Today, the Large Cent Coin remembers when the expedition under the command of Charles Wilkes returned to anchor at New York on June 10, 1842.
From the Makers of New York, An Historical Work, Giving Portraits and Sketches of the Most Eminent Citizens of New York, edited by Charles Morris, published in 1894:
Rear-Admiral Charles Wilkes was born in the city of New York on the 3d of April, 1798.
His family were English, his great-uncle being John Wilkes, or “Liberty” Wilkes, as he was called.
In character he was energetic, fearless, and unflinching; when acting for his country’s good, never afraid to assume responsibility when assured that it was the best thing to do.
On the 1st of January, 1818, he received his appointment as midshipman; promoted to lieutenant April 28, 1826.
In 1830 he was ordered to duty in the Department of Charts and Instruments. It was then that he set up fixed astronomical instruments in a small house on the grounds of his home on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., and he was the first in the United States to observe with them.
In 1838 he was ordered as commander of the United States Exploring Expedition, and sailed from Norfolk, Virginia, on the 18th of August of that year with five vessels under his command.
During the expedition he visited the islands of the Pacific, explored and surveyed the Samoan group, and then turned southward, where he discovered the Antarctic Continent, coasting westward along it for more than seventy degrees.
In 1840 the northwestern coast of North America was visited, also the Columbia and Sacramento Rivers.
In November, 1841, the expedition turned its face home ward, via the Cape of Good Hope, and cast anchor in New York harbor June 10, 1842.
The contributions of this expedition constitute part of the world’s history.
In acknowledgment of his services to science in this connection, the Geographical Society of London presented Lieutenant Wilkes with a gold medal.
After this expedition charges were preferred against Lieutenant Wilkes and a court-martial held. He was acquitted of all charges, save that of illegally punishing some of his crew.
He served on the Coast Survey in 1842–1843.
He was promoted to commander July 13, 1843, and was sent to bring home the African Squadron. He was then employed in the report of the expedition until 1861.
When the civil war opened, having received his commission as captain September 14, 1855, he was placed in command of the cruiser “San Jacinto.” He then sailed in pursuit of the Confederate privateer “Sumter.”
On the 8th of November, 1861, he intercepted the rebel commissioners bound for England on board Her Majesty’s steamer “Trent.”
Sending Lieutenant D. M. Fairfax on board, Messrs. Mason and Slidell were brought to the “San Jacinto,” and the “Trent” proceeded on her way.
The officials were taken to Fort Warren, Boston Harbor. Wilkes was the hero of the North.
Congress passed a resolution of thanks, and the Secretary of the Navy sent an emphatic commendation.
It resulted, however, in an international complication, and the Confederate ambassadors were released at England’s request.
It has been claimed that Captain Wilkes should have made the case impregnable by sending the “Trent” to the United States as a prize.
He was, however, justified in the course which he pursued by English precedent, according to Major George B. Davis’s work on “International Law.”
In 1862, Captain Wilkes commanded the James River Flotilla, and shelled City Point.
He was promoted to commodore July 16, 1862, and placed in command of the Flying Squadron in the West Indies.
Of the officers under his command, Rear-Admiral Stevens is among the few remaining.
Commodore Wilkes was placed on the retired list, June 25, 1864, from age, and promoted to rear-admiral, on the retired list, July 25, 1866.
His contributions to literature were the narrative of the expedition (four volumes), and the volumes on meteorology and hydrography.
He is also the author of “Western America,” 1849, and “The Theory of the Winds,” 1856.
Admiral Wilkes lived until February 8, 1877. He died at his home in Washington.
His later years were spent in retirement, but up to a few days of his death his one thought was his country, and his regret that his time of serving her was ended.
The Large Cent Coin shows with an image of Commodore Charles Wilkes, circa 1860.