Members of the Carolina Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation met in Louisburg on Saturday, May 23, to recognize the significant contributions made by Corporal Richard Warfington during the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806.
The group met at the Franklin Male Academy building on the campus of Louisburg College, which opened in January 1805, and later dedicated a marker in Warfington's honor at Joyner Park.
Warfington enlisted in the United States Army at Lexington, Kentucky, in 1799, at the age of 22, giving his place of residence as Louisburg, Franklin County, North Carolina. His company's enlistment records reveal that Warfington stood five feet, ten inches tall. He had brown hair, black eyes, and a fair complexion.
Corporal Warfington was serving at Fort Southwest Point in eastern Tennessee in 1803, when he and three other members of his regiment were recruited for service in the Corps of Discovery led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
President Thomas Jefferson had charged them with the tasks of exploring the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase, finding a practical route to the Pacific Ocean, and establishing a foothold for the United States in the northwest.
According to Louisburg College alumnus Trent Strickland, president of the Carolina Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, Corporal Warfington served the mission with honor and at a level far above his rank.
In the presentation he gave to chapter members, Strickland said that Warfington commanded one of the three boats that made their way up the Missouri River from St. Louis to the Mandan Indian villages in what is now North Dakota.
Although his period of enlistment was set to expire in August 1804, Warfington readily agreed to an extension. This enabled Lewis and Clark to place the corporal in command of the expedition's large keelboat as it made its way back to St. Louis. The rest of the Corps of Discovery continued the expedition toward the Pacific Ocean.
Warfington and a crew of approximately 10 men began the return trip on April 7, 1805. Still in his late twenties, Warfington had been entrusted with a priceless cargo, including expedition journals, William Clark's draft map of the areas that had been explored, and specimens of plant and animal life.
Among the animals were live magpies, a prairie grouse, and a prairie dog.
As the vessel made its way back to St. Louis, Warfington picked up 45 native Americans who had accepted President Jefferson's invitation to meet him in Washington.
Although two members of the crew had been expelled from the expedition and the vessel had to make its way past hostile Indian tribes, Warfington met with success, arriving in St. Louis on May 22. The cargo of documents and specimens was safely delivered to Washington.
Meriwether Lewis later commended Warfington for his exemplary service and recommended that he be given 320 acres of land as a reward.
It is fitting, then, that on Saturday the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation unveiled a handsome marker in Joyner Park that explains Warfington's important contribution to a young country's knowledge of its frontier.
This marker will be included in future editions of maps published by the foundation, which will draw history-minded tourists to Louisburg. The new marker adds to information briefly noted on the state Highway Historical Marker erected in Warfington's honor on South Main Street in 2009.
Little is known of Warfington's life after he completed his military duties, but knowledge of his accomplishments and abilities will live on in the place he once called home.
Published in The Franklin Times on May 28, 2015.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College. He wishes to thank Trent Strickland for sharing articles he wrote for We Proceed On, the quarterly journal published by the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.