Part of an amazing five-year, six-ship expedition covering about 87,000 miles by a US Navy group included exploration of the inland Washington Waters around 1840. The expedition was led by Navy Lt. Charles Wilkes.
Details of this epic journey will be described and explained by Dick Blumenthal of Bellevue at the January program of the Lakewood Historical Society. The program is slated for Jan. 19, starting at 7 pm, at the Lakewood Library (6300 Wildaire Rd. SW, Lakewood), according to Becky Huber, president of the Lakewood Historical Society. His presentation will concentrate on the Puget Sound experiences of the Navy group. The program is open to the public. It is free.
Blumenthal’s talk is based on the third of his books, Charles Wilkes and the Exploration of Inland Washington Waters. Fascinated by Washington waters since childhood, Blumenthal has conducted extensive research into local maritime history and located the original journals of the area’s earliest explorers. From material in the journals he produced his first book, The Early Explorations of Inland Washington Waters followed by a second one, With Vancouver in Inland Washington Waters.
Wilkes is responsible for naming over 300 places in the State of Washington. He and his crew celebrated the 4th of July in 1841 on British held territory near Fort Nisqually. He invited his American contemporary, Captain James McNeill and the crew of the SS Beaver, the first steamship on Puget Sound, to the event. Because of Wilkes recognition and recommendation that the United States’ northern boundary should include Puget Sound, President Polk won the argument when the border with Canada was created at the 49th Parallel in 1846 instead of it being the Columbia River, as the British wanted.
LT Wilkes led the five-year expedition with six ships and 346 men leaving from Hampton Roads, Virginia in 1838. During Wilkes’ Expedition the continents of Australia, South America and Antarctica were visited; 280 islands in the Pacific Ocean were explored and over 800 miles of Oregon Territory coastline were mapped. The staggering amount of specimens and artifacts brought back formed the foundation for the Smithsonian Institution. Over 10,000 plant specimens collected became known as the U.S. Botanic Garden. Wilkes published his journal, Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, a five-volume set, in 1844 that sold well and was reprinted twice at his own expense. Many of the scientists on the voyage kept journals that contributed much to their individual fields.
The expedition was the last all-sail naval mission. He lost 2 ships and 28 men. He was court-martialed upon his return for the loss of his ships, for regular mistreatment of his subordinate officers and excessive punishment of his sailors. He and his crew returned from their harrowing voyage to find a nation underwhelmed by its accomplishments, including a new administration in the White House that was reluctant to shower praise upon an enterprise begun by his predecessor.
Wilkes continued his Navy career being promoted to Captain in 1855 and serving on various ships during the Civil War. He continued to create controversy and almost caused Britain to declare war on the U.S. when he seized British ships. He was court-martialed again but President Lincoln canceled the charges. He retired as Rear Admiral in 1866 and died in 1877 in relative obscurity.Print This Post