|Richard Henry Dana
author of one of America's most famous
accounts of life at sea
Richard Henry Dana was born in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, on August 1, 1815. He
attended Harvard College for a time, but vision
troubles brought about by a bout of measles
forced his early withdrawal.
In 1834, hoping that a sea
voyage would aid his failing eyesight, Dana
shipped out of Boston as a common seaman aboard
the brig Pilgrim, bound for the Pacific.
After sailing around Cape Horn, the Pilgrim
visited a number of settlements in California
(then still a part of Mexico). He returned to
Massachusetts as a deckhand aboard the Alert
two years later. Two Years Before the Mast
is based on the diary Dana kept while at sea.
First published in 1841, it remains one of
America's most famous accounts of life at sea.
The book contains a rare and detailed account of
life on the California coast a decade before the
Gold Rush revolutionized the region's culture and
society. It also describes the lives of sailors
in the ports, as well as the daily life of the
Hispanics, Native Americans and Europeans of
California. Dana also wrote The Seaman's
Friend (1841), a handbook which includes a
section on maritime law.
After completing his Harvard
education in 1837, Dana became a leader of the
American Bar, an expert on maritime law, and a
life-long advocate of the rights of merchant
seamen. He was also an anti-slavery activist,
helping found the Free-Soil Party in 1848, and
was an opponent of the Fugitive Slave Law of
In 1859, Dana visited Cuba while its
annexation was being debated in the U.S. Senate.
He documented this trip in the book To Cuba
During the Civil War,
Dana served as United States District Attorney,
and successfully argued before the Supreme Court
that the United States government could
rightfully blockade Confederate ports. After the
war he served as a U.S. counsel in the trial of
Confederate President Jefferson Davis.
He served in the Massachusetts State Legislature
from 1867 to 1868. In 1876, his nomination as
Ambassador to Britain was defeated in the Senate
by political enemies.
Richard Henry Dana died in
Rome, Italy, on January 6, 1882. He is buried in
that city's Protestant Cemetery.
Dana's son, Richard Henry
Dana III, married Edith Longfellow, daughter of
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Dana Point, California,
located about halfway between Los Angeles and San
Diego, is named in his honor.
San Diego Biographies www.sandiegohistory.org/bio/dana/dana.htm
Questions or comments about