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VINCENNES in Disappointment Bay, 1844 engraving by C.A. Jewett, sketch by Charles Wilkes

Wilkes made this sketch of the U.S. Exploring Expedition's flagship, the Vincennes. The Peacock, another of the expedition's six vessels, shipwrecked near the mouth of Oregon's Columbia River.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

VINCENNES in Disappointment Bay

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.