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Letter to “Captain Wilkes” from children of a Hawaiian High School, ca. 1840

Among the materials the U.S. Exploring Expedition collected were items received as gifts or tributes from the indigenous people they visited. In Wailuku, Hawaii, students at a missionary high school presented Wilkes with a sample of their work, emphasizing that they gave it "freely on account of our love."

Office of Naval Records Library, National Archives and Records Administration

Letter to Captain Wilkes from children of a Hawaiian High School, ca. 1840

Exploring the World

Throughout the 19th century Congress funded expeditions to explore land and sea. In 1836 Congress authorized the United States Exploring Expedition—also called the Wilkes Expedition after its leader, naval officer Charles Wilkes. Its purpose was to circumnavigate the world, promote commerce, and "extend the bounds of science and ... Knowledge." The four-year expedition mapped South Sea islands and Pacific coastlines, established trade, and gathered voluminous information that aided the United States in becoming a leading scientific and naval power.