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February 19, 2013

A slave name York (explorer)

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York (1770 – unknown) was an African American slave best known for his participation with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. As William Clark's slave, he performed hard manual labor without pay, but participated as a full member of the expedition. Like many other expedition members, his ultimate fate is unclear. There is evidence that after the expedition's return, Clark had difficulty compelling York to resume his former status, and York may have later escaped or been freed, but nothing is entirely clear on this.
 
Early life
 
York was born in Caroline County near Ladysmith, Virginia. He, his father, his mother Rose and younger sister and brother Nancy and Juba, were slaves of the Clark family.York was William Clark's servant from boyhood, and was left to William in his father's will. He had a wife whom he rarely saw, and likely he lost contact with her when she was sent to Mississippi in 1811. He is also known for his heroic bravery for saving Lewis from a Grizzly Bear. It is not known if he fathered any children.

 
Lewis and Clark Expedition
 
In 1804, Clark took his slave York when he joined the Lewis and Clark Expedition. York was a large, strong man who shared the duties and risks of the expedition and was the only African American slave member of the Expedition. The journals record that the assignments given him attest to his skill in scouting, hunting and field medicine, but included manual labor in extreme weather conditions. York used a firearm to hunt game such as buffalo, as well as for "protection." The native nations treated York with respect and he "played a key role in diplomatic relations" because of his appearance. When the expedition reached the Pacific Ocean, York voted along with the rest as to where the Expedition would build winter quarters.
 
Historian Robert Betts says that the freedom York had during the Lewis and Clark expedition made resuming enslavement unbearable. After the expedition returned to the United States, every other member but York received money and land for their services. York asked Clark for his freedom based upon his good services during the expedition. Clark refused. York pleaded to be reunited with his wife, who was a slave in Louisville; he even offered to work in Louisville and send Clark all his earnings. Clark refused, pleaded financial difficulties, although he let York send a couple of buffalo robes to his wife and, a couple of years later, visit her for a few weeks.
 
Clark said York was "insolent and sulky", whipped and jailed him, and threatened to sell him in New Orleans. Clark hired him out to a "severe master" in 1811, and he remained a slave at least until 1816. No reliable information has been published on York after this date.
 
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