First timer? In this once-a-day blog, I have my computer select a random latitude and longitude that puts me somewhere in the continental United States. I call this “landing.” I keep track of the watersheds I land in, as well as the towns I land near. I do some internet research to hopefully find out something of interest about my landing location. To find out more about A Landing A Day (like who “Dan” is, and what the various numbers and abbreviations mean), please check out “About Landing,” above.
Dan – I’ve got another pattern going. Let me see, it started with CA (US); WI (OS); AL (US); SD (OS); GA (US); MT (OS); followed by today’s USer . . . VA; 12/23 (amazingly US!); 6/10; 19; 165.0. My Score is as low as it has been since New Year’s Eve.
So, Dan, I landed closer to you than I ever have. (Landing Nation – Dan’s a student at the University of Richmond). But, (and this probably hurts you a little, Dan), I landed very close to what is undoubtedly the most famous college town in VA. That’s right, I landed just south of Charlottesville, home of that bastion of southern gentility, U VA. Dan, I don’t know how you feel about U VA, but just in case you feel disdain for them as a rival institution, I won’t feature them in this post (not that I necessarily would anyway).
Oh my! I got out of my usual rhythm here, mentioning the town first rather than the watershed. Well, getting back to business . . . I landed in a new watershed! The Rivanna River (I like the name), on to the James (2nd hit); on to the AO. My first landing in the James watershed was (get this!) back on September 29, 1999. That was landing 108, when I landed near Appomattox, which is about the same distance from Richmond as Charlottesville.
Anyway, here’s my landing map:
And here’s a broader view. Today’s landing is the one all by its lonesome right in the middle of the state.
This map gives you a feel for just how US VA is, and how it looks like the LG has been studiously avoiding VA in general, and central VA in particular. . .
So, Charlottesville. It’s a pretty big place, with about 45,000 people in the town proper (I don’t know if that includes the student population associated with that particular institution I’m not talking about). The greater Charlottesville area (which I suspect includes my landing) has a pop of about 90,000.
As you know, I prefer my small town landings – and then poking around the internet like I did yesterday for Lodge Grass. Nothing against Charlottesville, but I’m going to ignore the obvious (like U VA and Monticello). I’ll start with a couple of pictures of Carters Mountain, which, as you see on my landing map is just north of my landing (and just south of Charlottesville), and then move on to a fascinating story about an old friend . . .
First, Carters Mountain. Here’s a shot of the mountain:
And here’s a view of the mountain from a different perspective.
Here’s a shot looking out from the mountaintop:
The rest of this post will focus, as I said above, on an old friend who is oft-mentioned in A Landing A Day. It turns out that Meriwether Lewis was born just outside of Charlottesville!! Here’s a plaque commemorating his birth place:
Anyway, taking this opportunity to look at some general biographical information, I found out that Meriwether met an untimely and tragic end, and that there is some mystery surrounding the circumstances of his death.
I found a very interesting piece about Lewis’ death from “Dead Men Do Tell Tales“ .
Let me warn you that the following piece is way longer than the usual cut-and-paste you find in A Landing A Day. By way of explanation, I think this is well worth the read, and I also want to know that I’ve performed some serious editing to make this shorter and more readable (a service I’m more than happy to provide to my readers!):
In September 1806, the Lewis and Clark Expedition made a triumphal return to St. Louis after their two year and four month explorations. The men had crossed more than 6,000 miles of wilderness and arrived in the city to much celebration. After the celebration, Lewis departed for Washington, where he was welcomed into the home of President Jefferson and appointed as Governor of the Louisiana Territory.
Lewis went back to St. Louis to take over his duties as governor. Unfortunately for Meriwether, he soon found much to dislike about the office, such as sitting behind a desk all day long and dealing with politicians, which he despised.
In spite of this, he seemed to be the man for the job. He was well acquainted with the Louisiana Territory, and was an experienced military officer and popular in the city.
Although he enjoyed some early successes, Lewis became involved in several local quarrels and made an enemy of his subordinate, Frederick Bates. A heated argument at a party one night resulted in Bates humiliating Lewis in public. Bates soon became the governor’s tormentor, spreading rumors about Lewis and reporting any mistakes that Lewis made to his contacts in Washington.
Lewis’ administration began to fail and as it did, his personal life began to deteriorate as well. Ill-conceived land speculation deals drained his finances. He became careless about his clothing and his appearance. He began to drink too much, complaining that he was unable to sleep unless he took laudanum.
As he sunk more deeply into debt, he raved and fumed and wrote angry letters to Washington, becoming so ill with worry that he was often confined to his bed. He feared that his loyalty was being questioned and that he was being accused of treason. (His fears of treason were because some rebellious quarters were demanding that the Louisiana Territory secede from the Unite States, and he feared that his detractors were linking him with this movement.) He wrote letters, vowing that he was no traitor and had no involvement with the rebellious group.
Lewis decided to journey to Washington and defend himself against charges he believed had been leveled against him. He set out down the Mississippi in 1809, planning to travel by boat from New Orleans to Washington. But on reaching Memphis, he and his small party heard that British ships were patrolling the Gulf of Mexico. Fearing that he might fall into enemy hands, Lewis decided to make his way to Washington by land instead.
He decided to travel along the Natchez Trace, the rough and often dangerous wilderness trail across Tennessee that was the main overland route of the day. By most accounts, Lewis was in no condition to travel. His companions warned him that his health would not hold for the number of days in the saddle that it would take to reach Washington. Lewis could not be dissuaded. Major John Neely, the Cherokee Indian agent in Memphis, tried to talk Lewis out of the journey. When he failed, he decided to accompany him. They soon set out with Lewis complaining of terrible headaches and a fever.
On October 10, 1809, a torrential rainstorm fell on the party. The pack horses fled into the forest and Lewis’ servants went after them. Major Neely begged Lewis to ride to the home of the nearest white settlers on the trail, promising that he would help to find the pack horses and the records they carried. Lewis agreed and the wet and sick man rode to the home of John Grinder, located about 72 miles from Nashville.
The house served as an inn to other travelers along the Trace, so Mrs. Grinder graciously opened the door to him. A short time later, the servants arrived with the most of the pack horses and Mrs. Grinder prepared a meal for supper. Major Neely was absent, evidently still searching for other, still-missing animals and papers.
According to her account , Lewis ate little. He seemed very agitated and was heard talking to himself. He lit a pipe and then smoked it, pacing back and forth on the front lawn. She said that he ranted about his enemies in Washington. Then suddenly, he would calm down and speak quite kindly to her. She wasn’t sure what to think of her famous, yet quite strange, visitor. She prepared a bed for him, but he refused to sleep on it, preferring to make a pallet for himself on the floor with a buffalo robe. After that, Mrs. Grinder retired to bed with her children, but not before sending Lewis’ servants to sleep in the barn.
According to later testimony, Mrs. Grinder stated that she was awakened several times that night by the sound of Lewis walking back and forth, once again talking to himself. In the middle of the night, she heard the sound of a gunshot and then the sound of something heavy falling to the floor.
Immediately after that, she heard the sound of another gunshot and in a few moments, Lewis’ voice at her door. He called out to her. “Oh, Madame, give me some water and heal my wounds.” Through the chinks in the log walls, she saw him stagger and fall down. He crawled for some distance, raised himself up and then sat for a few minutes. He then staggered back to the kitchen and attempted to draw water, but was unable to.
Mrs. Grinder refused to leave the room where she had been sleeping and assist him, apparently fearing for her own safety. In fact, she waited nearly two hours before even sending her children to the barn to rouse the servants. They came inside and found Lewis on his pallet again. He had been wounded in the side and once in the head. The buffalo robe that he lay on was soaked with blood and Lewis was barely hanging on to life. He died just as the sun was rising over the trees.
Major Neely arrived later that morning. He took charge of Lewis’ papers and carried them the rest of the way to Washington.
Lewis was buried there on the property. The land now exists as the Meriwether Lewis State Park in Tennessee. According to Major Neely and the historians that have followed him, Lewis’ death was a suicide. The man had been deranged and drunk and took his own life in the Grinder cabin. But was this really the case? If Lewis did in fact kill himself, then why do so many questions remain? Why didn’t Mrs. Grinder come to the man’s assistance? Why didn’t Lewis’ servants hear the gunshots? Were they somehow involved in a crime… a murder, or a robbery gone bad?
Regardless, there were really no eyewitnesses to Lewis’ death, as even Mrs. Grinder did not see the shots being fired.
In fact, the belief that Lewis committed suicide rests only on accounts of his state of mind during his journey. For example, Gilbert Russell, commander at Fort Pickering in Memphis, testified that Lewis was ill, acting strangely and occasionally drunk soon after getting off the boat at Memphis. In fact, Russell arrested Lewis for drunkenness, and Lewis spent one night in the Fort Pickering jail.
While most historians accept the fact that Lewis did commit suicide, there have been many who have questioned this. They believe that his death may have been part of a far-reaching conspiracy.
If indeed the famed adventurer’s death was a murder plot, the main culprit behind it is believed to be General James Wilkinson, Lewis’ predecessor as governor. In 1804, Wilkinson had conspired with Aaron Burr to create their own “empire in the west” and had tried to extract money and weapons from both Britain and Spain. Wilkinson and Burr both escaped punishment, and in fact, Wilkinson returned to the post of governor of Louisiana after Lewis’ death.
It has been pointed out that Frederick Bates, who did much to sabotage Lewis’ career in St. Louis, was close to Wilkinson, and visited with him often in New Orleans, where Wilkinson was living. It is surmised that perhaps Lewis, who was known for his honesty and integrity, may have discovered new evidence against Wilkinson and planned to use it. It is even believed that this may have been the real purpose behind his trip to Washington and even why he chose to take an overland route instead of journeying by river. Lewis may not have been afraid of British ships in the Gulf, but the fact that Wilkinson was in New Orleans.
Could agents of Wilkinson have pursued Lewis? Some historians believe so. In fact, Captain Russell at Fort Pickering, who imprisoned Lewis and then testified that he had been drunk and deranged, had been appointed to his position by Wilkinson, as had Major Neely. Could the two men have testified falsely against Lewis after his death? Or more shocking, could Major Neely have actually assassinated Lewis and then disappeared, only to show up at the Grinder house the next morning?
Who knows? This mystery will undoubtedly never be solved . . .
Wow. Quite the story, eh? Here’s a picture of Meriwether’s grave stone, then a close-up of the inscription:
Here’s a plaque outside the site of the Grinder house, where the suicide/murder took place:
The next time I run into Lewis & Clark references (which seems to happen quite regularly), I’ll have a different perspective on Mr. Lewis . . .
One final note. You may have noticed that Meriwether took to the drug laudanum. You may remember that in my Spring Hill, Tennessee post, laudanum was also mentioned (a confederate Civil War general was taking laudanum and that may have contributed to bad judgement and a significant lost opportunity). Anyway, laudanum is an opium-laced elixir.
© 2009 A Landing A Day