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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ex Ex Anniversary

18 August 1838: Exploring Expedition embarked on world cruise

By Naval History & Heritage Command (Albums)

On Sunday, August 18, 1838, the six ships of the first, great United States South Seas Exploring Expedition, commanded by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, crewed by 246 Officers amd men, and with seven scientisits and two artists on board, set sail from the Hampton Roads, Virginia, headed for the far side of the world.

Almost four years later, in June 1842, the remnants of the expedition straggled into New York.  One vessel had been sent back in disgrace; one had been lost iwth all hands; another had been wrecked at the Columbi River; and a fourth had been sold into the opium running trade.

Much had been accomplished -- huge tracts of the ocean had been charted, plus 800 miles of scarcely known Oregon shore and 1,500 miles of entirely unknown Antarctic coast. The Stars and STripes had fluttered off the lagoons of well over 200 tropical islands, and more than 4,000 artifacts and 2,000 scientific specimens had been collected, an enormously rich fund that became the foundation ofthe collection of the new Smithsonian Institution.  For uncounted thousands of Pacific Islanders the Exploring Expedition had been their first introduction to the official face of the  USA.

Yet, instead of returning home in triumph, Lieutenant Wilkes chose to slink on shore by hitching a ride on the pilot boat.

So, what had happened?  There are several great books on the topic, including one by Nathaniel Philbrick.  There is also a fictional series -- the Wiki Coffin mysteries, set on a seventh ship, also fiction.  I am currently working on the fifth volume. 

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