Daily Archives: 1 August 2020

Wilkes Expedition Departs, 1838

From Twenty Years Before the Mast, by Charles Erskine (Fossil, 2016), Kindle pp. 16-17:

I was first sent to New York with a draft of men to join the receiving-ship Fulton. In a few days, however, I was transferred to the brig Porpoise, Captain C. Ringold commander, and we sailed the next week for Norfolk, Va. Here we joined the exploring expedition just setting out on a voyage of discovery round the world. This was the first and only expedition sent out by the United States, and such a chance to visit the various quarters of this huge globe was never offered before or since. I liked our captain very much. He treated the crew like men; and as for the brig, she looked more rakish than ever, and I must acknowledge that I was more than ever in love with her. The squadron consisted of the sloop-of-war Vincennes, the flag-ship, Charles Wilkes commander; the sloop-of-war Peacock, Captain William L. Hudson; the ship Relief, Captain A. K. Long; the brig Porpoise, Captain C. Ringold; the schooner Sea Gull, Captain Reed; the schooner Flying Fish, Captain Samuel R. Knox; together with a full corps of scientific men, consisting of philologists, naturalists, mineralogists, conchologists, botanists, horticulturists, taxidermists, draughtsmen, etc., and a complement of six hundred and eighty-seven men. The entire equipment of the squadron was generous and complete, and could not but reflect honor upon the nation whose public spirit could thus plan and execute a noble project the value of which to the cause of science could not easily be estimated.

Everything being ready, we dropped down to Hampton Roads. Commodore Wilkes inspected all the vessels and their crews. As he passed me at muster, “old Adam” came up, and I could not raise my eyes from the deck, for it was Commodore Wilkes at whose command I had been flogged. The following day we were honored by a visit from the President of the United States, Martin Van Buren, and his cabinet. All the vessels had their yards manned, and a national salute was fired. The next day, the 17th of August, 1838, a gun was fired, and signals were made that the squadron was under sailing orders. Soon after, the commodore’s gig came alongside, bringing orders for me with my bag and hammock. It seemed to me that I should sink through the deck. I felt more like jumping overboard than sailing with my worst enemy, and one on whom I had sworn to be revenged. I begged Captain Ringold to let me remain on board the brig. He said he wanted me to stay, but that he must obey orders, and told me to get into the boat. As we neared the ship, another gun was fired, and signals were made for the squadron to get under way. Shortly after we arrived on board, the capstan was manned, the anchor catted, and we were soon off, with an ebb tide and a light air from the sou’west. At five P. M. we anchored at the Horseshoe, in consequence of its falling calm, but at nine A. M. the wind freshened, and we tripped and stood down the bay. At four P. M. on the 19th we passed Cape Henry Light, and at nine A. M. we discharged our pilot and took our departure.

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