2 Years Before The Mast Essay

1787 words - 7 pages

History 140


Richard Henry Dana came from a prominent Brahmin family. He attended Harvard college but was forced to drop out his junior year due to a measles attack which temporarily affected his eyesight. Dana wanted to tour Europe but was unable to afford it. Instead, he decided to sign on as a seaman at nineteen years old, and sailed around Cape Horn to California. When trying to recall his motives for becoming a seaman he wasn't sure if it was his "desire to cure my eyes, my love of adventure and the attraction of the novelty of a life before the mast, or anxiety to escape from the depressing situation of inactivity and dependence at home" (vi).

The first place they come to is the island of Juan Fernandez. Here ."..all the people, except the soldiers and a few officers, were convicts sent from Valparaiso" (48). Because of the mass population of convicts, knives were forbidden, and all weapons were to be kept away from them. Dana and the crew concluded that the island belonged to Chili and was used by the government as a Botany Bay.

After 150 days at sea they finally arrived in the bay of Santa Barbara. This bay was very large, formed by the main land on one side, and three islands opposite it. Here they found out that the thermometer never fell before zero and that there were little changes in weather during the different seasons. They heard of the mission and town of Santa Barbara that lies near to the beach and is a collection of one story buildings built of brown clay. In the center of town is a large building, the presidio.

Monterey bay is wide at the entrance, but narrows as you approach the town. It has well wooded shores and everything was very green. There are here, as well as for the rest of California, no streets or fences. The houses were scattered randomly on the grass which Dana thought gave a, ."..pretty effect when seen from a long distance" (79). At this bay they felt as though they were in a Christian country because they saw the Mexican flag flying from a presidio, and they heard the drums and trumpets of the soldiers. Dana also mentions that there is little or no surf here. Here he learned that the Mexican revenue laws are very strict and required the whole cargo to be landed, examined, and taken on board again. All the officers here wore the same costume, ."..broad brimmed hat...a short jacket of silk or figured calico...the shirt open in the neck...pantaloons wide, straight, and long, usually of velvet, velveteen, or broadcloth."(83). Californians do not wear suspenders, wear deer skin shoes, a sash around the waist, and a cloak. The cloak is a mark of the rank of wealth of the owner. Aristocracy wear cloaks of black or dark blue with lots of velvet, Indians wear a sort of blanket, middle class wear a large tablecloth. There is no working class among the Spaniards. The rich look like grandees, and the poor look broken down. Dana sees the...

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