Zebulon Montgomery Pike was born on January 5, 1779, near Lamberton, (today’s Lamington), NJ. His father Zebulon Pike fought with George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Pike chose a military career like his father.
Zebulon Pike, Jr married Clarissa Harlow Brown in 1801. They had one child who survived to adulthood, Clarissa Brown Pike, who later married President William Henry Harrison’s son, John Cleves Symmes Harrison. Their other child, an unnamed son, died in infancy at Cantonment BelleFontaine during Pike’s 2nd expedition.
Pike was an avid self-learner. He was fond of reading military techniques and the French language. His abilities in the field to draw accurate maps, record observations, and measure geographical position were obvious in his work. His high values were obvious. His abilities as a leader and strong statesman for America were evident through the efforts of both expeditions. Evidence of this were Pike’s “Damned Rascals” most of whom accompanied him during both expeditions.
He joined his father’s Army unit in early 1799 at Fort Massac, Territory Northwest of the River Ohio (now Illinois). He was appointed 2nd and 1st Lieutenant in 1799. He piloted several cargo vessels to the frontier from Pittsburg and Cincinnati on the Ohio River. He was assigned to several forts on the Ohio River leading to his payroll assignment at Fort Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River in 1805.
General James Wilkinson, the first Governor of the Louisiana Territory, assigned him to command two expeditions- the first American exploration of the headwaters of the upper Mississippi River (1805-1806) and the American Southwest (1806-1807).
The territories Pike explored had been purchased from France in 1803 (Louisiana Purchase). Pike explored the Mississippi River border and southwest portions (1806-7) of the Purchase as Lewis and Clark explored the Northwest portion (May 1804 to September 1806).