By Laura Libert, Curator, The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania

Brothers Lewis and Clark

Their names are synonymous with exploration: Brothers Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809) and William Clark (1770-1838) are best known for their roles in the Corps of Discovery and its expedition to America's western frontier. Equally important, though often overlooked or simply forgotten, was the role that these two men played in establishing Freemasonry west of the Mississippi.

tot1thLewis joined the Fraternity in 1797 at the age of 23, receiving his degrees from Door to Virtue Lodge No. 44, Albemarle County, VA. Three years later, Lewis was appointed as President Jefferson's private secretary, and in 1803, at Jefferson's insistence, was chosen to command the expedition exploring the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase. Lewis asked William Clark, a 33 year-old lieutenant under whom Lewis had served at the battle of Fallen Timbers (1794), to serve as the principal military director of the expedition and to assist him with the tasks of mapping and documenting the new territory. Clark accepted the invitation and the two men and their crew set out in 1804 to explore the unknown. After two years of arduous traveling and adventure, the Corps triumphantly returned to St. Louis among rumors of their demise and downfall.

tot2thAfter the completion of the expedition, Congress made grants of land to all of the men who served in the Corps. Lewis was made governor of the Louisiana Territory, which at that time included all of the land from the purchase except for the present state of Louisiana. Clark resigned from the army in 1807 and officiated as an Indian agent until appointed by Congress as a brigadier general for the territory of Upper Louisiana.

Perhaps longing for the fraternal companionship that he had experienced in his youth, it was around this time, in 1808, that Lewis and several of his acquaintances began discussing the need for a Masonic Lodge in St. Louis. Determined to establish a Lodge, Lewis and his friends drew up and signed an application for dispensation and submitted it to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania1. In the petition dated Aug. 2, 1808, Lewis was nominated and recommended to serve as the first Master of the proposed Lodge2. The Grand Master of Pennsylvania, James Milnor, granted the Brothers' request and a warrant for Saint Louis Lodge No. 111 was issued on Sept. 16, 18083.

tot3thConceivably at the urging of Lewis, William Clark petitioned for membership and was accepted by Saint Louis Lodge No. 111. Unfortunately the records of his initiation do not exist, but on Sept. 18, 1809 (only one month prior to Lewis' death on October 8, 1809), Saint Louis Lodge No. 111 issued a traveling certificate for Clark. It is interesting to note, that since Saint Louis Lodge No. 111 was warranted under the authority of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, that Clark, for all technical intents and purposes, was a Pennsylvania Mason. Clark's Masonic involvement continued after Lewis' death, perhaps exemplified in his public acts more so than actual attendance of Lodge meetings. Clark permitted Missouri Lodge No. 12 (to which his membership transferred when Saint Louis Lodge No. 111 returned its warrant to the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 1815) to meet for several years on the second floor of a house that he had built. Upon his death on Sept. 1, 1838, Clark was buried with Masonic honors and a Masonic monument was erected over his grave.

Now, as the 200th anniversary of the expedition approaches, let us remember these two great American explorers for their many contributions: in documenting the great unknown of the western frontier and for helping to establish Freemasonry west of the Mississippi River.