Two Years Before the Mast
By Richard Henry Dana

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California and her Missions

It is not easy to realize that, during the stirring days when the eastern coast-line of North America was experiencing the ferment of revolution, the Pacific seaboard was almost totally unexplored, its population largely a savage one. But Spain, long established in Mexico, was slowly pushing northward along the California coast. Her emissaries were the Franciscan friars; her method the founding of Indian missions round which, in due course, should arise towns intended to afford harbor for Spanish ships and to serve as outposts against the steady encroachments of Russia, who, from Alaska, was reaching out toward San Francisco Bay.

Thus began the white settlement of California. San Diego Mission was founded in 1769; San Carlos, at Monterey, in 1770; San Francisco, in 1776; Santa Barbara, in 1786. For the general guardianship of these missions a garrison, or presidio, was in each case provided. It was responsible not only for the protection of the town thus created, but for all the missions in the district. The presidio of San Diego, for example, was in charge of the missions of San Diego, San Gabriel, San Juan Capistrano, and San Luis Rey. So, likewise, there were garrisons with extensive jurisdiction at Santa Barbara, Monterey, and San Francisco.

The Indians in the immediate vicinity of a mission were attached thereto by a sort of gentle enslavement. They were provided special quarters, were carefully looked after by the priests, their religious education fostered, and their innate laziness conquered by specific requirements of labor in agriculture, cattle raising, and simple handicrafts. It was an arrangement which worked well for both parties concerned. The slavery of the Indians was not unlike the obligation of children to their parents; they were comfortable, well behaved, and for the most part contented with the rule of the friars, who, on their side, began to accumulate considerable wealth from the well-directed efforts of their charges.

The supposition was that in the course of years the Indians might become so habituated to thrift and industry as to be released from supervision and safely left to their own devices. But that happy consummation had not occurred when, in 1826, Mexico succeeded in separating herself from the mother country and began her career as an independent republic, of which California was a part. Nevertheless, the greed of politicians suddenly wrought the change which was to have come as the slow development of years. By governmental decree, the Indians were declared free of obligation to the friars; the latter were stripped of their temporal powers, their funds seized under the guise of a loan, and their establishments often subjected to what was little short of pillage. This state of affairs had scarcely begun at the time of the author’s visit to California; still, as he points out in Chapter XXI, the decline of the missions had already set in.

The final blow to their power and usefulness came, however, with the upheaval accompanying the Mexican war and the acquisition of California by the United States. Although this country returned all mission buildings to the control of the Church, their reason for being had vanished; they were sold, or destroyed, or feebly maintained on funds insufficient to forestall dilapidation. Fortunately the Franciscan friars had built for beauty as well as for use; the architecture which they devised in skillful adaptation of their native Spanish type displayed originality and picturesque charm. Hence, of late years, Californians have come to feel a worthy pride in the monuments of the early history of their state, and have taken steps to preserve such of them as survive. No less than twenty-one are today the goal of the traveller.

The reader who is interested in pursuing the subject thus outlined will find its satisfactory treatment in George Wharton James’s In and out of the old Missions of California, a book that combines agreeable reading with excellent illustrations.


The author’s life is fully and sympathetically treated in Charles Francis Adams’s Richard Henry Dana. Boston, 1890.

The most exhaustive history of California and the Pacific coast in general is H. H. Bancroft’s History of the Pacific States of North America. San Francisco, 1882-1888. A briefer work is Josiah Royce’s California. Boston, 1886. Though this book considers mainly the transition period, 1846-1856, its introduction gives an excellent survey of earlier years. F. J. Turner’s Rise of the New West, which is volume XIV of the American Nation, New York, 1907, tells the story of the development of the whole territory west of the Mississippi.

Those who are curious to search out all the items of ship construction will find them adequately illustrated, under the caption, “ship,” in both Standard and Century dictionaries.

Explanation of Diagram

The following diagram, from which many details have been omitted, presents sufficient data for an understanding of the more important nautical terms which occur in the text. A number of other such terms have been explained in the notes. In omitting reference to many more, the editor has felt that ovarannotation would turn a straightforward and interesting narrative into a mere excuse for a nautical dictionary, and quite defeat the purpose of the book. The author’s technical vocabulary, even when most bewildering, serves to give force and the vividness of local color to his descriptions. To pause in the midst of a storm at sea for comment and definition would result merely in checking the movement of the story and putting a damper upon the imagination.

Two Years before the Mast affords the teacher a somewhat unusual opportunity. Few literary works are better calculated to stimulate inquiry into the remarkable changes which three-quarters of a century have wrought in the United States. Much profitable class employment in the drawing of maps and the writing of brief themes dealing with various phases of the romantic history of California will suggest itself. The numerous geographical allusions should be traced with the aid of an atlas.

          |        –+–
        –+–      | |j|
         /| |      –+–
        / |f|      | |i|
       /  +–     –-+–-
      /  /|e|     |  |  |
     /  / +–-    |  | h| 
    /  /  |  |   ––+––
   /a /   |d |   |   |   |
  /__/ b  +––  |   | g |
 /  /_____|c  |   \__|____\
/__/      |___|      |

a. Flying jib.
b. Jib.
c. Foresail.
d. Foretopsail.
e. Foretopgallantsail.
f. Foreroyal.
g. Mainsail.
h. Maintopsail.
i. Maintopgallantsail.
j. Mainroyal.

              |        |        |C2
              |A2   6–+–      |
           3–+–      |     9–+–
              |       ||        |
             ||       |        || 
             |     5–+–      |
         2–-+–-     |B1      |C1
E –       |A1     ||    8–-+–-
      –  ||       |         |
          –|   4––+––    ||           
       1––+––    |   7––+––          G –
            |        |        |            – /
            |A       |B       |C     F – \  /
 D          |        |        |    –     H\/

 A. Mizzenmast.
A1. Mizzentopmast.
A2. Mizzentopgallant and royalmast.
 B. Mainmast.
B1. Maintopmast.
B2. Maintopgallant and royalmast.
 C. Foremast.
C1. Foretopmast.
C2. Foretopgallant and royalmast.
 D. Spanker boom.
 E. Spanker gaff.
 F. Bowsprit.
 G. Jib boom and flying jib boom.
 H. Martingale boom.

1. Crossjack yard.
2. Mizzentopsail yard.
3. Mizzentopgallant yard.
4. Main yard.
5. Maintopsail yard.
6. Maintopgallant yard.
7. Fore yard.
8. Foretopsail yard.
9. Foretopgallant yard.

[Editor: Many more numbered lifts, stays, and braces were left out of these simplified diagrams. They are intended to be viewed using a fixed-width font.]

Each mast section is joined to the lower one in two places:

              | |
              | |
           __|_|           \_____/  Mast cap.
            | | |
            | | |
            | | |
           |_|_|           \_____/  Trestletree.
            | |
            | |

Each mast also sports net-like rigging from the lowest trestletree to the deck. These are called “shrouds”.


Introduction  •  California and her Missions  •  Two Years Before the Mast  •  Chapter I. Departure  •  Chapter II. First Impressions–"Sail Ho!”  •  Chapter III. Ship’s Duties–tropics  •  Chapter IV. A Rogue–trouble On Board–"Land Ho!"–Pompero–Cape Horn  •  Chapter V. Cape Horn–A Visit  •  Chapter VI. Loss of a Man–Superstition  •  Chapter VII. Juan Fernandez–The Pacific  •  Chapter VIII. “Tarring Down"–Daily Life–"Going Aft"–California  •  Chapter IX. California–A South-Easter  •  Chapter X. A South-Easter–Passage Up the Coast  •  Chapter XI. Passage Up the Coast–Monterey  •  Chapter XII. Life At Monterey  •  Chapter XIII. Trading–A British Sailor  •  Chapter XIV. Santa Barbara–Hide-Droghing–Harbor Duties–Discontent–San Pedro  •  Chapter XV. A Flogging–A Night On Shore–The State of Things On Board–San Diego  •  Chapter XVI. Liberty-Day On Shore  •  Chapter XVII. San Diego–A Desertion–San Pedro Again–Beating the Coast  •  Chapter XVIII. Easter Sunday–"Sail Ho!"–Whales–San Juan–Romance of Hide-Droghing–San Diego Again  •  Chapter XIX. The Sandwich Islanders–Hide-Curing–Wood-Cutting–Rattle-Snakes–New-Comers  •  Chapter XX. Leisure–News From Home–"Burning the Water”  •  Chapter XXI. California and Its Inhabitants  •  Chapter XXII. Life On Shore–The Alert  •  Chapter XXIII. New Ship and Shipmates–My Watchmate  •  Chapter XXIV. San Diego Again–A Descent–Hurried Departure–A New Shipmate  •  Chapter XXV. Rumors of War–A Spouter–Slipping For a South-Easter–A Gale  •  Chapter XXVI. San Francisco–Monterey  •  Chapter XXVII. The Sunday Wash-Up–On Shore–A Set-To–A Grandee–"Sail Ho!"–A Fandango  •  Chapter XXVIII. An Old Friend–A Victim–California Rangers–News From Home–Last Looks  •  Chapter XXIX. Loading For Home–A Surprise–Last of An Old Friend–The Last Hide–A Hard Case–Up Anchor, For Home!–Homeward Bound  •  Chapter XXX. Beginning the Long Return Voyage–A Scare  •  Chapter XXXI. Bad Prospects–First Touch of Cape Horn–Icebergs–Temperance Ships–Lying-Up–Ice–Difficulty On Board–Change of Course–Straits of Magellan  •  Chapter XXXII. Ice Again–A Beautiful Afternoon–Cape Horn–"Land Ho!"–Heading For Home  •  Chapter XXXIII. Cracking On–Progress Homeward–A Pleasant Sunday–A Fine Sight–By-Play  •  Chapter XXXIV. Narrow Escapes–The Equator–Tropical Squalls–A Thunder Storm  •  Chapter XXXV. A Double-Reef-Top-Sail Breeze–Scurvy–A Friend in Need–Preparing For Port–The Gulf Stream  •  Chapter XXXVI. Soundings–Sights From Home–Boston Harbor–Leaving the Ship  •  Concluding Chapter  •  Twenty-Four Years After

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Richard Henry Dana Jr.: Two Years Before the Mast and Other Voyages (Library of America)
By Richard Henry Dana Jr.
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