Written by Tristan Genetta, Teen Leader
This summer the Teen Leaders at the New-York Historical Society were responsible for creating an activity for the pop-up exhibition, Audubon: Birdman for a Fledgling Nation, on Governors Island.
This map represents one boundary of human contact with the western side of North America in the 19th century. For my activity, I compared and contrasted this map to a present-day map of the US to see how state borders, the position of the rivers, and the coast lines have evolved. I told my audience about the Lewis and Clark expedition, Zebulon Pike’s expedition, and John James Audubon’s journey from Pennsylvania to Kentucky.
As a quick refresher, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark were commissioned by President Thomas Jefferson in 1803 to explore the territory included in the Louisiana Purchase—the land acquisition from France of 827,000 square miles west of the Mississippi River. Lewis and Clark went all the way to the Pacific Ocean guided by Sacagawea, a member of the Lemhi Shoshone (sho-SHOW-nee) tribe. The expedition took two years to complete.
In 1805 Zebulon Pike led an exploration of the upper reaches on the Mississippi River. A year later, he explored the southwestern region of the North American continent—the present-day states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Both of his expeditions were ordered by Louisiana’s governor, James Wilkinson. As part of my activity, I liked to pose the question: do you think Wilkinson wanted to keep an eye on what Thomas Jefferson was doing? Coincidentally, the governor was a part of the Burr-Wilkinson affair, in which Aaron Burr— Jefferson’s vice president and the infamous killer of Alexander Hamilton—wanted to create an independent country in the southwestern area of the United States. President Jefferson ordered Burr to be arrested and indicted for treason, but he was acquitted by Chief Justice John Marshall.
Finally in my activity, I showed visitors the path that Audubon traveled from Mill Grove, Pennsylvania, to Louisville, Kentucky. Mill Grove is north of Philadelphia on the Schuylkill River. Audubon traveled from Mill Grove to Pittsburgh by crossing the Alleghany Mountains, which is a sub-mountain range of the Appalachians. He then boarded a flatboat from Pittsburgh and traveled along the Ohio River to Louisville, Kentucky. Quite the undertaking when compared to the ease of travel today!
I first presented my activity on July 24th, and it went very well. My first visitors were a father and son, who were interested in maps and knew about Pikes Peak, a mountain in Colorado summited by and named after Zebulon Pike. The two of them really enjoyed the activity as well as the exhibition. I also met a family from Canada and their New York friends as well as two women who were working on another pop-up exhibition on Governors Island. After I completed the activity, I walked around the gallery with the visitors, and shared other information about Romanticism, Charles Willson Peale and the discovery of the “Great Mastodon,” as well as Audubon’s first image for his Birds of America, the turkey.