The United States Exploring Expedition of 1838–1842 was an exploring and surveying expedition of the Pacific Ocean and surrounding lands conducted by the United States. The original appointed commanding officer was Commodore Thomas ap Catesby Jones. Funding for the original expedition was requested by President John Quincy Adams in 1828, however, Congress would not implement funding until eight years later. In May 1836, the oceanic exploration voyage was finally authorized by Congress and created by President Andrew Jackson.
The Pacific Ocean is the largest and deepest of Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south and is bounded by Asia and Australia in the west and the Americas in the east.
Thomas ap Catesby Jones was a US Navy commissioned officer during the War of 1812 and the Mexican–American War.
John Quincy Adams was an American statesman, diplomat, lawyer, and diarist who served as the sixth president of the United States from 1825 to 1829. He previously served as the eighth United States Secretary of State from 1817 to 1825. During his long diplomatic and political career, Adams also served as an ambassador, and represented Massachusetts as a United States Senator and as a member of the United States House of Representatives. He was the eldest son of John Adams, who served as the second US president from 1797 to 1801. Initially a Federalist like his father, he won election to the presidency as a member of the Democratic-Republican Party, and in the mid-1830s became affiliated with the Whig Party.
The expedition is sometimes called the "U.S. Ex. Ex." for short, or the "Wilkes Expedition" in honor of its next appointed commanding officer, United States Navy Lieutenant Charles Wilkes. The expedition was of major importance to the growth of science in the United States, in particular the then-young field of oceanography. During the event, armed conflict between Pacific islanders and the expedition was common and dozens of natives were killed in action, as well as a few Americans.
The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world and it has been estimated that in terms of tonnage of its active battle fleet alone, it is larger than the next 13 navies combined, which includes 11 U.S. allies or partner nations. with the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 319,421 personnel on active duty and 99,616 in the Ready Reserve, the Navy is the third largest of the service branches. It has 282 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of March 2018, making it the second-largest air force in the world, after the United States Air Force.
Charles Wilkes was an American naval officer, ship's captain, and explorer. He led the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 and commanded the ship in the Trent Affair during the American Civil War (1861–1865), where he attacked a Royal Mail Ship, almost leading to war between the US and the UK. His behavior led to two convictions by court-martial, one stemming from the massacre of almost 80 Fijians on Malolo in 1840.
Oceanography, also known as oceanology, is the study of the physical and biological aspects of the ocean. It is an important Earth science, which covers a wide range of topics, including ecosystem dynamics; ocean currents, waves, and geophysical fluid dynamics; plate tectonics and the geology of the sea floor; and fluxes of various chemical substances and physical properties within the ocean and across its boundaries. These diverse topics reflect multiple disciplines that oceanographers blend to further knowledge of the world ocean and understanding of processes within: astronomy, biology, chemistry, climatology, geography, geology, hydrology, meteorology and physics. Paleoceanography studies the history of the oceans in the geologic past.
Through the lobbying efforts of Jeremiah N. Reynolds, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution on May 21, 1828, requesting President John Quincy Adams to send a ship to explore the Pacific. Adams was keen on the resolution and ordered his Secretary of the Navy to ready a ship, the Peacock, while the House voted an appropriation in December Yet, the bill stalled in the US Senate in February 1829. However, under President Andrew Jackson, Congress passed legislation in 1836 approving the exploration mission. Yet again, the effort stalled under Secretary of the Navy Mahlon Dickerson until President Van Buren assumed office and pushed the effort forward.
Lobbying in the United States describes paid activity in which special interests hire well-connected professional advocates, often lawyers, to argue for specific legislation in decision-making bodies such as the United States Congress. It is a highly controversial phenomenon, often seen in a negative light by journalists and the American public, with some critics describing it as a legal form of bribery or extortion. While lobbying is subject to extensive and often complex rules which, if not followed, can lead to penalties including jail, the activity of lobbying has been interpreted by court rulings as constitutionally protected free speech and a way to petition the government for the redress of grievances, two of the freedoms protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. Since the 1970s, lobbying activity has grown immensely in the United States in terms of the numbers of lobbyists and the size of lobbying budgets, and has become the focus of much criticism of American governance.
Jeremiah N. Reynolds, also known as J. N. Reynolds, was an American newspaper editor, lecturer, explorer and author who became an influential advocate for scientific expeditions. His lectures on the possibility of a hollow Earth appear to have influenced Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) and his 1839 account of the whale Mocha Dick, Mocha Dick: Or the White Whale of the Pacific, influenced Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851).
The United States House of Representatives is the lower chamber of the United States Congress, the Senate being the upper chamber. Together they compose the legislature of the United States.
Originally, the expedition was under the command Commodore Jones, but he resigned in November 1837, frustrated with all of the procrastination. Secretary of War Joel Roberts Poinsett, in April 1838, then assigned command to Wilkes, after more senior officers refused the command. Wilkes had a reputation for hydrography, geodesy, and magnetism. Additionally, Wilkes had received mathematics training from Nathaniel Bowditch, triangulation methods from Ferdinand Hassler, and geomagnetism from James Renwick.
The Secretary of War was a member of the United States President's Cabinet, beginning with George Washington's administration. A similar position, called either "Secretary at War" or "Secretary of War", had been appointed to serve the Congress of the Confederation under the Articles of Confederation between 1781 and 1789. Benjamin Lincoln and later Henry Knox held the position. When Washington was inaugurated as the first president under the Constitution, he appointed Knox to continue serving as Secretary of War.
Joel Roberts Poinsett was an American physician and diplomat. He was the first U.S. agent in South America, a member of the South Carolina legislature and the United States House of Representatives, the first United States Minister to Mexico, a Unionist leader in South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis, Secretary of War under Martin Van Buren, and a co-founder of the National Institute for the Promotion of Science and the Useful Arts.
Hydrography is the branch of applied sciences which deals with the measurement and description of the physical features of oceans, seas, coastal areas, lakes and rivers, as well as with the prediction of their change over time, for the primary purpose of safety of navigation and in support of all other marine activities, including economic development, security and defence, scientific research, and environmental protection.
Personnel included naturalists, botanists, a mineralogist, a taxidermist, and a philologist. They were carried aboard the sloops-of-war USS Vincennes (780 tons), and USS Peacock (650 tons), the brig USS Porpoise (230 tons), the full-rigged ship Relief, which served as a store-ship, and two schooners, Sea Gull (110 tons) and USS Flying Fish (96 tons), which served as tenders.
Natural history is a domain of inquiry involving organisms including animals, fungi and plants in their environment; leaning more towards observational than experimental methods of study. A person who studies natural history is called a naturalist or natural historian.
In the 18th century and most of the 19th, a sloop-of-war in the Royal Navy was a warship with a single gun deck that carried up to eighteen guns. The rating system covered all vessels with 20 guns and above; thus, the term sloop-of-war encompassed all the unrated combat vessels, including the very small gun-brigs and cutters. In technical terms, even the more specialised bomb vessels and fireships were classed as sloops-of-war, and in practice these were employed in the sloop role when not carrying out their specialized functions.
USS Vincennes (1826) was a 703-ton Boston-class sloop of war in the United States Navy from 1826 to 1865. During her service, Vincennes patrolled the Pacific, explored the Antarctic, and blockaded the Confederate Gulf coast in the Civil War. Named for the Revolutionary War Battle of Vincennes, she was the first U.S. warship to circumnavigate the globe.
On the afternoon of August 18, 1838, the vessels weighed anchor and set to sea under full sail. By 0730 the next morning, they had passed the lightship off Willoughby Spit and discharged the pilot. The fleet then headed to Madeira, taking advantage of the prevailing winds.
Willoughby Spit is a peninsula of land in the independent city of Norfolk, Virginia in the United States. It is bordered by water on three sides: the Chesapeake Bay to the north, Hampton Roads to the west, and Willoughby Bay to the south.
A maritime pilot, marine pilot, harbor pilot, bar pilot, or simply pilot, is a sailor who maneuvers ships through dangerous or congested waters, such as harbors or river mouths. They are navigational experts possessing knowledge of the particular waterway such as its depth, currents, and hazards.
Madeira, officially the Autonomous Region of Madeira, is one of the two autonomous regions of Portugal. It is an archipelago situated in the north Atlantic Ocean, southwest of Portugal. Its total population was estimated in 2011 at 267,785. The capital of Madeira is Funchal, which is located on the main island's south coast.
Coincidentally, Commodore George C. Read in command of the East India Squadron aboard the flagship frigate USS Columbia, together with the frigate USS John Adams, were at the time in the process of circumnavigating the globe when the ships paused for the second Sumatran punitive expedition, which required no detour.
The expedition consisted of nearly 350 men, many of whom were not assigned to any specific vessel. Others served on more than one vessel.
Wilkes was to search for vigias, or shoals, as reported by John Purdy, but failed to corroborate those claims for the locations given. The squadron arrived in the Madeira Islands on September 16, 1838, and Porto Praya on October 6.The Peacock arrived at Rio de Janeiro on November 21, and the Vincennes with brigs and schooners on November 24. However, the Relief did not arrive until the November 27, setting a record for slowness, 100 days. While there, they used Enxados Island in Guanabara Bay for an observatory and naval yard for repair and refitting.
The Squadron did not leave Rio de Janeiro until January 6, 1839, arriving at the mouth of the Río Negro on January 25. On February 19, the squadron joined the Relief, Flying Fish, and Sea Gull in Orange Harbor, Hoste Island, after passing through Le Maire Strait. While there, the expedition came in contact with the Fuegians. Wilkes sent an expedition south in an attempt to exceed Captain Cook's farthest point south, 71°10'.
The Flying Fish reached 70° on March 22, in the area about 100 miles north of Thurston Island, and what is now called Cape Flying Fish, and the Walker Mountains. The squadron joined the Peacock in Valparaiso on May 10, but the Sea Gull was reported missing. On June 6, the squadron arrived San Lorenzo, off Callao for repair and provisioning, while Wilkes dispatched the Relief homewards on June 21.Leaving South America on July 12, the expedition reached Reao of the Tuamotu Group on August 13, and Tahiti on September 11. They departed Tahiti on October 10.
The expedition then visited Samoa and New South Wales, Australia. In December 1839, the expedition sailed from Sydney into the Antarctic Ocean and reported the discovery of the Antarctic continent on January 16, 1840, when Henry Eld and William Reynolds aboard the Peacock sighted Eld Peak and Reynolds Peak along the George V Coast. On the January 19, Reynolds spotted Cape Hudson. On January 25, the Vincennes sighted the mountains behind the Cook Ice Shelf, similar peaks at Piner Bay on January 30, and had covered 800 miles of coastline by February 12, from 140° 30' E. to 112° 16' 12"E., when Wilkes acknowledged they had "discovered the Antarctic Continent." Named Wilkes Land, it includes Claire Land, Banzare Land, Sabrina Land, Budd Land, and Knox Land. They reached a westward goal of 105° E., the edge of Queen Mary Land, before departing to the north again on February 21.
The Porpoise came across the French expedition of Jules Dumont d'Urville on January 30. However, due to a misunderstanding of each other's intentions, the Porpoise and Astrolabe were unable to communicate.In February 1840, some of the expedition were present at the initial signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand. Some of the squadron then proceeded back to Sydney for repairs, while the rest visited the Bay of Islands, before arriving in Tonga in April. At Nuku'alofa the met King Josiah (Aleamotu'a), and the George (Taufa'ahau), chief of Ha'apai, before proceeding onwards to Fiji on May 4. The Porpoise surveyed the Low Archipelago, while the Vincennes and Peacock proceeded onwards to Ovalau, where they signed a commercial treaty with Tanoa Visawaqa in Levuka. Edward Belcher's HMS Starling visited Ovalau at the same time. Hudson was able to capture Vendovi, after holding his brothers Cocanauto, Qaraniqio, and Tui Dreketi (Roko Tui Dreketi or King of Rewa Province) hostage. Vendovi was deemed responsible for the attack against US sailors on Ono Island in 1836. Vendovi was to be taken back to the US after a brief trial on board.
In July 1840, two members of the party, Lieutenant Underwood and Wilkes' nephew, Midshipman Wilkes Henry, were killed while bartering for food in western Fiji's Malolo Island. The cause of this event remains equivocal. Immediately prior to their deaths, the son of the local chief, who was being held as a hostage by the Americans, escaped by jumping out of the boat and running through the shallow water for shore. The Americans fired over his head. According to members of the expedition party on the boat, his escape was intended as a prearranged signal by the Fijians to attack. According to those on shore, the shooting actually precipitated the attack on the ground. The Americans landed sixty sailors to attack the hostile natives. Close to eighty Fijians were killed in the resulting American reprisal and two villages were burned to the ground.
On August 9, after three months of surveying, the squadron met off Macuata. The Vincennes and Peacock proceeded onwards to the Sandwich Islands, with the Flying Fish and Porpoise to meet them in Oahu by October. Along the way, Wilkes named the Phoenix Group and made a stop at the Palmyra Atoll, making their group the first scientific expedition in history to visit Palmyra.While in Hawaii, the officers were welcomed by Governor Kekuanaoa, King Kamehameha III, his aide William Richards, and the journalist James Jackson Jarves. The expedition surveyed Kauai, Oahu, Hawaii, and the peak of Mauna Loa. The Porpoise was dispatched in November to survey several of the Tuamotus, including Aratika, Kauehi, Raraka, and Katiu, before proceeding onwards to Penrhyn and returning to Oahu on 24 March.
On April 5, 1841, the squadron departed Honolulu, the Porpoise and Vincennes for the Pacific Northwest, the Peacock and Flying Fish to resurvey Samoa, before rejoining the squadron. Along the way, the Peacock and Flying Fish surveyed Jarvis Island, Enderbury Island, the Tokelau Islands, and Fakaofo. The Peacock followed this with surveys of the Tuvalu islands of Nukufetau, Vaitupu, and Nanumanga in March, followed by Tabiteuea in April. Also in April, the Peacock surveyed the Gilbert Islands of Nonouti, Aranuka, Maiana, Abemama, Kuria, Tarawa, Marakei, Butaritari, and Makin, before returning to Ohau on June 13. The Peacock and Flying Fish then left for the Columbia River on June 21.
In April 1841, USS Peacock, under Lieutenant William L. Hudson, and USS Flying Fish, surveyed Drummond's Island, which was named for an American of the expedition. Lieutenant Hudson heard from a member of his crew that a ship had wrecked off the island and her crew massacred by the Gilbertese. A woman and her child were said to be the only survivors, so Hudson decided to land a small force of marines and sailors, under William M. Walker, to search the island. Initially, the natives were peaceful and the Americans were able to explore the island, without results. It was when the party was returning to their ship that Hudson noticed a member of his crew was missing.
After making another search, the man was not found and the natives began arming themselves. Lieutenant Walker returned his force to the ship, to converse with Hudson, who ordered Walker to return to shore and demand the return of the sailor. Walker then reboarded his boats with his landing party and headed to shore. Walker shouted his demand and the natives charged for him, forcing the boats to turn back to the ships. It was decided on the next day that the Americans would bombard the hostiles and land again. While doing this, a force of around 700 Gilbertese warriors opposed the American assault, but were defeated after a long battle. No Americans were hurt, but twelve natives were killed and others were wounded, and two villages were also destroyed. A similar episode occurred two months before in February when the Peacock and the Flying Fish briefly bombarded the island of Upolu, Samoa following the death of an American merchant sailor on the island.
The Vincennes and Porpoise reached Cape Disappointment on April 28, 1841, but then headed north to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Port Discovery, and Fort Nisqually, where they were welcomed by William Henry McNeill and Alexander Caulfield Anderson. The Porpoise surveyed the Admiralty Inlet, while boats from the Vincennes surveyed Hood Canal, and the coast northwards to the Fraser River. Wilkes visited Fort Clatsop, John McLoughlin at Fort Vancouver, and William Cannon on the Willamette River, while he sent Lt. Johnson on an expedition to Fort Okanogan, Fort Colvile and Fort Nez Perces, where they met Marcus Whitman.Like his predecessor, British explorer George Vancouver, Wilkes spent a good deal of time near Bainbridge Island. He noted the bird-like shape of the harbor at Winslow and named it Eagle Harbor. Continuing his fascination with bird names, he named Bill Point and Wing Point. Port Madison, Washington and Points Monroe and Jefferson were named in honor of former United States presidents. Port Ludlow was assigned to honor Lieutenant Augustus Ludlow, who lost his life during the War of 1812.
The Peacock and Flying Fish arrived off Cape Disappointment on July 17. However, the Peacock went aground while attempting to enter the Columbia River and was soon lost, though with no loss of life. The crew was able to lower six boats and get everyone into Baker's Bay, along with their journals, surveys, the chronometers, and some of Agate's sketches. A one-eyed Indian named George then guided the Flying Fish into the same bay.
There, the crew set up "Peacockville", assisted by James Birnie of the Hudson's Bay Company, and the American Methodist Mission at Point Adams. They also traded with the local Clatsop and Chinookan Indians over the next three weeks, while surveying the channel, before journeying to Fort George and a reunion with the rest of the squadron. This prompted Wilkes to send the Vincennes to San Francisco Bay, while he continued to survey Grays Harbor.
From the area of modern-day Portland, Wilkes sent an overland party of 39 southwards, led by Emmons, but guided by Joseph Meek. The group included Agate, Eld, Colvocoresses, Brackenridge, Rich, Peale, Stearns, and Dana, and proceeded along an inland route to Fort Umpqua, Mount Shasta, the Sacramento River, John Sutter's New Helvetia, and then onwards to San Francisco Bay. They departed September 7, and arrived aboard the Vincennes in Sausalito on October 23, having traveled along the Siskiyou Trail.
Wilkes arrived with the Porpoise and Oregon, while the Flying Fish was to rendezvous with the squadron in Honolulu.The squadron surveyed San Francisco and its tributaries, and later produced a map of "Upper California". The expedition then headed back out on October 31, arriving Honolulu on November 17, and departing on November 28. They included a visit to Wake Island, and returned by way of the Philippines, Borneo, Singapore, Polynesia, and the Cape of Good Hope, reaching New York on June 10, 1842.
The expedition was plagued by poor relationships between Wilkes and his subordinate officers throughout. Wilkes' self-proclaimed status as captain and commodore, accompanied by the flying of the requisite pennant and the wearing of a captain's uniform while being commissioned only as a Lieutenant, rankled heavily with other members of the expedition of similar real rank. His apparent mistreatment of many of his subordinates, and indulgence in punishments such as "flogging round the fleet" resulted in a major controversy on his return to America.Wilkes was court-martialled on his return, but was acquitted on all charges except that of illegally punishing men in his squadron.
The Wilkes Expedition played a major role in the development of 19th-century science, particularly in the growth of the American scientific establishment. Many of the species and other items found by the expedition helped form the basis of collections at the new Smithsonian Institution.
With the help of the expedition's scientists, derisively called "clam diggers" and "bug catchers" by navy crew members, 280 islands, mostly in the Pacific, were explored, and over 800 miles of Oregon were mapped. Of no less importance, over 60,000 plant and bird specimens were collected. A staggering amount of data and specimens were collected during the expedition, including the seeds of 648 species, which were later traded, planted, and sent throughout the country. Dried specimens were sent to the National Herbarium, now a part of the Smithsonian Institution. There were also 254 live plants, which mostly came from the home stretch of the journey, that were placed in a newly constructed greenhouse in 1850, which later became the United States Botanic Garden.
Alfred Thomas Agate, engraver and illustrator, created an enduring record of traditional cultures such as the illustrations made of the dress and tattoo patterns of natives of the Ellice Islands (now Tuvalu).
A collection of artifacts from the expedition also went to the National Institute for the Promotion of Science, a precursor of the Smithsonian Institution. These joined artifacts from American history as the first artifacts in the Smithsonian collection.
For a short time Wilkes was attached to the Office of Coast Survey, but from 1844 to 1861 he was chiefly engaged in preparing the expedition report. Twenty-eight volumes were planned, but only nineteen were published.Of these, Wilkes wrote the multi-volume Narrative of the United States exploring expedition, during 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842, Hydrography, and Meteorology.
The Narrative concerns the customs, political and economic conditions of many places then little-known. Other contributions were three reports by James Dwight Dana on Zoophytes, Geology, and Crustacea. In addition to shorter articles and reports, Wilkes published Western America, including California and Oregon,and Theory of the Winds. The Smithsonian Institution digitized the five volume narrative and the accompanying scientific volumes. The mismanagement that plagued the expedition prior to its departure continued after its completion. By June 1848, many of the specimens had been lost or damaged and many remained unidentified. Asa Gray was hired to work on the botanical specimens.
USS Flying Fish (1838), a schooner, was formerly the New York City pilot boat Independence. Purchased by the United States Navy at New York City on 3 August 1838 and upon joining her squadron in Hampton Roads 12 August 1838 was placed under command of Passed Midshipman S. R. Knox.
Fakaofo, formerly known as Bowditch Island, is a South Pacific Ocean atoll located in the Tokelau Group. The actual land area is only about 3 km², consisting of islets on a coral reef surrounding a central lagoon of some 45 km². According to the 2006 census 483 people officially live on Fakaofo. Of those present 70% belong to the Congregational Church and 22% to the Catholic Church.
The second USS Porpoise was a 224-ton Dolphin class brigantine. The USS Porpoise was later rerigged as a brig. She was based on the same plans as Dolphin.
Captain William Levereth Hudson, USN was a United States Navy officer in the first half of the 19th century.
Knox Coast, part of Wilkes Land, is that portion of the coast of Antarctica lying between Cape Hordern, at 100°31′E, and the Hatch Islands, at 109°16′E.
Budd Coast, part of Wilkes Land, is that portion of the coast of Antarctica lying between the Hatch Islands, at 109°16'E, and Cape Waldron, at 115°33'E. It was discovered in February 1840 by the U.S. Exploring Expedition (1838–42) under the leadership of Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, and named by Wilkes for Thomas A. Budd, Acting Master of the sloop Peacock, one of the ships used on the expedition. A portion of the Puget Sound, Budd Inlet, is also named for Thomas Budd.
George Foster Emmons was a rear admiral of the United States Navy, who served in the early to mid 19th century.
The North Pacific Exploring and Surveying Expedition, also known as the Rodgers-Ringgold Expedition was a United States scientific and exploring project from 1853 to 1856.
USS Sea Gull was a schooner in the service of the United States Navy. The Sea Gull was one of six ships that sailed in the US Exploring Expedition in 1838 to survey the coast of the then-unknown continent of Antarctica and the Pacific Islands. The specimens collected on the voyage would later form the backbone of the Smithsonian Institution.
USS Oregon was a brig that served in the United States Navy from 1841 to 1845.
Henry Eld was a United States Navy officer, geographer, and Antarctic explorer.
Cadwalader Ringgold was an officer in the United States Navy who served in the United States Exploring Expedition, later headed an expedition to the Northwest and, after initially retiring, returned to service during the Civil War.
Charles Fleury Bien-aimé Guilloû was an American military physician. He served on a major exploring expedition that included both scientific discoveries and controversy, and two historic diplomatic missions. He ran a hospital in the Hawaiian Islands, before returning to the US.
The Battle of Drummond's Island was a conflict between the United States Exploring Expedition and the village of Utiroa on April 1841 at Drummond's Island, which is now named Tabiteuea. The cause of the conflict was the disappearance of the American seaman John Anderson, who was suspected to have been murdered by the village natives. In retaliation, the members of the expedition killed twelve of the natives and burned the village to the ground.
The Bombardment of Upolu, in 1841, was the second engagement with islanders of the Pacific Ocean during the United States Exploring Expedition.
William Lewis Maury was born in Virginia, the son of William Grymes Maury and Ann Hoomes Woolfolk, and became a midshipman in 1829. His career as a midshipman and lieutenant was marked by his service in the United States Exploring Expedition.
Thomas Tingey Craven was a 19th-century United States Navy officer who rose to prominence during the Civil War.
Thomas A. Budd was a United States Naval officer.
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