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The only African American on the Lewis and Clark Expedition, York was also the only member who had no choice about whether or not he would go. As a slave, he was bound to do what he was told by his master, William Clark. It was said that York and William Clark grew up together, and were about the same age, which would mean that York was born in Virginia about 1770, and was roughly 34 years old at the time the expedition began. The journals indicate that York was a large man, a little over-weight, and very strong. During the course of the expedition York went from servant to member of the Corps of Discovery. Most laws in the United States forbade the arming of slaves, yet York was one of the hunters who obtained meat for the group. He also participated in dangerous missions and ministered to the sick. By the summer of 1805, York was one of the people that made the group unique and strengthened it and on November 23, 1805, when a decision was made about where the Corps would spend the winter, each member was given an equal vote, including York and Sacagawea. This incident may be the first recorded instance in American history of an African American voting. When the expedition returned to St. Louis in September 1806 they were national heroes, but York was once more a slave and it was not until 1811 that William Clark granted him his freedom. In 1815 Clark purchased a wagon and team in the Louisville, Kentucky area for York and set him up in business.York’s exact date of death is not known but Clark told the author Washington Irving that York died of cholera in Tennessee sometime before 1832. In the print, York is shown as a proud hunter during the expedition as recorded in the journal entry of August 24, 1804. On that date Clark described York as carrying a small deer on his back and killing another for the stew pot. York is dressed primarily in civilian clothing typically worn by hunters of the era. His buckskin breeches are left open at the knees, a look often seen in contemporary prints. Woolen stockings (dyed green) protect his legs from briers and insects, as do his tarred linen gaiters. He wears one piece center seam deerskin moccasins, the nearly universal footwear of the expedition by this point in the journey. His civilian 'round hat' has obviously seen much use, whereas his elegant crimson vest is edged with silver, an obvious hand-me-down from his master. His shirt of white linen has a replacement collar button of deer’s antler. York carries a 1792 contract rifle, one of the weapons issued on the expedition by the U.S. Army.
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