Sign In

Forgot Password Create Account

Charles Wilkes (1798-1877) was a skilled naval surveyor and the commander of the United States South Seas Exploration Expedition (U.S. Ex. Ex.), the largest scientific voyage ever mounted by the United States. Wilkes was born in New York City and began to sail in merchant vessels from 1815-1917.

Wilkes joined the United States Navy as a midshipman in 1818; by 1826, he had risen to the rank of lieutenant. Fascinated by hydrography, Wilkes studied triangulation and surveying with Ferdinand Hassler, the first superintendent of the United States Coast Survey. This expertise and initiative led him to be named Director of the Navy’s Depot of Charts and Instruments in 1833.

After being stalled by the Navy, U.S. Ex. Ex.—the U.S. response to the scientific voyages of Cook and La Perouse—was finally preparing to sail in the late 1830s. Wilkes was offered command, thanks to the heavy surveying focus on the voyage. He was given command of six vessels and nine scientists. However, the ships were not well supplied and the expedition was executed with some difficulty.

The ships left Norfolk in August 1838. They went in convoy to Tierra del Fuego, where they split and some explored in the South Seas and others in the South Atlantic. In late 1830, Wilkes surveyed portions of Antarctica that today are named for him (Wilkes Land). From spring 1840, the ships explored the mid- and North-Pacific. In June 1842, Wilkes returned to New York Harbor with only two of his six ships and a mountain of ethnographic, botanical, and natural historical specimens, as well as reams of observations, drawings, and charts.

Wilkes was met with a court martial; while he was acquitted of most charges, he was convicted of illegal punishment and reprimanded by the Secretary of the Navy. Despite this, he was promoted commander in 1843, captain in 1855, and commodore in 1862.

Wilkes spent much of his remaining career overseeing the publications of the expedition. The first official publication to appear was Wilkes’ rambling five-volume narrative of the voyage, accompanied by a folio atlas, in 1844. A further 19 volumes were prepared over the course of 30 years, each on a different scientific topic, although only 14 were ever distributed. Perhaps the most impressive legacies of the expedition were the almost 250 charts Wilkes prepared in two atlases (completed 1858, published 1861, but not distributed until after the Civil War). These formed the basis of the United States Hydrographic Office.

Wilkes served in the Union fleet in the Civil War. In 1864 he was before a court-martial again, this time for the publication of a private letter to the Secretary of the Navy. He was found guilty. He retired two years later, in 1866, and died in Washington D. C. in 1877.

Place/Date:
London / 1797
Size:
9.5 x 7.5 inches
Condition:
Stock#:
68074
Place/Date:
New York / 1849
Size:
13 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
68433

Archived

Place/Date:
London / 1797
Size:
11.5 x 9.5 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
44719
Place/Date:
London / 1797
Size:
11.5 x 9.5 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
64776
Place/Date:
London / 1807
Size:
9 x 8 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
18135
Place/Date:
New York / 1841 (1844)
Size:
35 x 23 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
1074p
Place/Date:
New York / 1841 (1844)
Size:
35 x 23 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
9165
Place/Date:
New York / 1841
Size:
13 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
40440
Place/Date:
New York / 1841 (1844)
Size:
35 x 23 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
45529
Place/Date:
New York / 1841
Size:
35 x 22.75 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
43274
Place/Date:
New York / 1841 (1844)
Size:
35 x 23 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
53579
Place/Date:
Philadelphia / 1841 (1845)
Size:
23.5 x 15.5 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
66347
Place/Date:
New York / 1841 (1844)
Size:
35 x 23 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
67777
Place/Date:
London / 1844
Size:
35.5 x 24.5 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
24196
Place/Date:
London / 1844
Size:
35.5 x 24.5 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
28765
Place/Date:
London / 1844
Size:
35.5 x 24.5 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
30545
Place/Date:
Washington / 1845
Size:
11.5 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
1154p
Place/Date:
Washington / 1845
Size:
11.5 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
5640
Place/Date:
Washington / 1845
Size:
11.5 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
7732
Place/Date:
Philadephia / 1845
Size:
34 x 24 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
21910
Place/Date:
Philadephia / 1845
Size:
34 x 24 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
21934
Place/Date:
Philadephia / 1845
Size:
34 x 24 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
21933
Place/Date:
New York / 1845
Size:
35 x 23 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
21935
Place/Date:
Washington / 1845
Size:
11.5 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
28331
Place/Date:
Washington / 1845
Size:
11.5 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
35495
Place/Date:
Washington, D.C. / 1845
Size:
8.5 x 11 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
43163
Place/Date:
New York / 1849
Size:
13 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
2697
Place/Date:
New York / 1849
Size:
13 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
36025
Place/Date:
New York / 1849
Size:
13 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
42599
Place/Date:
New York / 1849
Size:
13 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
41231
Place/Date:
New York / 1849
Size:
13 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
43527
Place/Date:
New York / 1849
Size:
13 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG+
Stock#:
53890
Place/Date:
Washington / 1849
Size:
11.5 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
60057
Place/Date:
New York / 1849
Size:
13 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
68158
Place/Date:
New York / 1849
Size:
13 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
Good
Stock#:
65459
Place/Date:
Nuremberg / 1850
Size:
13 x 8.5 inches
Condition:
VG
Stock#:
53240