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The Samoan Islands

Deciding that he did not have enough time to explore the Marquesas Islands, on 5 March Wilkes left the island of Hawaii for two weeks of surveying at Maui and the other smaller islands of the archipelago. They arrived at Honolulu on 19 March and met Porpoise, which arrived from an excursion to Penrhyn Island on the 23rd. On 5 April the pair left the Hawaiian Islands for the Columbia River on the northwest coast of North America.


Their passage was rapid. Vincennes and Porpoise arrived off Cape Disappointment two weeks later and met their next peril, the crossing of the bar that lay across the mouth of the harbor. In the Sandwich Islands Wilkes had taken on board a man who claimed to be a Columbia River pilot, but it quickly became clear that he had exaggerated his abilities. Unwilling to risk his ship in dangerous waters, Wilkes sailed northward and sought anchorage at Port Discovery just inside the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Another two weeks later, with the aid of a pilot supplied by the Hudson Bay Company, Vincennes and Porpoise moved further into Puget Sound to Fort Nisqually. There he formed parties to survey the sound and two overland parties to explore the interior of the territory. He appointed Lieutenant R. E. Johnson to conduct a team to traverse most of what is now Washington State, west to Fort Colville, south to the Snake River, and returning via the Columbia River. Wilkes himself joined the other overland party bound for the settlements of Astoria, Fort Vancouver, Willamette, and Wallawalla. While surveying in Puget Sound, Wilkes met Chief George of the Tatouche Tribe and took an image of him using the camera lucida.


The territory was still jointly occupied by the United States and Great Britain, but tension was building that would soon force the British out. They still had a stronger economic presence, though, in the Hudson Bay Company. Wilkes decided that his orders gave him complete authority to do whatever exploration he wished, but he shared his information with the local representatives of the Company, who were generous with their support of the expedition.


On 17 May, the day that Lieutenant Johnson's party left on its adventure into the American northwest, the crews of Peacock and Flying Fish were on half rations in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They had been unable to complete all the tasks allotted by Wilkes and were now sailing for Oahu to re-supply, not having encountered an island capable of provisioning them.


Peacock and Flying Fish had left Hawaii with a number of tasks to complete in the Western Pacific Ocean. Typical of his pattern, Wilkes allotted Captain Hudson six months, but gave him far more tasks to complete than what would be possible in the time period. In his memoirs, Wilkes maintained that Hudson did not use his time judiciously. Complain as he did, history has borne out the validity of the work done by Peacock and Flying Fish on this leg of the journey. The surveys made of the Islands of Tarawa, Makin, and others were important sources of information used for the capture of those islands by Allied forces in World War II, one hundred years later.