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Oregon Historical Quarterly

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Lewis and Clark Expedition (1804-1806)


Assesses the scholarship dealing with York, William Clark's slave, who was a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Two schools of writing developed regarding York. The "Sambo" school dominated his depiction for almost two centuries and publications at the turn of the 21st century still saw York in racist terms, as a slave grateful for his status. At the other extreme is the "superhero" school that describes York in heroic terms, rescuing Clark from peril, fluent in French, tall in height. Both schools are grounded in stereotypes and poor scholarship. The best source for establishing a historically accurate York is the University of Nebraska Press's 'The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition' (1986-97), but even these primary source writings must be used with qualification, as scholars need to distinguish between observation and biased judgment in the journals. A definitive biography of York may never be written, but scholars adhering to standards of scholarship can create a more accurate portrayal than the body of work on York perpetuates.


This is the publisher's final PDF. Copyright © 2003, Oregon Historical Society. Reproduced by permission.

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