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Undaunted Courage
Cover of Undaunted Courage
Undaunted Courage
Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Openin
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In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson selected his personal secretary, Captain Meriwether Lewis, to lead a voyage up the Missouri River to the Rockies, over the mountains, down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean and back. Lewis and his partner, Captain William Clark, endured incredible hardships and saw incredible sights.
In Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose has pieced together previously unknown information to provide a colorful and realistic backdrop for the expedition which is seen through Lewis's eyes.
Lewis is supported by a rich variety of colorful characters: Jefferson, whose interest in exploring and acquiring the American West went back thirty years; Clark, a rugged frontiersman whose love for Lewis matched Jefferson's; numerous Indian chiefs; the French and Spanish fur traders of St. Louis; and many leading political, scientific, and military figures of the turn of the century.
High adventure, high politics, suspense, drama, and diplomacy combine with high romance and personal tragedy to make this outstanding work of scholarship as engaging as any work of fiction.
In 1803 President Thomas Jefferson selected his personal secretary, Captain Meriwether Lewis, to lead a voyage up the Missouri River to the Rockies, over the mountains, down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean and back. Lewis and his partner, Captain William Clark, endured incredible hardships and saw incredible sights.
In Undaunted Courage, Stephen Ambrose has pieced together previously unknown information to provide a colorful and realistic backdrop for the expedition which is seen through Lewis's eyes.
Lewis is supported by a rich variety of colorful characters: Jefferson, whose interest in exploring and acquiring the American West went back thirty years; Clark, a rugged frontiersman whose love for Lewis matched Jefferson's; numerous Indian chiefs; the French and Spanish fur traders of St. Louis; and many leading political, scientific, and military figures of the turn of the century.
High adventure, high politics, suspense, drama, and diplomacy combine with high romance and personal tragedy to make this outstanding work of scholarship as engaging as any work of fiction.
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    Chapter 1

    Youth 1774-1792

    From the west-facing window of the room in which Meriwether Lewis was born on August 18, 1774, one could look out at Rockfish Gap, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, an opening to the West that invited exploration. The Virginia Piedmont of 1774 was not the frontier -- that had extended beyond the Allegheny chain of mountains, and a cultured plantation life was nearly a generation old -- but it wasn't far removed. Traces of the old buffalo trail that led up Rockfish River to the Gap still remained. Deer were exceedingly plentiful, black bear common. An exterminating war was being waged against wolves. Beaver were on every stream. Flocks of turkeys thronged the woods. In the fall and spring, ducks and geese darkened the rivers.

    Lewis was born in a place where the West invited exploration but the East could provide education and knowledge, where the hunting was magnificent but plantation society provided refinement and enlightenment, where he could learn wilderness skills while sharpening his wits about such matters as surveying, politics, natural history, and geography.

    The West was very much on Virginians' minds in 1774, even though the big news that year was the Boston Tea Party, the introduction of resolutions in the House of Burgesses in support of Massachusetts, the dissolution of the Burgesses by the Royal Governor Lord Dunmore, and a subsequent meeting at Raleigh Tavern of the dissolved Burgesses, whose Committee of Correspondence sent out letters calling for a general congress of the American colonies. In September, the First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia, and revolution was under way.

    Lord Dunmore was a villain in the eyes of the revolutionaries. He was eventually forced to flee Virginia and take up residence on a British warship. But in January 1774, he had done Virginia a big favor by organizing an offensive into the Ohio country by Virginia militia. The Virginians goaded Shawnee, Ottawa, and other tribes into what became Lord Dunmore's War, which ended with the Indians defeated. They ceded hunting rights in Kentucky to the Virginians and agreed to unhindered access to and navigation on the Ohio River. Within six months, the Transylvania Company sent out Daniel Boone to blaze a trail through the Cumberland Gap to the bluegrass country of Kentucky.

    Meanwhile, the British government, in the Quebec Act of 1774, moved to stem the flow of Virginians across the mountains, by extending the boundary of Canada south to the Ohio River. This cut off Virginia's western claims, threatened to spoil the hopes and schemes of innumerable land speculators, including George Washington, and established a highly centralized crown-controlled government with special privileges for the Catholic Church, provoking fear that French Canadians, rather than Protestant Virginians, would rule in the Ohio Valley. This was one of the so-called Intolerable Acts that spurred the revolution.

    Meriwether Lewis was born on the eve of revolution into a world of conflict between Americans and the British government for control of the trans-Appalachian West in a colony whose western ambitions were limitless, a colony that was leading the...

About the Author-
  • Dr. Stephen Ambrose was a renowned historian and acclaimed author of more than thirty books. Among his New York Times bestsellers are Nothing Like It in the World, Citizen Soldiers, Band of Brothers, D-Day - June 6, 1944, and Undaunted Courage. Dr. Ambrose was a retired Boyd Professor of History at the University of New Orleans and a contributing editor for the Quarterly Journal of Military History.
Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Cotter Smith provides an excellent narration for Ambrose's absorbing tale of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Necessarily shortened in abridgment, the story is no less riveting and, in fact, moves at a pace that informs without delving into too much detail. Smith's steady, clear voice invites the casual enthusiast. He keeps attention on the saga while injecting enough personality to the characters to make them identifiable as the story progresses. R.F.W. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine
  • Publisher's Weekly

    February 12, 1996
    Ambrose has written prolifically about men who were larger than life: Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Colonel Custer. Here he takes on half of the two-headed hero of American exploration: Meriwether Lewis. Ambrose, his wife and five children have followed the footsteps of the Lewis and Clark expedition for 20 summers, in the course of which the explorer has become a friend of the Ambrose family; the author's affection shines through this narrative. Meriwether Lewis, as secretary to Thomas Jefferson and living in the White House for two years, got his education by being apprenticed to a great man. Their friendship is at the center of this account. Jefferson hand-picked Lewis for the great cross-country trek, and Lewis in turn picked William Clark to accompany him. The two men shook hands in Clarksville, Ohio, on October 14, 1803, then launched their expedition. The journals of the expedition, most written by Clark, are one of the treasures of American history. Here we learn that the vital boat is behind schedule; the boat builder is always drunk, but he's the only one available. Lewis acts as surveyor, builder and temperance officer in his effort to get his boat into the river. Alcohol continues to cause him problems both with the men of his expedition and later, after his triumphant return, in his own life, which ended in suicide at the age of 35. Without adding a great deal to existing accounts, Ambrose uses his skill with detail and atmosphere to dust off an icon and put him back on the trail west. History Book Club main selection; BOMC split selection; QPB alternate; author tour.

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Undaunted Courage
Undaunted Courage
Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Openin
Stephen E. Ambrose
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