York was the only man who set out with Lewis and Clark on their journey of exploration who did not volunteer. As William Clark’s enslaved manservant and the only nonwhite member, he didn’t have the choice.
In a series of brief, dated snapshots, York narrates the story of the expedition from his embarkation from Louisville in 1803 to the eve of their departure from the Oregon coast in 1806. In between, he covers incidents both oft-told (Sacagawea’s joining the party at Fort Mandan; the geographical challenges met) and rarely heard (Clark’s use of York to impress Native peoples; York’s inclusion in the vote on the decision to site their final winter camp). Davis imagines York’s feelings as he navigates his role as both enslaved African-American man and almost-full member of the expedition, narrating in a stiff voice that emulates 19th-century prose and also captures the stress of life as a second-class citizen: “After that vote…I worked as hard as any three men. Capt. Clark said that I ‘pushed my body to exhaustion.’ I just wanted to show the others how much I deserved that vote.” Harris’ illustrations also evoke the flat, primitive style of much 19th-century painting. Compositions frequently place York at the margins or in the shadows, underscoring the fact that he was not a full member of the party. A closing author’s note contextualizes and complicates his legacy.
An important, underheard voice. (glossary) (Picture book. 5-10)