Richard Henry Dana: Author of Two Years Before the Mast

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Two American men of letters were called Richard Henry Dana. The first, the Boston poet and essayist, was born on November 15, 1787, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the son of a Federalist judge. He was a lawyer and literary critic, and was among the founders of the North American Review in 1815. He died on February 2, 1879.

Richard Henry Dana, Jr., was born on August 1, 1815, in Cambridge. Forced to leave Harvard due to problems with his eyesight, Dana shipped out as a common seaman on the brig Pilgrim and sailed to California. On his return to Boston, he wrote his experiences in the book Two Years Before the Mast, which became an instant success. The book introduced many Americans to California, which Dana presented in glowing terms. It also exposed many of the abuses inflicted on seamen and led to reforms.

One of the founders of the Free-Soil Party, Dana campaigned for that party and later the Republican Party. He was active in the antislavery movement and figured prominently in the Massachusetts convention that revised the state constitution in 1853. After serving as counsel for the United States in the proceedings against Jefferson Davis for treason, he lost a bid to be elected to Congress in 1868. He died on January 6, 1882, while traveling in Europe.

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