When Meriwether Lewis sent his famous letter to William Clark on June 19, 1803, inviting him along as co-captain on the western expedition, he had no idea that the names “Lewis & Clark” would be forever linked in history. In fact, he was not sure that William Clark would be able to go on the trip at all. In the six weeks between the time Lewis sent the letter and the day he received Clark’s eager acceptance on August 3, Lewis had to come up with a backup plan in case Clark declined the spot of second-in-command. The name of this backup plan was Moses Hooke.
Lewis met Moses Hooke in 1799, when both were young army officers with the First Infantry, stationed in Pennsylvania. By 1803, Hooke was the commander of Fort Fayette, a supply base along the Ohio River near Pittsburgh. Lewis had the 3,500 pounds of supplies he had purchased in Philadelphia transported to Fort Fayette by wagon, where Hooke agreed to store them while Lewis was making the final arrangements for the keelboat that would carry him up the Missouri. Lewis evidently thought a lot of Hooke, for he wrote to Jefferson on July 26, 1803:
I have recieved as yet no answer from Mr. Clark; in the event of Mr. Clark’s declining to accompany me Lieut. Hooke of this place has engaged to do so, if permitted; and I think from his disposition and qualifications that I might safely calculate on being as ably assisted by him in the execution of the objects of my mission, as I could wish, or would be, by any other officer in the Army. Lieut. Hooke is about 26 years of age, endowed with a good constitution, possessing a sensible well informed mind, is industrious, prudent and persevering, and withal entrepid and enterprising: he has acted as Military Agent at this place for a few months past, and of course will have some public accounts to adjust, tho’ he tells me that he can settle those accounts, deliver the public stores to the person who may be directed to take charge of them, and prepare to go with me, at any time, within the course of a day or two.
It’s a measure of Hooke’s zeal, the boredom of Army life, and the appealing adventure of the western expedition that Hooke was willing to drop everything to go on a 4,000-mile trek up the Missouri River on such short notice. Secretary of War Henry Dearborn gave Hooke permission to go, but within a week, the young man’s hopes were dashed. Not one, but two letters addressed to Lewis arrived from Clark in Louisville. Clark was not only happy to join the expedition, he was already recruiting men and arranging his affairs. Clearly relieved that his first choice came through, Lewis replied, “I feel myself much gratifyed with your decision; for I could neither hope, wish, or expect from a union with any man on earth, more perfect support or further aid in the discharge of the several duties of my mission, that that, which I am confident I shall derive from being associated with yourself.”
No letters or correspondence exists that reveals how Lewis informed Hooke that he had just become the “Pete Best” of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. [Pete Best, if you recall, was the drummer for the Beatles before they found Ringo Starr and shot into the musical stratosphere.] In any case, Hooke sucked up his disappointment, dutifully helped Lewis get two wagonloads of supplies to Wheeling, and saw him off down the Ohio when the keelboat was finally ready at the end of August.
So whatever became of Moses Hooke? He stayed in the Army and remained a respected and capable officer. Eventually promoted to Captain, Hooke’s career may have been derailed when he was put in charge of a bizarre mission arranged by General James Wilkinson in 1807 to capture former Vice President Aaron Burr, after Wilkinson himself betrayed Burr’s plans to raise a force to invade Spanish territory. Captain Hooke, along with two other Army lieutenants and two military surgeons, were supposed to disguise themselves in civilian clothes, arm themselves with pistols and dirks, take Burr at gunpoint and forcibly bring him to New Orleans on a naval gunboat. One suspects Wilkinson—a co-conspiritor in Burr’s failed scheme— would not have been disappointed if Burr “mysteriously” died en route before he could tell what he knew. Hooke seems to have been a reluctant participant in this cloak-and-dagger caper; unwilling to use violence, and lacking the cooperation of the navy, Hooke allowed Burr to be taken into custody by the civil authorities.
Moses Hooke resigned his army commission in 1808. By the 1820’s he was a married father living in Mississippi. Hooke had married a young widow, Mrs. Harriet Butler, and settled on land known as the Salisbury plantation near present-day Woodville, Mississippi. Moses and Harriet had six children together, four boys and two girls. Moses Hooke died on August 9, 1821, only 44 years old. He was buried at Salisbury plantation, next to a young son and young daughter who preceded him.