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Mon, 11.12.1770

York, Black Explorer of North America born

York (statue)

The birth of York in 1770 is celebrated on this date. He was a Black slave and explorer.

York was born in Caroline County, Virginia. He lived near the county’s York River, where he ran naked and barefoot most of the year as a child. His diet was high in starch and low in protein. He lived in a cabin surrounded by a dirt yard.

York’s living conditions improved when, at about the age of 15, he became the slave of William Clark, who was about the same age. Clark would later lead the Lewis and Clark Expedition west. Clark inherited York and a couple believed to have been York’s parents (Old York and Rose).  They accompanied the Clark family when they moved to Kentucky in the late 1780s.

There, York grew up where race relations were more humane than in Virginia.  Some slaves handled guns; others were able to buy goods on credit. Some worked in mines with whites. The forest environment there might have encouraged York to hone the wilderness skills that would later become invaluable on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  Clark recruited nine Kentuckians and began training in October 1803. The group included York, the only black member, who left a few weeks later; it was called the Corps of Discovery. Historians say York quickly earned Clark's respect as a scout and hunter, even carrying a gun.

Clark eventually freed York sometime after 1815 and gave him a wagon and horses for a freight-hauling venture.  But the business failed, and York died of cholera between 1822 and 1832.
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The Biographical Dictionary of Black Americans
by Rachel Krantz and Elizabeth A.Ryan
Copyright 1992, Facts on File, New York, NY
ISBN 0-8160-2324-7

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Various article authors
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