After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned a team of explorers to map the newly acquired territory. The 45-member team led by Captain Meriwether Lewis and his close friend, Second Lieutenant William Clark, included officers, enlisted military personnel, civilian volunteers, and York, a body servant to Clark.
Born in 1770, York was the son of Old York and Rose, who were enslaved to John Clark III, William Clark’s father. During the Lewis and Clark Expedition, York experienced an unprecedented amount of freedom for a Black man during that time. He went on scouting trips and was active in trading with the Indigenous Arikara villages. Plus, when the team was deciding whether to stay over one winter, York’s vote was recorded in Clark’s journal. This made him the first Black man west of the Mississippi to have a recorded vote in anything. Finally, two of Clark’s discoveries during the expedition are named after York. This includes York’s Eight Islands and York’s Dry Creek.
- Parks, Shoshi. 2018. “York Explored the West with Lewis and Clark, But His Freedom Wouldn’t Come Until Decades Later.” Smithsonian Magazine.
- McRae, Matthew. (2021). “The Story of Africville.” Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
- Betts, Robert B. 2000. In search of York: the slave who went to the Pacific with Lewis and Clark. Boulder: University Press of Colorado. ISBN 0-87081-618-7.
- Clarke, Charles G. 2002. The men of the Lewis and Clark Expedition: a biographical roster of the fifty-one members and a composite diary of their activities from all known sources. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-6419-4.
- York Statue at Riverfront Plaza/Belvedere, Louisville, Kentucky. Wikimedia Commons.