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Home North Carolina Franklin County City of Louisburg Historical Markers Richard Warfington

Richard Warfington

Main Street, Louisburg, NC, USA

Latitude & Longitude: 36° 6' 32.1804", -78° 17' 47.5944"
  North Carolina State Historical Marker
    North Carolina State
Historical Marker
    Marker Text:
"Member of Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804-06. Led the return trip from Mandan villages. Born 1777 near here."
      In April 1804, the Lewis and Clark expedition set out from St. Louis for the Mandan villages along the Missouri River, in present day North Dakota. The “Corps of Discovery” included, in addition to thirty-three permanent members, a number of men who would venture only as far as the Mandan lands before returning. These included French speaking fur traders and guides, as well as several U.S. soldiers who had signed up for only the first leg of the journey. Among the latter was Corporal Richard Warfington, a North Carolina native, who held responsibilities on the expedition far in advance of his rank.

      Little is known of Warfington’s background prior to his enlistment in the 2nd U.S. Infantry. A descriptive roll, a document listing a recruit’s age, physical attributes, and birthplace, taken by Warfington’s company commander, states that he stood five feet ten inches tall, had brown hair and black eyes, a fair complexion and was born in Louisburg in 1777. Army records indicate that Warfington enlisted in August, 1799 in Lexington, Kentucky, and investigation into his surname in Franklin and Bute County records indicates that he was likely the son of Solomon Warburton (also spelled Warbington), a former Continental soldier who received a bounty-land warrant and likely moved his family to Tennessee or Kentucky in the 1790s. In the fall of 1803, he and three others from his regiment were detached to the Corps of Discovery. They arrived at Camp River Dubois, the corps’ winter camp near St. Louis, in December 1803.

      Warfington took part in the first leg of the expedition, even volunteering to continue after his own enlistment term ended in August 1804. An exceptional soldier, Warfington was trusted by Lewis and Clark with command of one of their three boats, a 35 foot-long pirogue. They reached the Mandan villages in the fall of 1804, and suffered through a terrible winter. In the spring of 1805, the Corps of Discovery continued the voyage that led them to the Pacific, while Warfington and ten others returned to St. Louis. Reflective of the trust with which the officers viewed him, Corporal Warfington commanded the return party and their fifty-five-foot-long keelboat. He had the added responsibility of safely transporting the captains’ journals, the first draft of Clark’s map of the West, numerous animal, mineral, and plant specimens, as well as chaperoning a delegation of “forty-five deputies of the six principal (Indian) nations” which had agreed to meet with Thomas Jefferson.

      After a six-week, 1,600-mile journey, Warfington arrived safely in St. Louis. He then delivered several expedition items to William Clark’s brother in Kentucky, before returning to his unit in Tennessee. At the expedition’s completion, Meriwether Lewis compiled a roster of the men who served the entire journey, and recommended that each be granted back pay and 320 acres of land. He included a provision for Richard Warfington, who had only served the first leg, to receive full compensation, citing the corporal’s “cheerfulness with which he continued in the service after every obligation had ceased to exist, from the exposures, the fatigues, labour and dangers incident to that service, and above all the fidelity with which he discharged this duty.”

      Despite Richard Warfington’s important position in the history of the Corp of Discovery, little more is known of the only North Carolinian in the expedition. Having returned to his unit, Warfington apparently received his long overdue discharge, back pay, and 320 acres of land and then disappeared from the historical record. Where he settled, what occupation he pursued, or even when he died is unknown. Today he is honored with an online exhibit about his life at the website for the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial of the National Park Service and an exhibit at the Lewis and Clark Boat House Museum in St. Charles, Missouri.

Trent Strickland, “‘Sergeant Warfington,’” We Proceeded On, Vol. 31 (2005)
James J. Holmberg, ed., Dear Brother: Letters of William Clark to Jonathan Clark (2002)
Donald Jackson, ed., Letters of Lewis and Clark Expedition with Related Documents: 1783-1854, 2 vols. (1978)
Gary E. Moulton, ed., Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 13 vols. (1983-2001)
U.S. Army Register of Enlistments and Company Orderly Books, 2nd U.S. Infantry, National Archives
National Park Service, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial online exhibit:
Richard Warfington Historical Marker Location Map, Louisburg, North Carolina