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Dana Point Named After Richard Henry Dana Jr. Author of “Two Years Before the Mast”

December 01, 2009|By Gene Felder

Since Dana Point is named after Richard Henry Dana Jr., I thought I should read his “Two Years Before the Mast”, a book assigned in my high school reading list, so very nice to get around to it. The entire book is online at http://www.boater.com/books/mast/mast.txt. 

It’s an unbelievable and most interesting story, including:

In 1833, Richard Henry Dana Jr. is an eighteen year old Harvard student, contracts measles so is losing his eyesight and he cannot continue his studies.

Idea is to man him up by being a regular seaman on a sailing ship; somehow the idea works and he is cured.

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“Before the mast” is the bow or front of the ship where the regular seaman were quartered while the officers were at the stern.

Massachusetts is becoming industrialized; one of the items being manufactured is shoes so the Boston factories need leather.

Here’s the idea, let’s get the leather from the Mexico territory of California; instead of purchasing the leather, let’s barter with manufactured goods.

The trip is to sail down from Boston to Argentina around Cape Horn up pass Chile and to California; then return.

They load up the sailing ship like a department store full of manufactured goods to barter with including linens, fabrics, farm implements, and leather shoes.

They can sail back and forth from Boston to California in less than 6 months, but stopping and trading up and down the California coast makes it into an over 2 year journey.

The seaman’s responsibilities are huge and work is incredibly tough in the most difficult of weather conditions.

When they get to a stop along the California coast (San Diego, San Juan Capistrano, San Pedro, Santa Barbara, Monterey, Santa Clara, and San Francisco) there is no pier, no wharf and no stevedores. The Mexicans will not require the Indians to load and unload the hides (tallow and horns). The seaman have to keep the hides dry and load into boats, and row the boats to and from the anchored ship.

Once the hides are in the ship, is that it? No they, unload when at San Diego and dry out the hides laying them out in the sun.

When the decision is made to return to Boston, they unload the ship and set a fire inside it. Watching the smoke, they caulk up the leaks. Then they cram every possible hide into the ship to return.

Dana did not think much of the Californios of the Mexican ranchos who would rather prance than work.

Dana’s book was published in 1840 and was a best seller; when gold was discovered in California in 1849, it was one of the few sources of information about California.

When Dana was in San Francisco Bay, there was the Mission Delores, the Presidio, and one house. When he returned twenty-four years later, San Francisco was a city of one hundred thousand people.

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