Wilkes, Charles, 1798-1877Alternative names
Wilkes was a career U.S. naval officer who, as captain of the San Jacinto, provoked the Trent Affair in 1861.
From the description of Letter, November 1861. (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library). WorldCat record id: 61770003
Charles Wilkes, American naval officer and explorer, was born on April 3, 1798 in New York, NY. He surveyed Narragansett Bay in 1832-1833, which led to his appointment to a depot of charts and instruments, which later became the Naval Observatory. In 1838 he was in command of an expedition which lasted for four years and went to the South Pacific, Antarctica, the Hawaiian Islands, the Northwest coast of the United States, and Oceania. He then spent the next twenty years preparing the records of this expedition. During the Civil War, he was involved in the Trent Affair, an incident in which he stopped the British steamer Trent and unlawfully removed James M. Mason and John Slidell, Confederate commissioners on the way to England. He was promoted in rank and given further war assignments. However, he was eventually put on the retired list because of criticisms and disfavor. He was commissioned to rear admiral in 1866 and retained on the retired list. Wilkes died in Washington, DC on February 8, 1877.
From the description of Letter, July 14, 1862. (Naval War College). WorldCat record id: 46326083
American naval officer.
From the description of Autograph letter signed : [n.p.], to Gideon Welles, 1862 Aug. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270587915
U.S. naval officer and explorer, of Washington, D.C.
From the description of Papers, 1816-1876. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 20273999
Charles Wilkes was born in New York City on April 3, 1798 and entered the United States Navy as a midshipman in 1818. By 1826, Wilkes was a lieutenant and making a name for himself in survey and hydrographic work. On March 10, 1838, Wilkes was appointed to lead the U.S. Exploring Expedition (1838-1842) which traveled throughout the Pacific Ocean, South Seas, and 800 miles of coast and streams in the Oregon Country.
From the description of Report upon the territory of Oregon, 1842. (Oregon Historical Society Research Library). WorldCat record id: 36471081
Naval officer and explorer.
From the description of Charles Wilkes papers, 1607-1959 (bulk 1841-1865). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70979874
American naval officer and explorer.
From the description of Autograph letter signed : Charleston, to F.D. Stuart in Washington, 1860 Jan. 24. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270586896
Naval commander, explorer. Of New York, N.Y.; resided in Washington, D.C.
DETAILS: Charles Wilkes was born in New York City in 1798, the son of John Deponthieu & Mary (Seton) Wilkes. He was educated at various schools and tutors before entering the merchant service in 1815. He married Jane Jeffrey Renwick in 1826. He later married Mary H. Lynch Bolton in 1854. He was interested in exploration and studied under the founder of the U.S. Coast Survey, Ferdinand Hasslet. In charge of the new Depot of Charts and Instruments, he began to build a rudimentary astronomical observatory, which became the forerunner of the U.S. Naval Observatory. He commanded the very successful United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842. He sailed from Norfolk, Va., in command of a squadron of 5 vessels and a store-ship to explore the southern seas. Wilkes visited the Cape Verde Islands; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Tahiti; the Samoan group, which he surveyed and explored; and Sydney, N.S.W. He left Sydney in December 1839, and discovered what he thought to be an Antarctic continent, sailing along vast ice-fields for several weeks. In 1840 he visited the Hawaiian Islands, where he measured intensity of gravity by means of the pendulum on the summit of Mauna Loa. In 1841 he visited the northwestern coast of America and the Columbia and Sacramento rivers. On November 1 he set sail from San Francisco, visiting Manila, Philippine Islands, and the Cape of Good Hope; landing at New York on June 10, 1842. Upon his return, his subordinate officers instituted charges against him; he was acquitted of all but a lesser charge of mistreating seamen. In 1861 he commanded the U.S.S. San Jacinto which stopped the British steamer Trent taking off Confederate agents James Mason & John Slidell. The "Trent Affair" caused much international tension between the U.S. and Britain. Holding several more commands during the Civil War, he was subsequently court-martialed for disobedience, disrespect, insubordination and conduct unbecoming an officer owing to his comments against Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles. He was found guilty and sentenced to a public reprimand and suspended for 3 years, a sentence later reduced to 1 year. He died in 1877 in Washington, D.C.
From the description of Papers of Charles Wilkes [microform], 1837-1847. (Kansas State Historical Society). WorldCat record id: 54395691
1798, Apr. 3:
Born, New York, N.Y.
Entered the merchant marine
Married Jane Jeffrey Renwick (died 1843) Promoted to lieutenant
Headed the Depot of Charts and Instruments, Washington, D.C., which later became the Naval Observatory
1838- 1842: Commanded an expedition to the Antarctic, islands of the Pacific Ocean, and the American northwest coast
1843- 1863: On special duty, chiefly in Washington, D.C., preparing for publication of information gathered from the expedition
Published Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard. 5 vols.
Published Western America. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard
Published Meteorology. Philadelphia: Printed by C. Sherman
Married Mary H. Lynch Bolton
Published Theory of Zodiacal Light. Philadelphia: C. Sherman & Son, Printers
Published Hydrography. Philadelphia: Printed by C. Sherman
Published On the Circulation of the Oceans. Philadelphia Published Report on the Examination of the Deep River District, North Carolina. [Washington, D.C.]
While in command of the San Jacinto, halted the British mail steamer Trent and forcibly removed Confederate commissioners J. M. Mason and John Slidell
Placed in command of the James River Flotilla; transferred to the command of the Potomac River Flotilla; later commanded the West India Squadron
Recalled to Washington, D.C.
Commissioned rear admiral on the retired list
1877, Feb. 8:
Died, Washington, D.C.
From the guide to the Charles Wilkes Papers, 1607-1959, (bulk 1841-1865), (Manuscript Division Library of Congress)
Charles Wilkes was born in New York City on 3 April 1798. He had his first experience of maritime life in merchant vessels between 1815 and 1817. In January 1818, he joined the United States Navy as a midshipman and by 1826 had been promoted to lieutenant. Whilst on leave, he studied triangulation and hydrography with Ferdinand Hassler, the first superintendent of the United States Coast Survey. He was made Director of the Navy's Depot of Charts and Instruments in Washington DC in 1833.
In 1828, the United States Congress had taken the first steps to authorize an exploring expedition and ten years later, Wilkes was offered command of the United States Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842. With a fleet of six vessels, the expedition was commissioned on a world voyage of hydrography and exploration that would include forays into the Southern Ocean. Through no fault of his own, the expedition was ill conceived, ill-equipped, and certainly ill prepared for Antarctic exploration. In August 1838, Wilkes, in command of the sloop of war Vincennes, left Norfolk, Virginia, and arrived at Tierra del Fuego in February 1839. From there, the squadron divided and Wilkes onboard the brig Porpoise, accompanied by Sea Gull, went south and east to the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula, while Peacock and Flying Fish sailed southwest to a point off Thurston Peninsula, without sighting land. Following work in the Pacific Ocean, the vessels returned to the Antarctic in December 1839, sailing west along the coast of what is today called Wilkes Land, discovering and charting a series of land-falls and appearances of land between longitudes 160°East and 98°East. After a most difficult voyage in appalling conditions, covering some 1500 miles of ice-bound coast, Wilkes turned north on 21 February and on 11 March re-entered Sydney Harbour. The rest of the expedition was conducted in the warmer waters of the central and northern Pacific Ocean. Only two of the six original vessels, Vincennes and Porpoise, survived to reach New York in June 1842. Wilkes thus became the first explorer to delineate a substantial length of Antarctic coastline, enough to establish that immediately behind lay a landmass of continental size. The published charts of the expedition were the earliest to use the term Antarctic Continent.
However, on his return to New York, Wilkes faced a court-martial and, although acquitted on most charges, was found guilty of illegal punishment and sentenced to public reprimand by the Secretary of the Navy. His career did not appear to suffer and he was promoted to commander in 1843, to captain in 1855, and to commodore in 1862. He was placed in charge of the expedition's publication programme, producing a report of twenty volumes that was published in a limited edition. He served with the Union fleet in the Civil War, intercepting the British mail steamer Trent in 1861. In 1864, he faced a second court-martial, following the publication of a private letter to the Secretary of the Navy and was found guilty on all charges. He retired from the Navy as a rear admiral in 1866, and died in Washington DC on 8 February 1877.
Published work, Autobiography of Rear Admiral Charles Wilkes U.S. Navy 1798-1877 Department of the Navy Naval History Division Washington DC (1978) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Wilkes, C.]
Biographical works, The hidden coasts, a biography of Admiral Charles Wilkes by Daniel Henderson William Sloane Associates New York (1953) SPRI Library Shelf 92[Wilkes] Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition, during the years 1838, 1839, 1840, 1841, 1842 . Condensed and abridged edition Whittaker & Co. London (1845) SPRI Library Shelf Special Collection Folio (7) 91(08)[1838-1842 Wilkes]
From the guide to the Charles Wilkes collection, 1838-1842, (Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge)
The primary correspondent in this collection is Charles Wilkes (1798-1877), naval officer and explorer, who was a collateral descendant of John Wilkes (1727-1797), the noted English politician. Charles Wilkes was born in New York City, the son of John De Ponthieu and Mary (Seton) Wilkes. From 1815 through 1817 Wilkes was in the merchant service on board several ships until he was appointed midshipman in the U. S. Navy on Jan. 1, 1818. His naval career was destined to be a rather distinguished, yet controversial one. During the next fifteen years he served on board several ships including the Franklin and the Waterwitch, was promoted to lieutenant in 1826, and surveyed the Narragansett Bay in 1832-1833. Wilkes's scientific achievements were rewarded by his appointment to take charge of the Depot of Charts and Instruments in Washington, D. C. in 1833. In 1837 and 1838 he was involved in further surveying work at the shoals of Georges Bank and the Savannah River.
In 1838 Secretary of War Poinsett ordered Wilkes to command the South Seas Surveying and Exploring Expedition. This expedition and the publications concerning it provided the primary focus for his career until 1861. This Exploring Expedition, which was absent from the United States from 1838 to 1842, had as its chief fields of exploration the islands of the Pacific Ocean, the coast of the Antarctic Continent, and the American Northwest coast. From 1843 to 1861, Wilkes was assigned to special duty, chiefly to be in charge of the Exploring Expedition collections and reports. In 1844 his Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition was published, and scientific volumes appeared from time to time. In 1842 Wilkes had been tried by a court-martial and sentenced to be publicly reprimanded for illegally punishing some of his men. Despite this he was promoted to commander in 1843 and to captain in 1855.
During the Civil War Charles Wilkes took the controversial step of overhauling the British mail steamer Trent and removed by force the Confederate commissioners James Mason and John Slidell, He saw other service in a variety of commands and received promotion to commodore and then to acting rear admiral in 1862. Again in 1864 Wilkes was court-martialed and found guilty. Two years later he was promoted to rear admiral on the retired list and was placed on special duty for a part of 1870-1873, After the Civil War he purchased the iron works at High Shoals, N. C. and pursued business interests there for several years.
Wilkes was married twice: first to Jane Jeffrey Renwick, sister of James Renwick (1792-1863) in 1826, and then to Msry H. (Lynch) Bolton in 1854, after the death of his first wife, He had six children from these marriages, For further biographical information please consult Autobiography of Rear Admiral Charles Wilkes. U. S. Navy, 1798-1877 (Washington, 1978); The Hidden Coasts by Daniel Henderson (New York, 1953); and other sources listed in the Information Folder in box 1 of the collection,
John (''Jack'') Wilkes (1827-1908), sailor and businessman, was the son of Charles Wilkes as well as a correspondent in this collection. Immediately after his appointment as a midshipman on September 9, 1841, young Wilkes was sent to sea. He served on the Delaware and on the Mississippi in the Gulf Squadron during the Mexican War. His appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy came in 1846. After graduation he was assigned to duty on the Albany and on the Marion. In about 1848 his father had him transferred for a time to work on the charts and calculations of the Exploring Expedition. On Nov. 3, 1854, he resigned his commission.
John Wilkes settled in Charlotte, N. C. in December, 1853, probably during a leave of absence from the U. S. Navy. He moved to North Carolina to supervise certain mining and milling property but in 1858 purchased the Mecklenburg Flour Mills The next year he became the proprietor of what would eventually be titled the Mecklenburg Iron Works. During the Civil War Wilkes took an active role in the Southern effort through his service in the local vigilance committee and the Home Guards, and as a financial advisor to North Carolina state officials. Wilkes also became a railroad contractor in government service.
In August, 1869 Wilkes obtained a charter for the First National Bank of Charlotte and served as its first president until 1869. This bank had the distinction of being the first national bank established south of Richmond. Wilkes formed a business partnership in the Rock Island Woolen Mills, but after its failure he devoted his energy to the successful Mecklenburg Iron Works.
Wilkes married Jane Renwick Smedberg of New York in April, 1854. Mrs Wilkes became a prominent Charlotte philanthropist. The couple had nine children, five of whom died at a young age. For further biographical information please see Biographical History of North Carolina by Samuel A. Ashe (Greensboro, 1906) ; Biographical Dictionary of the Confederacy by Jon L, Wakelyn (Westport, Conn., 1977) ; and Confederate Military History, vol. IV (Atlanta, 1899) .
From the guide to the Charles Wilkes Papers, 1816-1876, (Duke University. David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library)
|Place Name||Admin Code||Country|
|Antarctica Discovery and exploration|
|Oceania--Discovery and exploration|
|Navies--United States--Officers--19th century|
|Indians of North America--Missions|
|Gold mines and mining|
|American letters--History--19th century|
|Wages--United States--19th century|
|Discoveries in geography|
|World maps, Manuscript|
|Voyages and travels|
|Trent Affair, 1861|
|Trent Affair, November 8, 1861|