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A New Perspective on the Death of Meriwether Lewis

25th Historia Medica Lecture
Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 4:30 pm
King Center, 7th floor Bernard Becker Medical Library

A free lecture supported by the Becker Library and Center for History of Medicine
Reception to follow the lecture

Thomas Danisi

Author Thomas Danisi became interested in Meriwether Lewis shortly after he bought his house in the Lafayette Square neighborhood of St. Louis. He discovered that James MacKay, a former resident of his 1780s era home, had mapped the Missouri River from St. Louis to present-day North Dakota. This map was used by the famous Lewis and Clark duo as they began their expedition of the Louisiana Purchase in 1804. With this connection so close to home (so to speak), Danisi began a decade-long research project culminating in two books on Meriwether Lewis.

Historians have long underscored Lewis’ depression, bouts of alcoholism, and mental instability as reasons that eventually led to his mysterious death. Although some believe he was murdered, conventional wisdom implies that Lewis’ mental derangement led him to take his own life at the young age of 35. But as Danisi dug deeper into the Lewis and Clark journals and other resources, he began to question the popular narrative that Meriwether Lewis was tormented from some kind of mental illness. In his 2009 biography Meriwether Lewis, Danisi introduced the idea that it was the ill effects of chronic, severe, and untreated malaria (fever, chills, delirium, and severe headaches), rather than depression or some psychological illness, that led to his death. He believes this explanation provides a far better understanding of the nature of Lewis’ death.

Book - Uncovering the TruthIn 2012, Danisi authored Uncovering the Truth about Meriwether Lewis. In this book, Danisi continues to redeem Lewis’ reputation. Many historians who have referenced Lewis’ supposed mental instability have routinely cited his court martial for being drunk and challenging a superior officer to a dual. Having found the long-lost court martial proceedings, Danisi determined that not only was Lewis sober at the time of the incident in question, but that his accuser had a history of making false accusations. For these reasons, Lewis was found innocent. In Uncovering the Truth, Danisi combats the notion that Lewis was lazy and he further argues his malaria theory. Danisi will present this new perspective on the life and death of Meriwether Lewis on Thursday, November 15 at the 25th Historia Medica Lecture.



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