Daniel Morgan.

Explorer and soldier Meriwether Lewis was born on August 18, 1774, near Ivy, Virginia. His parents, Lt. William Lewis of Locust Hill and Lucy Meriwether, were of Welsh and English ancestry, respectively. After Lewis’ father died from pneumonia, his mother and step father, Captain John Marks, moved him and his siblings to Georgia in what is now Oglethorpe County.

Lewis spent his childhood in Georgia building his hunting skills and spending most of his time outdoors. However, once he reached his early teens, he would be called back to Virginia under the guardianship of his father’s brother, to be given a formal education through private tutors. He would go on to college, graduating from Liberty Hall (now Washington and Lee University) in 1793.

Lewis had five siblings: Reuben Lewis, Jane Lewis, Lucinda Lewis, and half-siblings John Hastings Marks and Mary Garland Marks, from his mother’s second marriage.

As a member of the state militia, Lewis helped to quell the Whiskey Rebellion, a Pennsylvania uprising led by farmers against taxes, in 1794. The next year he served with William Clark, a man who would later help him on one of the greatest expeditions of all time. Lewis joined the regular army and achieved the rank of captain. In 1801, he was asked by President Jefferson to act as his private secretary.

Jefferson soon made Lewis another offer — to lead an expedition into the lands west of the Mississippi. Already eager to know more about these lands, Jefferson’s interest in the area increased with purchase of more than 800 thousand square miles of territory from France in 1803, an acquisition known as the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson asked Lewis to gather information about the plants, animals and Native Americans of the region. Lewis jumped at the chance and selected his old Army friend William Clark to join him as co-commander of the expedition.

Lewis, Clark and the rest of their expedition began their journey near St. Louis, Missouri, in May 1804. This group — often called the Corps of Discovery by historians — faced nearly every obstacle and hardship imaginable on their trip. They braved dangerous waters and harsh weather and endured hunger, illness, injury and fatigue. Along the way, Lewis kept a detailed journal and collected samples of plants and animals he encountered.

Lewis and his expedition received assistance in their mission from many of the native people they met during their journey westward. The Mandans provided them with supplies during their first winter. It was during this time that expedition picked up two new members, Sacagawea and Toussaint Charbonneau. The two acted as interpreters for the expedition and Sacagawea — Charbonneau’s wife and a Shoshone Indian — was able to help get horses for the group later in the journey

The Corps of Discovery reached the Pacific Ocean in November of 1805. They built Fort Clatsop and spent the winter in present-day Oregon. On the way back in 1806, Lewis and Clark split up to explore more territory and look for faster routes home. Lewis and his men faced great danger when a group of Blackfeet Indians sought to steal from the corps in late July. Two Blackfeet were killed in the ensuing conflict.

The next month, Lewis was shot in the thigh by one of his own men during a hunt. Lewis and Clark and their two groups joined up again at the Missouri River and made the rest of the trek to St. Louis together. In total, the expedition traveled roughly 8,000 miles by boat, on foot and on horseback.

Traveling to Washington, Lewis and the other members of the expedition received a warm welcome from nearly every place they went. Many towns held special events to herald the explorers’ return as they passed through. Once reaching the nation’s capital, Lewis received payment for his courageous efforts. Along with his salary and 1,600 acres of land, he was named governor of the Louisiana Territory. Lewis also tried to publish the journals that he and Clark wrote during their great adventure. Always prone to dark moods, Lewis began to have a drinking problem and neglected his duties as governor.

Lewis died on October 11, 1809, at an inn near Nashville, Tennessee. He had been on his way to Washington, D.C., at the time. Most historians believe he committed suicide, while a few have contended that he was murdered. Lewis had no family of his own, never having found a wife or fathered children.

Despite his tragic end, Lewis helped change the face of the United States by exploring a vast unmapped territory — the American West. His work inspired many others to follow in his footsteps and created great interest in the region. Lewis also advanced scientific knowledge through his careful work detailing numerous plants and animals that were previously unknown to Europeans.

Quoted from:

August 8, 1775 – Meriwether Lewis is born near Ivy, VA

1793 – graduated Liberty Hall (Now Washington & Lee University)

1874 – as a member of the state militia helped to quell the Whiskey Rebellion and later served in with William Clark and joined the regular army and achieved rank of caption

1801 – 1803 secretary to President Thomas Jefferson

1804 – Jefferson asked Lewis to lead an expedition to information about the plants, animals and Native Americans of the region. Lewis jumped at the chance and selected his old Army friend William Clark to join him as co-commander of the expedition.

May 14, 1804 – Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery began their expedition near St. Louis, MO.

September 23, 1806 – After roughly 8,000 miles by boat, on foot and on horseback, Lewis and Clark return to St. Louis.

October 11, 1809 – At an inn near Nashville, TN Lewis dies under unusual circumstances.

“Of courage undaunted, possessing a firmness and perseverance of purpose which nothing but impossibilities could divert from its direction… I could have no hesitation in confiding the enterprise to him.” – Thomas Jefferson.


“Undaunted Courage” by Stephen Ambrose, 1996

“Meriwether Lewis : the assassination of an American hero and the silver mines of Mexico” by Kira Gale 2015

There are several editions of the Lewis and Clark journals.