Meriwether Lewis was born in Albermarle County near Charlottesville, Virginia, into a noted planter family. He was the son of John Lewis, a Revolutionary War veteran, who died when he was five. Lewis's mother, Lucy, faced with running the plantation as well as rearing her children, remarried shortly after. From ages 13 to 18, Lewis attended area schools run by ministers. His stepfather died, so Lewis went home to manage the plantation.
In 1801, Thomas Jefferson, an old family friend, appointed Lewis as his personal secretary. Two years later, President Jefferson selected Lewis and William Clark to lead an exploratory venture into the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark Expedition. At the time that Congress approved the appropriation, France was still in nominal control of the territory through which Clark would pass, as Jefferson's original instructions to Clark make clear.
Following the great trek, Lewis served as the governor of the Upper Louisiana Territory (later Missouri Territory), a job for which he was not suited. On a trip back to the nation's capital to confer with his displeased superiors, Lewis met a sudden and violent death. In a small inn on the ^Natchez Trace, his body was found with a gunshot wound. Jefferson, aware of Lewis's melancholy disposition, surmised that he took his own life. Lewis's family, however, believed he was murdered.