Wilkes, Charles (1798-1877), a United States naval officer and explorer. As a lieutenant, Wilkes commanded the U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1838-42, which discovered the coastal region of Antarctica now named Wilkes Land, verified the existence of Antarctica as a continent, charted some 280 Pacific islands, and surveyed the northwestern coast of the United States. Wilkes wrote a five-volume Narrative (1844) of the expedition and worked on the publication of its charts, maps, and scientific reports, 1843-61. A dedicated but impetuous officer, Wilkes almost brought war between the United States and Great Britain in 1861 by removing two Confederate agents from the British vessel Trent. (
Wilkes was born in New York City. He served in the U.S. Navy, 1818-63, reaching the rank of commodore. In 1866 he was commissioned rear admiral, retired.