) served as sergeant
in the Lewis and Clark Expedition
(1801-1806). He was important to the expedition because of his service as carpenter and he published the first journal of the expedition in 1807, seven years before the first publication based on Lewis and Clark's journals.
Born in Falling Springs (present day Chambersburg
ancestry, he began his military career in 1792, with a Virginia militia or ranger company stationed in Wheeling
fighting against Indians. In 1794 he helped build the house of James Buchanan, Sr. near Mercersburg
Pennsylvania and became acquainted with the young future U.S. President James Buchanan
He joined the U.S. Army in 1799, serving under General Alexander Hamilton
until 1800. He rejoined the army in 1803 and served in Kaskaskia, Illinois
, near St. Louis.
Expedition and later life
He joined the Lewis and Clark's Corps of Discovery as a private on January 1
and was promoted to sergeant by vote of the Corps members after Charles Floyd
's death from appendicitis
on August 20
. His skill as a carpenter was important to the expedition— he led the construction of the Corps' three winter quarters, hewed dugout canoes, and built wagons to portage the canoes 18 miles around the falls of the Missouri
. On the return trip, Gass was given command of the majority of the party for a short period while Clark and Lewis led smaller detachments on separate explorations.
He remained in the army after the expedition returned, serving in the War of 1812, in which he lost an eye, and fighting in the battle of Lundy's Lane. At the age of sixty he married Maria Hamilton, aged 22. She bore 7 children (5 surviving to adulthood) over the remaining 15 years of her life. They settled in Wellsburg, West Virginia where he died, 99 years of age, the last surviving member of the expedition.
He kept a journal that was published in 1807, the first published journal from the expedition. In it, he coined the term “Corps of Discovery”. The book was first printed and sold by subscription in Pittsburgh at $1.00 per copy. It was later reprinted in England, and translated into French and German. A reprint is currently being sold by the University of Nebraska Press and the University of Nebraska at Lincoln online version of the Lewis and Clark journals give 222 entries from Gass's journal.