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NATHANIEL PRYOR c. 1775 - 1831 U.S. EXPLORER, SOLDIER, TRADER & INDIAN AGENT

 by John H. Prior john@prior11.freeserve.co.uk 

(PART ONE )

Nathaniel Pryor was born around the year 1775, probably in Amherst County, Virginia. His father, John A. Pryor, married Nancy Floyd, daughterof William and Abadiah ( Davis ) Floyd. Their known children were - Nancy, Nathaniel Hale, James, Robert L., Jane B., Eliza W. and possibly Joseph E.and Samuel.1

Through their mother’s female line, the family claimed descent fromNicketti, a sister of Pocahontas, daughters of Indian Chief Powatan.2 The ancestry of their father is unknown. John and Nancy Pryor migrated to Kentucky some time
during Nathaniel’syouth, possibly in 1783. His uncle, Charles Floyd, also moved to Kentucky at this time and the two families settled at The Falls of the Ohio (Louisville ).3

Nathaniel married Margaret (‘Peggy’) Patton, the daughter of James andMary (Doherty) Patton, on the 17th May 1798 in Jefferson County, Kentucky.4Whether because of Margaret’s death or the couple’s divorce, the marriage was apparently of short duration. A tradition in the Floyd family holds that a son, Nathaniel Miguel, was born to Nathaniel and Margaret
around1799, but it is possible that this was a nephew rather than a son.5

On the 20th October 1803 at Louisville, Nathaniel volunteered for the‘Lewis and Clark Expedition’ along with his cousin Charles Floyd, Jr. ( born1782 ).6 Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark had been appointed by President Thomas Jefferson and Congress to explore the great western wilderness of the USA. This was to be one of the most dramatic and
significant exploration of world history. The United States, whilst attempting to purchase New Orleans from theFrench in 1803, had been unexpectedly sold the entire territory called Louisiana. This enormous 838,000 square mile area doubled the size of theUnited States overnight. The ‘Louisiana Purchase’ provided the impetus to launch an expedition to explore, map and record details of this largely unknown territory.

The primary object of the expedition was to try and find a navigable transportation route between the east and the west of the United States. The ‘Oregon Country’ on the west coast had been claimed by the United States following the discovery of the mouth of the Columbia River in 1792. The plan was for the expedition to be made up of around thirty three men. Writing to William Clark in June 1803, Meriwether Lewis stipulated that applicants were to be limited to “good hunters, stout, healthy, unmarried men, accustomed to the woods and capable of bearing bodily fatigue in a pretty considerable
degree”. Nathaniel Pryor obviously fitted the bill,which would seem to imply that he was no longer married to Margaret Patton. He was described as being above average height, around six feet tall,but not heavy. He had about him a
quiet, dependable air that brought praisefrom his commanding officers.7

Captains Lewis and Clark must have thought they had chosen the right menin Nathaniel Pryor and his cousin, Charles Floyd for they were both to be appointed to the rank of sergeant in the expedition on the 1st April1804.8
The newly formed party consisted at that stage of the two captains andnine volunteers. They set out by boat down the Ohio River from larksville( opposite Louisville) on the 26th October 1803. Other members were to be recruited along the way. On the 13th November the expedition reached the point where the Ohio and Mississippi rivers meet. Turning north
they headed up the Mississippi River,arriving at St. Louis on the 7th December. St. Louis was very much a frontier town in 1803. With a population of a little over a thousand, the town was a centre for the fur trade. Traders fanned out from here to trade with the native Indian tribes of the west.

The remainder of the winter of 1803-4 was spent at the Wood River Camp.This was situated just up river from St. Louis at the point where the Mississippi and Missouri rivers meet. During this period the expedition finalised their preparations fordeparture into the unknown. The ‘Corps of Discovery’ as they were called, consisted of forty five men when they eventually set off up the Missouri River on the 14th May 1804. The great adventure had begun.

Sources -1 Genealogy Committee of The Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation Inc.

2 The Mountain Men and The Fur Trade of the Far West -Nathaniel Pryor by Raymond W. Settle. Editor - L.R. Hafen (The A.H. Clark Co., Glendale, California 1965) p.277

3 Ibid.

4 Gen. Com. of L+C Trail Heritage Foundation Inc. - op.cit.

5 The Many Faces of Nathaniel Pryor by A. Shoemaker (True West, USA, Sept.1988) pp.48-49

6 Pryor Family Notes p.141 Taken from a book prepared by Elizabeth Pryor Harper, Albuquerque, New Mexico. Collected by Ben Pryor, Griffin, Georgia 1987

7 The Many Faces of N. Pryor - op. cit. p.49

8 Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose (Touchstone, New York 1997) p.118

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