Louisville in Jefferson County, Kentucky — The American South (East South Central)
(ca. 1772 - before 1832)
York was the first African American to cross the United States from coast to coast. Born a slave belonging to the Clark family, York was assigned as a boy to be William Clark’s servant. He moved with the Clarks from Virginia to Jefferson County in 1785 and grew to maturity on the frontier, learning all the skills necessary to survive in the wilderness. York was an experienced traveler by horse and boat and traveled extensively in the U.S. with William Clark.
In July 1803 Clark accepted an invitation from his old army friend, Meriwether Lewis to join him as co-commander of an exploring venture to the Pacific ordered by President Thomas Jefferson. Clark began recruiting men from the Louisville area for the Corps of Discovery. Clark decided York would also go, but he was never an official member of the corps.
( west plaque )
On October 14, 1803, Lewis and Clark met in Louisville, forming their historic partnership. On October 26, Captains Lewis and Clark, the “nine young men from Kentucky,” and York pushed off from Clarkesville, Indiana, down the Ohio.
York participated in the expedition's work, dangers, and hardships and acquired a degree of equality
When Indians who had never seen a black man before were encountered, York’s skin – the very thing that marked him as inferior and a slave in white society of that day – signified him as someone special and spiritually powerful. They considered him as superior to his white companions and were amazed by his strength and agility. The captains used this influence that York wielded to help advance the expedition. The Indians named York "Big Medicine" to indicate his believed spiritual power and uniqueness.
( east plaque )
Upon the corps' return York was expected to resume his old life as a slave, but the taste of equality, superiority and even freedom he had enjoyed on the expedition had changed him. When Clark moved to St. Louis in 1808 and took York with him, York was separated from his wife. The life-long relationship of Clark and
Eventually, William Clark granted York freedom, but it was at least ten years after the expedition’s return. York’s ultimate fate is not definitely known. One ending has him returning to the Rocky Mountains where he lived as a respected chief among the Crow Indians. The most likely ending, as reported by Clark, has York being set up in a freight hauling business by Clark, losing the business, regretting getting his freedom, and dying of cholera in Tennessee sometime before 1832, a broken man trying to return to his former master.
Whether York returned to the West that he had explored, or was consigned to an unmarked pauper’s grave may never be known, but this is known – York made an important contribution to the greatest exploring venture in American history. Louisville is proud to honor this famous explorer … this famous Louisvillian … this famous African American … this famous American.
( south plaque )
( a map of the Lewis and Clark Expedition )
Erected 2003 by the People of Louisville, Kentucky.
Marker series. This marker is included Lewis & Clark Expedition marker series.
Location. 38° 15.519′ N, 85° 45.452′ W. Marker is in Louisville, Kentucky, in Jefferson County. Marker is on W Main Street 0.2 miles north of Place Montpellier, on the right when traveling west. Touch for map. Located in Belvedere Waterfront Park between The Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and the Ohio River. (On the map, the I-64 is under the park). Marker is in this post office area: Louisville KY 40202, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. General George Rogers Clark (within shouting distance of this marker); Al J. Schneider (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); Louisville Wharf During The Civil War Years (about 400 feet away); William Clark (1770-1838) / Lewis And Clark In Kentucky Louisville (about 400 feet away); Irene Dunne (1898-1990) (about 400 feet away); Lewis and Clark in Kentucky / York (about 400 feet away); Kentucky Fugitives to Canada (about 600 feet away); Belle of Louisville (about 600 feet away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Louisville.
Also see . . . York (explorer) on Wikipedia. (Submitted on June 10, 2017, by Michael Herrick of Southbury, Connecticut.)
Categories. • African Americans • Exploration •
Credits. This page was last revised on August 10, 2017. This page originally submitted on June 10, 2017, by Michael Herrick of Southbury, Connecticut. This page has been viewed 380 times since then and 78 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on June 10, 2017, by Michael Herrick of Southbury, Connecticut.