return to the home page
return to the home page login
Return to the about page
go to the search pagego to the about pagego to the collaborators pagego to the questions pagego to the resources pagego to your myResearch page
Lewis and Clark / Corps of Discovery Case Files, 1805-1837
Abstract
These case files consist of 100 court actions in which Meriwether Lewis, William Clark or other members of the Corps of Discovery are defendants, plaintiffs, or play a prominent role.  The majority of cases are disputes concerning promissory notes, debts, and the payment and assignment of notes and debts.
Volume
.8 cubic feet
Provenance
St. Louis Circuit Court, Office of the Circuit Clerk

The case files described in this finding aid were filed as civil, chancery (equity) or criminal proceedings in the St. Louis Court of Common Pleas or the St. Louis Circuit Court between 1809 and 1839. These case files remain part of the larger St. Louis Circuit Court Case File Records Series and are presented here as an artificial, subject-oriented records series to facilitate research in a distinctive area of national, regional, and local history.

All records were created in the course of business by the Circuit Court, its inferior courts, and predecessors as provided for by federal and state law. Upon the separation of St. Louis City and St. Louis County as provided for in the 1875 constitution, the city retained custody of all court records previously produced. These records have remained in the custody of the St. Louis Circuit Court since that time, both in the historic Old Courthouse constructed in 1839-1852 and the Civil Courts Building constructed in 1930. The records are now housed at the Missouri State Archives-St. Louis.
Historical/Biographical Note
The bulk of the series, 46 cases, consist of disputes concerning the business and financial activities of William Clark, territorial governor (1813-1820), commander of the territorial militia, Indian agent, unsuccessful candidate for public office and partner in the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company and the Bank of Missouri. Clark made his home in St. Louis from 1807, when he was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs by President Thomas Jefferson, to his death in 1838. Many of the actions are "assumpsit," "trespass on the case," or "debt on note," characteristic of this period of Missouri's history when many transactions were conducted through the use of promissory notes rather than currency. Clark is usually the plaintiff in these actions, attempting to collect debts due him. There are also some cases concerning the slaves of William Clark.

The nine Meriwether Lewis cases compose a much smaller share of the series. Lewis was appointed territorial governor by President Jefferson in March 1807, but for the next year tried to administer the territory from Washington, D.C. Lewis died in 1809 on his way from St. Louis to the nation's capitol to defend some of his financial activities as governor. In these cases Lewis, or his estate, appear as defendant. Unlike Clark, who was a creditor, Lewis was deeply indebted for land purchases and a mining venture. These cases shed light on Lewis' financial position just prior to his death and indicate that Lewis contracted additional debt just before he set out on his journey.

This series also contains 26 cases that relate to Corps of Discovery members John Boley, John Collins, John Colter, George Drouillard, Etienne Malbouf, John Newman, Paul Primeau, Nathaniel Pryor, Isaac White, and Alexander Willard, who remained in the St. Louis area following the return of the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1806. These cases date from 1808 to 1833 and illustrate the members' continuing social, commercial, legal, and financial relationships with their fellow citizens, as well as the frequency and diversity of financial interactions on the frontier. Only the case of John Colter vs. Edward Hempstead, Administrator of the Estate of Meriwether Lewis directly mentions the "Corps of Discovery."
Scope and Content
These case files consist of approximately 100 court cases in which Meriwether Lewis, William Clark or other members of the Corps of Discovery are defendants, plaintiffs, or play a prominent role, such as Clark's partnerships in the St. Louis Missouri Fur Company and the Bank of Missouri. Also included are actions concerning claims against the estates of both Lewis and Clark. The majority of the cases are disputes concerning promissory notes, debts, and the payment and assignment of notes and debts.

Case files may include the following documents: promissory notes, assignment of notes and debts, petitions filed by attorneys, affidavits, summonses of witnesses required to support or refute the validity of the suit, writs, replications, depositions of witnesses, motions, wills, orders for sale, instructions to juries, jury verdicts and appeals.
Physical Description
Case files may consist of the following: hand-written documents or document fragments; preprinted summonses with handwritten entries; and newspaper clippings or advertisements. The contents of each tri-folded case file have been flattened and cleaned of dirt and coal dust that accumulated through the years. Items used to attach documents, such as straight pins, ribbons, wax, thread and starch wafers have been removed to allow for filming and scanning. Due to age, environment, use and paper type, many of the documents have sustained damage over the years and are very fragile. These documents have been placed in protective polyester sleeves. Selected documents will receive additional conservation treatment. All case files have been housed in archival folders and boxes.
Arrangement
All circuit court case files are arranged in chronological order by Year, Term of Court, and Case Number, as assigned by the clerk of court. Documents within each case file are arranged chronologically by date filed with the court. These case files retain their original placement within the Circuit Case File series. This artificial series was digitally scanned retaining that original order.
Separated Material
Oversized records have been removed from the case files to permit flattening, provide proper safe storage and handling, and access. References to the separated material have been placed in each folder from which documents have been removed.

The Missouri Historical Society has in its collection, some case files and other records from the St. Louis Circuit Court that relate to Lewis, Clark, and other Corps of Discovery members. (Box list, Saint Louis (Mo.). Circuit Court Records, 1804-1967, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis).

Any additional gaps that occur in the records series are due to misfile, loss or damage.
Finding Aids
The original court indexes provide direct access to plaintiffs, defendants, year, term and case file number.

The Missouri State Archives and the American Culture Studies Program at Washington University in St. Louis have worked to produce an on-line, keyword searchable database to facilitate locating specific cases or subjects in the Lewis and Clark / Corps of Discovery case files.
Related Materials
As previously noted, the Lewis and Clark / Corps of Discovery case files are part of the larger St. Louis Circuit Court Case File Series.  There are additional cases within those records that may relate to persons, places or events mentioned within these suits.

The Probate Estate File of William Clark is also available on this website in digitized form.

Researchers should also consult other related record series for complementary information.
Access Conditions
Original records remain in the legal custody of the St. Louis Circuit Court. Researchers may apply for access by contacting:

Missouri State Archives-St. Louis
Globe Building
710 North Tucker, Room 213
St. Louis MO 63101
(314) 588-1746
Fax (314) 588-9788
michael.everman@sos.mo.gov

The Missouri State Archives-St. Louis determines policies and prices for copies of original documents.
Preferred Citation
The Missouri State Archives, the St. Louis Circuit Court Clerk's Office, and the American Culture Studies Program in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis have created this digital collection for noncommercial, educational, and research purposes.  All references to the materials on this website should be cited as follows:

Plaintiff v. Defendant
Term of Court, Year
Case File Number
(Cite specific document if required)
Circuit Court Case Files
Office of the Circuit Clerk-St. Louis
Missouri State Archives-St. Louis
Office of the Secretary of State
[(Date Accessed), http://stlcourtrecords.wustl.edu]
Browse Lewis and Clark Case Files
Return to About
Meriwhether Lewis.
Meriwether Lewis, portrait by Charles Willson Peale, 1807. Independence National Historic Park, INDE 11870.
William Clark.
William Clark, portrait by Charles Willson Peale, 1807. Independence National Historic Park, INDE 1409.