Richard Henry Dana Jr. (August 1, 1815 - January 6, 1882) was an American lawyer and politician, most famous for his classic book Two Years Before the Mast.
Richard Henry DanaHe was born into one of the first families of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and attended Harvard College. Rather than going on a Grand Tour of Europe, in 1834 he left Harvard to enlist as a common sailor on a voyage around Cape Horn to the then-remote (and owned by Mexico) California, on the brig Pilgrim, returning to Massachusetts two years later. Having trouble with his vision after a bout of the measles, he thought the trip might help his failing sight.
He kept a diary, and after the trip wrote Two Years Before the Mast based on his experiences. The term "before the mast" refers to sailor's quarters -- in the forecastle, in the front of the ship, the officers dwelling near the stern. His writing evidences his later social feeling for the oppressed.
After his sea voyage, he returned to Harvard, completing his education and becoming a famous lawyer, and an expert on maritime law, many times defending common seamen. Later he became a prominent an anti-slavery activist. He also helped found the anti-slavery Free Soil Party in 1848.
He died in Rome.
Dana Point Harbor, between Los Angeles and San Diego, is named for him.