Clark’s large Virginia family followed his older brothers into Kentucky where they had settled after fighting American Indians allied with the British during the American Revolution. At 19, he joined the militia of the Northwest Territory then embroiled in the Northwest Indian War, rising to the rank of adjutant and quartermaster. Several years after resigning his commission, Clark was invited by Captain Meriweather Lewis, President Jefferson’s personal secretary, to co-lead the U.S. Army Corps of Discovery, charged with exploring the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, establish trade with and sovereignty over the American Indian nations they encountered and assess the economic potential of America’s greatest territorial acquisition. From 1804-1806, Lewis and Clark led a Corps of men personally selected by Clark. During their groundbreaking journey from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Coast, the Corps established relations with about 50 indigenous nations and compiled detailed notes and maps while also collecting plant and animal specimens.
At expedition’s conclusion, Jefferson appointed Clark principal agent for Indian affairs in the Louisiana Territory, under the aegis of the War Department, at Clark’s headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri. From there, he used his newly acquired and extensive diplomatic experience to develop trade relations between the indigenous nations and the new influx of territorial settlers, channeled through government-owned trading houses or Indian factories. Under the factory system, the agent imported trade goods from military storehouses in the East to encourage the fur trade and increase reliance on the government.
“One of his biggest challenges was the administration of the Indian department, which had to deal with the control of trade with the Native peoples. Unscrupulous traders attempted to cheat both the Indians and the government in their attempt to make handsome profits for themselves. Clark was successful in controlling this trade, implementing a consistent policy for the next 30 years,” (“William Clark, Appointment to Indian Agent,” National Parks Service, https://www.nps.gov/articles/william-clark-appointment-to-indian-agent.htm). Our document lists goods Clark received from the military’s agent for the Middle Department William Linnard (1749-1835), a veteran of the battles of Brandywine and Germantown who oversaw transport of all goods to and throughout the Louisiana Territory during the time of Lewis and Clark’s famous expedition and afterward. Linnard later served as Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army during the War of 1812. Our document is also signed by George Ingels, who, since 1802, was Store Keeper of Military Supplies at Philadelphia’s Schuylkill Arsenal, famous for supplying Lewis and Clark at the outset of their expedition. In 1813, President James Madison appointed Clark territorial governor of Missouri, a post he held until 1820.
Our document lists “scalping knives” among the goods delivered for trade with the Indians. Although the practice of taking scalps as trophies proliferated during the American Indian Wars, scalping knives were, more generally, a simple knife manufactured for fur traders to trade with American Indians during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Folded and creased with nominal wear, otherwise in fine condition. Documents signed by Clark, relatively close to the conclusion of the historic Lewis and Clark expedition are rare.