Envisaging the West: Thomas Jefferson and the Roots of Lewis and Clark


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Thomas Jefferson to William Dunbar, June 24, 1799 Thomas Jefferson writes his first letter to William Dunbar, who had been recommended to him by Daniel Clark. Jefferson asks Dunbar for information on the land and inhabitants of the "regions beyond" the Mississippi River, making particular note of the importance of recording the languages of indigenous peoples as a means to understanding their origins.

Thomas Jefferson to William Dunbar, January 16, 1800 Thomas Jefferson writes to William Dunbar, thanking him for promised communications about Native languages from Western groups and meteorological observations that may be used in comparative studies. Reports from Dunbar were read at the American Philosophical Society and several appear in the "Reports" section of this archive.

Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, March 20, 1803 As Jefferson and Albert Gallatin plan Lewis and Clark's expedition, questions over geography and cartography continue as Jefferson reveals his familiarity with maps of the West.

Thomas Jefferson to Samuel H. Smith, September 21, 1814 Following the destruction of Washington by the British, Jefferson writes to Samuel H. Smith offering his own extensive library to Congress, noting his strategies for book acquisition over the course of his career. Jefferson's search for books about North America draws particular attention.