On Aug. 18th, 1774, Meriwether Lewis was born at Locust HilI, near Ivy Depot.<a href="#1" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 1
To the north of the village, about a half-mile beyond the railway crossing. The original building, which was burnt in l837 or 1838, had been twice added to and was a comfortable mansion. The earliest part was of logs, boarded over. "> The son of Wm. Lewis of the Belvoir family, a Revolutionary officer, and of Lucy Meriwether, descendant of Nicholas Meriwether of The Farm, he was by birth and rearing a true son of Albemarle. As Wm. Lewis died in 1780, it was the mother's influence which formed the boy's early years. Of this exceptional woman Gov. Gilmer, in The Georgians, says: "She was sincere, truthful, industrious, and kind without limit.- Meriwether Lewis inherited the energy, courage, activity and good understanding of his admirable mother."
Anecdotes of her still survive in the neighborhood. It is told that during the war, and while her husband was absent with his command, a party of British officers from the prison camp at Tire Barracks made a visit to Locust Hill. Becoming somewhat uproarious, they as a joke extinguished the lights, whereupon the young matron took down her grin, called her servants, and in person expelled them from the premises.
Upon another occasion her home was the gathering place for a party of hunters. All was in readiness: in the early morning the dogs started a fine deer, and the guests were off in great form. Later in the morning Mrs. Lewis was interrupted in her household duties by the news that a deer was in sight of the house. With dogs, gun and servants she drove it into the yard against a corner of the chimney, and, the servants being frightened, shot it herself. She also cut its throat with her own hands, and superintended its preparation for the meat-house. At evening the hunters returned despondent. having met with no success. Mrs. Lewis made no comment, but at the supper table the guests were greeted with a smoking venison haunch!
With this background, it is not surprising that Meriwether Lewis, at the age of eight, was a seasoned hunter. It is said that on winter nights at this age, being waked by the baying of his hounds, he would slip from the house, and pursue his game through forests and over frozen streams, alone.
After Mrs. Lewis's second marriage, to Capt. John Marks, she removed with him to Georgia. taking with her the future explorer. Gov. Gilmer gives this account of one of Young Lewis's adventures there:
"From 1790 to 1795, the Cherokee Indians were very troublesome to the frontier people of upper Georgia. During the restless, uneasy state of the people. created by the constant apprehension of attack, a report reached the Virginia settlement on Broad River that the Cherokees were on the war-path for Georgia. Men, women and children collected together. It was agreed that the house where they were could not be defended. They therefore sought refuge in a deep secluded forest. Whilst they were assembled round a fire at night, preparing something to eat, the report of a gun was heard. Indians! Indians! was heard from every tongue.--All was confusion and dismay. There belonged to the company a boy who alone retained any self-possession. While every one was hesitating what to do, the light of the fire was suddenly extinguished by his throwing a vessel of water upon it. When all was dark, the sense of safety came upon every one. That boy was Meriwether Lewis."
It was probably during this Georgia residence that the Markses made a temporary move to another State, the journey requiring a considerable period. and being made in pioneer fashion, with cattle and a line of wagons containing the household goods. Upon the way Capt. Marks, meeting with convivial friends, remained behind for some hours, leaving the control of the expedition to his overseer. Mrs. Marks soon discovered that this man was intoxicated; so sending him to the rear, she mounted the lead horse of the foremost wagon, and herself conducted the party, selecting and making the camp at night before the Captain overtook them.
Young Lewis was sent back to Albemarle to complete his education. It is known that be was a pupil of the famous Maury school, then taught by the old Parson's son. During this period. and while visiting his relatives at Clover Fields, it is said that he was attacked by a savage bull, which he promptly shot in its tracks.
At the age of seventeen or eighteen he assumed the management of Locust Hill, having inherited the estate by the law of primogeniture. Some years later, upon the death of Capt. Marks, he went to Georgia and brought back his mother and half-brother, making the long journey in a carriage built for him at Monticello by Jefferson's skillful artisans.
Of the short but brilliant life of Meriwether Lewis, Gov. Gilmer gives this summary:
"When he arrived at maturity, his love of action led him into the regular army. He was the private secretary of President Jefferson when the government determined to have the territory of Louisiana explored, which had shortly before been purchased of France. His known intrepidity and perseverance pointed him out as the fittest person to bead an expedition for that purpose. He selected for his aid and companion his friend Capt. Clark of the army. He passed from St. Louis, through difficulties which few men would have undertaken, and still fewer could have overcome, and acquired for his country tile title to a vast region, having taken possession of the Pacific coast.-As he was traveling from St. Louis, the seat of government of the Missouri Territory, of which he was then Governor, to Washington City, he stopped for the night at a little inn on the roadside, somewhere in Tennessee. In the morning his throat was found cut.<a href="#2" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 2
An error. He was shot."> and he dead; whether by his own hand or others is not certainly known."
The family always believed that Lewis was murdered by the keepers of the inn, and greatly regretted Jefferson's published statement in favor of the theory of suicide. This opinion, they held, was formed before the full facts were made public.<a href="#3" class="toolTip" title="Footnote: 3
Jefferson says: Governor Lewis had from early life been subject to hypochondriac affections. It was a constitutional disposition in all the nearer branches of the family of his name, and was more immediately inherited by him from his father. They had not, however, been so strong as to give uneasiness to his family-After his establishment in St. Louis in sedentary occupations, they returned to him with redoubled vigor and began seriously to alarm his friends. Other writers state there had been a misunderstanding in regard to the settlement of his public accounts. "he was the very soul of honor, and of unimpeachable integrity," but the implied imputation became an acute irritation, and he intended to take it up with Jefferson upon his arrival in the Capital."> And certainly the depositions taken by Alex Wilson, the famous ornithologist, who visited the spot to inquire into the tragedy, cast strong suspicion upon that household. The account which he received was as follows:
"The house or cabin, kept by a man and his wife named Grinder, was 72 miles from Nashville, and the last white man's as you enter the Indian country. Grinder was present at this examination, but is not quoted. Apparently he had been absent on the night of the death. The woman's testimony was that Gov. Lewis arrived (Oct. 10, 1809) about sunset, followed by two servants. As was then customary, he called for spirits, but drank very little. Tliough she said that his mental state greatly alarmed her, she only described his walking up and down with flushed face, which was followed by kind and gentle conversation. It now being dusk, he lay down on bear skins and a buffalo robe on the floor, and his servants retired to the barn. Mrs. Grinder stated that she heard him walking about and talking to himself for several hours, then two pistol sliots and a fall. In a few minutes she heard him at her door calling out: 'O Madam! give me some water, and heal my wounds!' The logs being open and unplastered, she saw him stagger back and fall. He crawled some distance-and once more got to his room. Afterwards he came to the kitchen door but did not speak; she then heard him scraping the empty bucket with a gourd. When day broke she sent two of her children to the barn to bring the servants; and on going in all together they found him lying on a bed, and wounded in the side and the forellead. He begged they would take his rifle and blow out his brains, and he would give them all the money in his trunk. (No money was returned to his family, but it is certain that a man in his position, and starting on a long journey, would have been handsomely provided for.) His quoted speech was 'I am no coward; but I am so strong, so hard to die!' He expired in about two hours, and was hurled near the common path, with a few loose rails thrown over his grave. "
In a woman accustomed to the rough life of the frontier such cowardice is incredibe, while her callous conduct shows a nature too degraded for belief under oath. It is local tradition that the Grinders soon moved to another county and bought land and slaves, having previously been poverty-stricken.
Meriwether Lewis was thirty-five years old at the time of his death. In 1848 a monument was erected to him by the Legislature of Tennessee. Mrs. Marks continued at Locust Hill, "serving everybody whom she could, who stood in need of her assistance." In her old age she is described as having refined features, a fragile figure and a masterful eye. From her garden she bore medicinal herbs to rich and poor, and had a great reputation for her cures. When she was between seventy and eighty a relative arriving from a distance found that the old lady had ridden eight miles off on horse-back to minister to the sick. The site for Old Shiloh, the Methodist church still in use near Ivy, was given by Mrs. Marks.
Gov. Gilmer's The Georginans; Jefferson's Note On Virginia; History of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. For the anecdotes and much of the information in this chapter we are indebted to Mrs. Charles Harper Anderson of Ivy.