York: Explorer is a story of brotherhood, friendship and, ultimately, disappointment. As a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, York discovered his spirit of freedom, what it was like to walk with head held high, to have a voice and to be an important member of a team. When York returned to "civilization" that new spirit nearly killed him. William Clark, a man that York would have freely given his own life for, could not imagine York as anything except property, a slave.
A. Hasan Davis
The man known only as York was born into the system of American slavery around 1774. At an early age he was chosen, probably due to his intellect and his physical size, to be the body servant and slave of William Clark.
William Clark agreed to join Lewis in finding a route from the frontier of the United States to the Pacific Ocean. York would follow his master. As the property of William Clark, the choice of joining the Expedition was not York's to make.
During the 28-month journey, York served the Expedition in many ways. He hunted for game. Although an ordinary and necessary task, York's hunting is noteworthy because, at the time, slaves were not generally permitted to carry firearms.
Several of the tribes the Expedition met had never seen a black man. On occasion, Lewis and Clark used this to their advantage. Many of the Native Americans looked at York as a man touched by God.
York may also have been the first African-American man to vote in the United States. Did any member of the Corps consider the significance of York’s participation in the vote to determine where the Corps would spend the winter of 1805 and1806?
At the Expedition's end other members of the Corps received double pay and 320 acres of land. York received nothing for his hard work and team spirit, not even the right to call himself a free man. Clark denied York his much wanted freedom.
Because he spent most of his life as an enslaved man, York was never permitted to tell his own story. Taken together, however, the Expedition journals, William Clark’s letters, and other accounts provide a sketch of the man and his importance to the Corps of Discovery. Hasan Davis brings York to life. During the Bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the National Park Service enlisted Hasan to ensure that York’s story was an integral part of the commemoration.