York was the first known African American to cross the American continent. In the company of Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery, from 1803-1806, he shared equally with them the rigors of the journey, but when the corps was honored, he received no recognition. Whenever the corps came upon American Indian tribes, however, his uniqueness became apparent. To the Crow, York's blackness of skin was viewed as "big medicine," to the Shoshonis and Nez Perce, he was a man of curiosity and strength and awe.
Born about 1772 to slave parents, Old York and Rose, York was the body servant of William Clark. York grew up in Virginia and Kentucky and traveled with the future Captain Clark on his expeditions. In the early 1810's, York was freed by Clark. Involved in drayage and domestic service in Tennessee, York lived possibly into the early 1830's.