Louisiana Purchase & Lewis and Clark Webquest

Part 1Louisiana Purchase
With the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, the United States acquired a large area of land from the French. It was the single largest purchase of land ever by the United States and doubled the size of the country.

Why did the United States want more land?
The United States had been growing rapidly. In search of new land to plant crops and raise livestock, people had been expanding to the west past the Appalachian Mountains and into the Northwest Territory. As these lands became crowded, people needed more land and the obvious place to expand was to the west.

How much did it cost?
Thomas Jefferson wanted to buy the settlement of New Orleans from the French. It was a major seaport that was fed from the Mississippi River, making it important to many American businesses. He sent Robert Livingston, the U.S. Minister to France, to try and buy the land from the French Emperor Napoleon.

At first Napoleon refused to sell. He had hopes of creating a massive empire that included the Americas. However, soon Napoleon began to have troubles in Europe and he needed money desperately. James Monroe traveled to France to work with Robert Livingston. In 1803, Napoleon offered to sell the entire Louisiana Territory to the United States for $15

LA Purchase Map
United States Expansion Map from the National Atlas of the United States.
The Louisiana Purchase is shown in green

How big was it?
The Louisiana Purchase was huge. It totaled 828,000 square miles and all or part of what would later become 15 different states. It doubled the size of the United States and made it a major world nation.

The Louisiana Purchase stretched from the Mississippi River in the east to the Rocky Mountains in the west. Its southernmost tip was the port city of New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. To the North it included much of Minnesota, North Dakota, and Montana up to the border of Canada.

At the time, many leaders in the United States were against the Louisiana Purchase. They thought that Thomas Jefferson didn't have the right to make such a large purchase of land and that we would soon be at war with Spain over the land. The purchase was nearly cancelled by Congress and only passed by the vote of 59-57.

President Jefferson organized expeditions to explore the new land. The most famous expedition was that of Lewis and Clark. They traveled up the Missouri River and eventually went all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Another expedition was the Pike Expedition led by Zebulon Pike which explored the Great Plains and into Colorado where they discovered Pike's Peak. There was also the Red River Expedition which explored the Southwest.

Interesting Facts about the Louisiana Purchase
  • The Louisiana Purchase would have cost $233 million in 2011 dollars. That's around 42 cents per acre.
  • Some historians claim that Napoleon had no right to sell the Louisiana Territory to the United States.
  • The issue of slavery in the western lands of the Louisiana Purchase became a major issue in later years and part of the cause of the American Civil War.
  • The land had been owned by Spain for a while before they sold it back to France in 1800.
  • Napoleon didn't mind selling the land to the United States because he thought it would hurt his enemy England.
  • The original price of $15 million worked out to around 3 cents an acre.

Take the Louisiana Purchase Quiz

Part 2 Lewis and Clark

  • Occupation: Explorers
  • Born: August 18, 1774 in Ivy, Virginia (Lewis)
    August 1, 1770 in Ladysmith, Virginia (Clark)
  • Died: October 11, 1809 in Hohenwald, Tennessee (Lewis)
    September 1, 1838 in St. Louis, Missouri (Clark)
  • Best known for: Explored the Louisiana Territory and Western North America

Lewis and Clark were asked by President Thomas Jefferson to explore and map the wild west of North America. They traveled across the country to the Pacific Ocean and back again.

Who were Lewis and Clark?
Captain Meriwether Lewis (1774 - 1809) was President Thomas Jefferson's private secretary. He was in charge of the expedition to explore the newly purchased  Louisiana Territory. He asked his friend William Clark to help.

Lieutenant William Clark (1770 - 1838) served in the United States Army. In preparing for the expedition Clark was responsible for hiring and training the men, while Lewis gathered the equipment and supplies they would need.

Setting off to explore
Lewis and Clark, together with their team of over 40 men, began their expedition at the city of St. Louis on May 14, 1804. They packed lots of equipment for their trip including rifles, food, and warm clothing. They even brought lots of glass beads and trinkets so they could trade with Indians along the way.

They started out traveling up the Missouri River. They had one large boat called a barge and two smaller boats called pirogues. They were traveling against the current, so they had to use long poles to push the boats or even ropes to pull the boats from the banks.

Sacagawea and the Native Americans
Lewis and Clark met many Native American tribes along the way. Although there were some tense moments, they made friends and traded with many different tribes. They even spent the first winter with the Mandan nation. There they met a fur trapper named Toussaint Charbonneau and his Shoshone wife, Sacagawea.

Sacagawea joined the expedition as an interpreter. She helped the expedition in many ways as they traveled, including showing them edible plants and helping to keep peace and trade with different tribes.

Without help from the Native American tribes as well as Sacagawea, the expedition would have surely failed.


The Great Falls and the Rockies
As the expedition continued up the Missouri River into what is today the state of Montana, they ran into the Great Falls. It took the men nearly a month to carry their boats for miles around the Great Falls.

Next, Lewis and Clark came to the Rocky Mountains. These mountains were much more difficult to traverse than they first expected. When they finally made it across the Rockies, they met the Nez Perce people, who helped them with food and shelter.

L&C Map

The Pacific Ocean
It was in November in 1805, around a year and a half after leaving St. Louis, that they finally reached the Pacific Ocean. They stayed that winter near the ocean and started home again in March of 1806. It only took them around six months for the return journey.

Fun Facts about Lewis and Clark
  • Many animals were new to Lewis and Clark including the grizzly bear and the prairie dog.
  • After the expedition, Lewis was appointed the governor of the Louisiana Territory, however, Lewis died a few years later. Clark became governor of the Missouri Territory as well as Superintendent of Indian Affairs.
  • The men on the journey were called the Corps of Discovery.
  • The total journey was over 7,000 miles.
  • Only one member of the group died during the trip. It was Sergeant Charles Floyd who died of a burst appendix.
Take the Lewis and Clark Quiz