ROGERSVILLE — A recent historical discovery landed Rogersville’s Rogers Tavern a title that only around seven other standing structures in the country can boast.
Jim Mallory of the Lewis and Clark Trust recently discovered that William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expeditions, spent one night at the Rogers Tavern along with his wife, Julia, his nine-month-old son, Meriwether Lewis Clark, and two servants.
This astonishing fact remained unknown even to the most renowned Lewis and Clark scholars until Jim Mallory of the Lewis and Clark Trust began studying the journal that William Clark kept during his trek from St. Louis, Missouri to Washington, D.C. in 1809.
Why was Clark in Rogersville?William Clark is, of course, best known for his participation in the Lewis and Clark expeditions, which took place from 1803 to 1806.
After the exploration of the West, President Thomas Jefferson gave Clark both title of Brigadier General of the Missouri Militia and Superintendent of Indian Affairs for all territory West of the Mississippi River. Meriwether Lewis was made Governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory.
Though Clark made the trip to D.C. annually, the 1809 trip to D.C., during which Clark stayed in Rogersville, was in relation to Clark’s job as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.
In this role, Clark took care of “any negotiating with Indians and any problems the Indians had with the ‘Euros,’” Mallory said. “If people from England were interfering with the Indians, the Indians could come to William Clark. He had a very good relationship with the Indians—they respected him. It wasn’t just a one-way conversation. He would listen to them, and they would listen to him.”
Mallory even relayed a legendary story that began when Clark saw several Native Americans dancing in a street in St. Louis.
“People were throwing coins to them,” Mallory said. “The Indians were trying to raise some money to buy whiskey.”
Clark quickly put a stop to this and told the Native Americans, “You’re better than what you’re doing out here.”
“This little story tells you how Clark respected the tribal people,” Mallory said.
In this position, Clark was required to make an annual trip to D.C. to discuss financial matters of the job.
“Clark was responsible for paying for federal activities, federal government annuities to the Indians, and he would have expenses that he would incur on behalf of the federal government,” Mallory said. “He had to report where he spent that money. If they wanted to discuss with him and say, ‘Wait a minute! You went beyond your directive to spend money,’ they could argue with him about it. Today, we can settle a bank statement monthly. In William Clark’s era, that checkbook and his expenses for the federal government got settled once a year. So, once a year, he would go to Washington, and they (Clark and government officials) literally sat down and went through his accounts.”
The 1809 routeClark’s wife and son accompanied him during the 1809 trip from St. Louis to Montgomery County, Virginia. They left St. Louis on September 21, 1809 and arrived in Rogersville on November 9, 1809. They traveled through countless towns and, of course, made numerous stops — some in towns that readers will likely recognize.
This particular trip was made inside a coach, and the family likely had an additional saddle horse with them.
“When they could find them, they stayed in private homes or taverns along the route,” Mallory said. “If not, they simply spent the night sleeping under the coach. Those hazards and those difficulties with a nine-month-old child would, today, be considered traumatic.”
They left St. Louis and went across the corner of Illinois using what were called “old military roads, which had been established by the French and by the Spanish,” Mallory explained.
They then crossed the Ohio River at Golconda, Illinois, crossed through portions of Kentucky such as what is now Hopkinsville, Bowling Green, and the area surrounding Mammoth Cave. They then traveled along what is now I-65 to Louisville.
“When I’m speaking publicly, I always make a joke out of it and tell the people, ‘Can you imagine what those eighteen-wheelers thought of that coach trotting along on the interstate?’” Mallory said with a laugh.
In Louisville, Clark stayed with his older brother, Johnathon Clark and then made his way to Frankfurt, Ky along today’s US-60 to Lexington, down today’s US-127 to Stanford, Kentucky. He then began following the old Wilderness Road to London, into Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap, across what Clark called Cumberland Mountain. From there, Clark went through Tazewell, across the Clinch River, through Bean Station and followed what is now US-11 to Rogersville.
Next, he crossed the North Fork of the Holston River and stayed near what is now the Netherland Inn in Kingsport. The actual Netherland Inn, however, had not been built at the time Clark was passing through.
He was then in the vicinity of Bristol and passed through Abington, Va.
Clark actually left Julia and Meriwether Lewis Clark in Montgomery County, Va. to visit Julia’s family while he went the rest of the way to D.C.
Though he did make the trek to D.C. annually, no historical evidence has been discovered suggesting that Lewis or Clark stayed in Rogersville in other years.
What was the stay like for Clark?Clark noted within his journal his opinions of the places in which he stayed.
“9th Thursday – set out after breakfast and stayed all night at Co. Rogers at Rogersville, road fine, made 23 miles,” Clark wrote of his stay in Rogersville. “10th Friday — set out early, breakfast at Mr. Armstrong’s, crossed the N. Fork of Holston and stayed all night with Mr. William Sniders at Kings Landing on the Holston. A good fair, made 26 miles.”
The fact that Clark said the road was “fine” near Rogersville and that he had “a good fair” after leaving Kingsport speaks highly of the area at the time.
“Clark said he made 23 miles (after leaving Rogersville),” Mallory said. “To make 23 miles in November on the roads of the day, the road was good. That’s a pretty strong comment. Many places in this journal, he talks about the condition of the food and condition of the house. Sometimes he said it wasn’t good – bad fair. There were places where he couldn’t get a good meal.”
Meriwether Lewis was actually heading to D.C. around the same time as Clark. However, Lewis met an unfortunate end while he was staying in Grinders Stand along the Natchez Trace around Nashville. There is tremendous controversy surrounding Lewis’s death, as no one knows whether he was murdered or committed suicide.
Clark was in Simpsonville, KY. on his way to D.C. when he learned of Lewis’s death.
“It’s clear in this journal that Clark’s mind then shifts gears,” Mallory said. “He starts to realize, ‘Oh my goodness! I am now responsible for those journals that Lewis had.’ Lewis had not written one word of the journals that he had promised Jefferson that he would write. Clark realizes that he needs the journals, and he needs to get his hands on Lewis’s papers and possessions.
Not only is Clark in an emotional state about a dear friend and a man he had been co-captain with during the Lewis and Clark Expedition, but he is also realizing the tremendous responsibility that is suddenly on his shoulders.
So, when he is staying in Rogers Tavern, he has more on his mind than just his wife, his child, his coach and feed for his horses.”
How the discovery surfaced“Leading up to the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, which was 2003 through 2006, many of us sat in conference events planning local and national events,” Mallory said. “We started realizing, ‘Wait a minute! The full story of Lewis and Clark has never really been told. Most journals and most books end on the September 23, 1806 when they returned to St. Louis. However, Thomas Jefferson’s instructions were: ”when you get back to St. Louis, pay off your men, discharge them, and come to Washington as soon as possible with all your records.”
So, in 2003, the Lewis and Clark Trust started researching the various routes that Lewis and Clark made after the actual exploration of the West.
Because of this, “the late senator Jim Bunning introduced a bill in Congress — in the Senate — directing the Secretary of the Interior’s National Parks Service to conduct a study of the eastern story of Lewis and Clark,” Mallory said. “Joann Emerson at that time was a member of the House of Representatives in Missouri, and she sponsored the same bill in the House.
Finally, in 2008, those two bills came together in an omnibus bill — which takes many bills that are in congress of a similar nature and put it in one big package — and was signed into law later that year requiring that the National Park Service conduct the Eastern Legacy study.”
The Lewis and Clark Trust were outspoken advocates for this bill.Through Mallory’s research in 2003, he discovered Clark’s 1809 journal chronicling his journey from St. Louis to D.C. It was located at the State Historical Society of Missouri, but it had not been scanned and uploaded to the internet as it is now. Thus, Mallory first viewed it through interlibrary loan on CD-format and began transcribing it. Mallory admitted that, at first, reading Clark’s handwriting is “a challenge,” and there were some portions that he was not initially able to transcribe. He and his wife made the trip to Missouri in 2016 to view the journal in person and complete the missing portions of his transcription.
The Lewis and Clark Trust later raised the money to have Clark’s 1809 journal, which includes notes of his stay in Rogersville, scanned and made available online. It has also been transcribed so that it can more easily be read.
Why is this discovery just now coming into light?Mallory contacted Dr. Carroll Van West, who is Tennessee’s State Historian and a former member of the Lewis and Clark Trust. It just so happened that West had begun working on the research and restoration project regarding Rogersville’s old Powell Law Office and knew exactly where to find the Rogers Tavern.
“In June, we came down and went through the Rogers Tavern, took room measurements, looked at the architectural evidence that is in plain sight — we didn’t take down boards or strip anything off — to sort-of understand the layout of the house and how it was put together,” West said. “After I finish the Powell Law office, that (Rogers Tavern) will be the next report that I write and give to both the city and the Lewis and Clark Trust.”
Thus, members of the town of Rogersville were alerted to the discovery, which has begun substantial efforts to restore the Rogers Tavern and potentially have the town labeled as a stop along a Lewis and Clark auto trail that is in the works.
“Had it not been for the bicentennial and those of us sitting around conference tables talking about the full story of Lewis and Clark, it (this discovery) may not have happened,” Mallory said.