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Two Years Before the Mast

Richard Henry Dana Jr.


Richard Henry Dana Jr. entered Harvard in 1831 but was forced to abandon his studies after two years due to eye trouble caused by measles. Dana shipped out as a common seaman onboard the American merchant ship Pilgrim, convinced that time at sea would help cure his affliction. The ship left Boston on August 14, 1834, just two weeks after his nineteenth birthday, on a mission to then-Mexican California to collect animal hides.

From the moment he steps on board, Dana is confronted with the grueling nature of life at sea. He describes in vivid detail the brutal working conditions, the treacherous storms, the heavy labor required to operate a sailing ship, and the oppressive hierarchy among the crew. As the Pilgrim embarks on its journey along the Pacific coast, Dana describes his encounters with various landscapes, including the bustling ports of California, the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean, and the rugged beauty of the California coastline. He also provides insight into the lives and cultures of the people he encounters, like the Californian rancheros and the indigenous peoples of the region. Dana’s writing often verges on the poetic, with evocative descriptions of the California coast as well as the icy wilderness surrounding Cape Horn.

Two Years Before the Mast serves as an important historical document, shedding light on the often-overlooked experiences of common sailors and the realities of the merchant trade. Dana’s memoir continues to resonate with readers, captivating them with its authenticity, descriptive power, and the unique perspective it offers on 19th century maritime life. It transports readers to a bygone era filled with adventure, hardship, and the relentless beauty of the sea.

This Standard Ebooks edition is based on a 1916 reprint of the 1909 Macmillan Company publication, with the addition of an epilogue of sorts, “Twenty-Four Years After,” which chronicles Dana’s return to California in 1859 to revisit the places and people he wrote about in the original work. Also included are notes on the text by Homer Eaton Keyes, Assistant Professor of Art at Dartmouth College.

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A brief history of this ebook

  1. Correct spelling: 'reeeetsfed' to 'reefed'.

  2. Swap notes 43 and 44.

  3. Fill in number for note 38.

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