Passengers at the Port of San Francisco: 1800s

Richard Henry Dana


Richard Henry Dana, American writer and lawyer, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts on August 1, 1815.

He left his studies at Harvard in 1834 in the hope that a sea voyage would aid his failing eyesight. He shipped out of Boston in August 1834 as a common seaman on board the brig Pilgrim bound for the Pacific. He spent the next year coasting the old Spanish ports from San Diego to San Francisco, loading a cargo of cowhides.

Strait of Magellan rounding Cape Horn

Strait of Magellan Rounding Cape Horn.

He sailed for home, again as a deckhand, in the Alert, an Indiaman, and made the dangerous winter passage around Cape Horn, arriving in Boston in September 1836. He re-entered Harvard, graduated in 1837, and went on to study law.

Completing his education, Dana became a leader of the American bar, an expert on maritime law, and a life-long advocate of the rights of the merchant seamen he had come to know on the Pilgrim and other vessels.

Two Years Before the Mast is based on the diary Dana kept while at sea. First published in 1841, it is one of America's most famous accounts of life at sea. It contains a rare and detailed account of life on the California coast a decade before the Gold Rush revolutionized the region's culture and society. Dana chronicles stops at the ports of Monterey, San Pedro, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Santa Clara.

He describes the lives of sailors in the ports and their work of hide-curing on the beaches, and he gives close attention to the daily life of the peoples of California: Hispanic, Native American, and European.

Dana discussing San Francisco in a post-script for the 1859 edition of Two Years Before the Mast:

I might perhaps say quite-every American in California had read it; for when California "broke out," as the phrase is, in 1848, and so large a portion of the Anglo-Saxon race flocked to it, there was no book upon California but mine. Many who were on the coast at the time the book refers to, and afterward read it, and remembered the Pilgrim and Alert, thought they also remembered me. But perhaps more did remember me than I was inclined at first to believe, for the novelty of a collegian coming out before the mast had drawn more attention to me than I was aware of at the time.

St. Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco.

Late in the afternoon, as there were vespers at the Roman Catholic churches, I went to that of Notre Dame des Victoires. The congregation was French, and a sermon in French was preached by an abbe; the music was excellent, all things airy and tasteful and making one feel as if in one of the chapels in Paris. The Cathedral of St. Mary, which I afterward visited, where the Irish attend, was a contrast indeed, and more like one of our stifling Irish Catholic churches in Boston or New York, with intelligence in so small a proportion to the number of faces.

During the three Sundays I was in San Francisco, I visited three of the Episcopal churches, and the Congregational, a Chinese Mission Chapel, and on the Sabbath (Saturday) a Jewish synagogue. The Jews are a wealthy and powerful class here. The Chinese, too, are numerous, and do a great part of the manual labor and small shop-keeping, and have some wealthy mercantile houses.

November 24, 1860, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

The Japanese Trade.

Richard H. Dana, in a recent letter, furnishes some interesting facts in regard to the Japanese trade. As a market for articles of American and English manufacture, it appears to be almost valueless.

The Japanese export, but steadily refuse to import. Lowell and Lawrence, Lyons and Manchester and Leeds, says Dana, are spread before them in vain. He seems to think that the greater cost of fabrics of foreign manufacture is the cause; but, as there are wealthy classes in Japan, as in all other countries, the refusal to purchase must be attributed either to Japanese exclusiveness, or to the fact that they have not yet acquired a taste for the sober clothing of the Anglo-Saxon. The amount of tea exported last year was one million pounds, and of silk four thousand bales. A gentleman, who recently arrived from Japan, says that the principle portion of this tea and silk have risen fifty per cent, in the Japanese markets since July of last year. It is not surprising that this appeal to the pocket nerve of the dusky people should organize a powerful "foreign party," and bring about liberal commercial treaties with foreign nations. Dana says that gold, which, at the opening of the trade, was valued but little above silver, has risen to its European value.

June 26, 1869, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento, California, U.S.A.

A Personal Narrative. By Richard Henry Dana, Jr.
New edition, with subsequent matter by the author
Boston: Fields, Osgood & Co. San Francisco : H. H. Bancroft & Co.

After twenty-eight years, Dana has recovered his copyright, and offers the public this new edition of his celebrated narrative. The added matter describes the contrast between San Francisco in 1535-6 and in 1868-9. It also records the final voyage of the ship Alert on which Dana's "Life before the Mast" was mainly passed. That vessel, not proving alert enough to keep out of the way of the rebel cruiser Alabama, was burnt by Semmes, and Dana rejoices over the fact as follows:

I love to think that our noble ship, with her long record of good service and uniform success, attractive and beloved in her life, should have passed, at her death, into the lofty regions of international jurisprudence and debate, forming a part of the body of the "Alabama claims" ?that, like a true ship, committed to her element once for all at her launching, she perished at sea, and, without extreme use of language, we may say, a victim in the cause of her country.

August 29, 1872, Sacramento Daily Union, Sacramento

Richard H. Dana, Jr., Declares In favor of General Grant.

Ships, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.

In answer to a letter from a number of colored men, Richard H. Dana, Jr., has written a long communication giving his views on the political situation. Dana, it will be recollected, is the author of Two Years Before the MastShips, Shipping, Migration, World Seaports.," is one of the founders of the Free Soil party, was a delegate from Boston to the Buffalo Convention of 1848, was one of the ablest members of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1553, and is to-day one of the most distinguished members of the Boston bar. Being a son of Dana the poet, he has an additional hold on the record of history. We give the following extracts from his letter, which afford a good specimen of his literary style and the excellence and fitness of the points which he makes:

My brethren of the African race, you should have long memories. Now that you have come to the possession of political power, and a large share of it, claims will be made upon your confidence and gratitude which will not always bear the test of examination. Whoever ask you to vote tor Horace Greeley for President, as having been a life-long abolitionist, must have lost their memories or trusted to the imperfections of years. Greeley was never an abolitionist. He was never a Free Soiler. Names are things. History and usage fix their meaning. We must not palter with words, any more than with other facts. Certain antislavery men came to the conclusion that they must abjure the Constitution, because of its compromises with slavery, and neither vote or hold off cc under it. Of this class were Garrison and Wendell Phillips, and to them and their associates belongs, historically, the name of abolitionist, with all their appendages and appurtenances. Other anti-slavery men thought it their duty to accept the Constitution and act politically under it, making the question of freedom paramount. These constituted, in 1848, the Free Soil party. Of that party, which was yours and mine, were Adams, Summer, Wilson, Samuel Hoar and his sons, Palfrey, Stephen C. Phillips, Charles Allen, and, a little later, Horace Mann. But Greeley had no part or lot with either of these classes. He was, in his political action, a Henry Clay protectionist Whig, until the Whig party broke up in general wreck in 1856. In 1851, when Sumner's election to the Senate was pending, and the friends of freedom throughout the land were anxiously watching the changing fortunes on the ballot in the Legislature for weeks and months, and every influence was needed, nothing could make Greeley commit himself in Sumner's favor, either in the Tribune or in social circles, or even in private conversation.

He adhered to the Whig party alter it had accepted the fugitive slave law and the compromise of 1860, and after it had repudiated the Wilmot proviso and all attempts to exclude slavery from the Territories by national legislation. The language in which the late Theodore Parker spoke of Greeley's course on the slavery question as late as 1858 (suppressed in the American edition of his works), though marked by verbal asperity, is not in substance undeserved. Greeley's vacillating and pusillanimous course in 1860 and during the war has been so recently and clearly exposed to you that I need not recall it to your attention. He has indeed expressed many sentiments and done much with his pen which has been useful to the cause. For these, all thanks. But we must look to his acts, for it is the executive office to which he aspires. If the rest of the professed anti-slavery men had done as he did from I858 to 1865, or as he counseled, there would have been no organization of abolitionists, no Free Soil party, neither Sumner nor Hale would have been in the Senate, and there would have been an empire, with slavery for its corner-stone, stretching from Ohio to Mexico, where four millions of your race would have been held as chattels, and this by the deliberate consent of the people of the free States. This is the man whom you are asked to support as a life-time abolitionist.

I do not at all agree with some who say that the personal question is of little account in this contest. The personal characteristics of the President of the United States are always of the greatest importance, even when well-organized parties are clearly divided on recognized issues. But now, when both parties profess the same purposes, and it is uncertain how the questions of the future will present themselves or what they may be, the character of the candidate is of the utmost consequence. His qualities will tinge with their color the remotest rills of patronage and influence, and even, like the turbid current of the Mississippi, be felt far in the depths of international relations. It is not from a gossiping spirit, or a love of personalities that the mental and moral character of the new candidate is so freely and eagerly canvassed by our people. It is because they feel its importance.

So much for the personal question, as relates to the new aspirant. If we turn to principles, professions and organizations, we again encounter the personal question, on a vast scale. Many see, on the polished surface of the Cincinnati and Baltimore platform, signs of a trap door, through which may well ascend "shapes hot from Tartarus."

But it is claimed that all the platforms are substantially alike. Assume it to to be so. If both platforms profess and promise the same things, we are driven to ask: Which organization, which body of supporters is most likely to carry them out? This is the personal question again, applied to millions. It seems to me to be fast solving itself. It is becoming a question almost of natural history of elective affinities. By natural instinct at the South, the Union men and the colored races and those who accept reconstruction in good faith, wishing for order and equal rights, are going for Grant. Those who cherish the lost cause, its passions and hopes, repeat their despairing cry of 1864 and 1865: "Anything to beat Grant."

Horace Greeley
U.S. Politician, Statesman, Newspaper Editor
"Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable.
Go West, young man.
Go West and grow up with the country."

At the North, rebel sympathizers and the half-hearted patriots of 1860-65 gravitate toward Greeley; while toward Grant are turned the eyes of the old abolitionists and free-soilers and the men of color, and the unconditional Union men of the war. I observe, too, that those English journals which cheered on the rebel rebellion and derided the Union are expressing their fears that Greeley will fail, and with him the last hopes of what they are pleased to call the rights of the States. There are exceptions to this distribution at the North; and in New England, gone from close at our side, one illustrious exception. But the exceptions are personal, and becoming isolated. When new lines are suddenly drawn through a crowd, some men will find themselves, by accident, mistake or surprise, where they ought not to be. Some will be wrong by their own fault or misfortune. But as to the great body, this elective affinity is settling the nature of the contest we are to expect. Is it possible that you can hesitate? No, indeed, it is not. After the signal calls of danger from the familiar voices of Garrison, Phillips and your own Douglass, and the cry of surprise and alarm from your own people, borne on every breeze from the South, it would be assumption in me to say much.

Ulysses S. Grant. Jean Edward Smith.

As to President Grant, I purpose to speak with frankness and not to enter upon panegyric. In early life he was not a politician, out against all the influences at West Point and in the army in favor of the Democratic party, he remained, like Greeley, a Whig. Once, under the effect of that dislike and disgust which the army felt for Fremont, he voted the Democratic ticket. That, as a soldier, beginning modestly in the lower grades, he was forced to the top by his own achievements, and there broke the rebellion and saved the Union, is history. If that does not speak to you in a tone to thrill your hearts I may as well be silent. The people, in 1869, called him to an office be did not seek, and was reluctant to accept. He found its duties novel and painfully difficult, and made more embarrassing by the arrogant assumptions of Senators and the ephemeral and irresponsible elements in the lower house. He has shown qualities in a high degree which are essential, and others that are useful in that office. In some respects he has disappointed those who looked for certain very desirable results. But do not let us be misled by his opponents into comparing him with an ideal President. That were day-dreaming and mere fatuity. We know the worst of President Grant, if we ever do of any man. There is not a fault he has, and scarce one he has not, which has not been charged to him. But we see in him modesty, patience, will, civil courage, a practical faculty, a ruling sense of justice and a notion that laws are made to be executed.

We may well be thankful that we can secure all these qualities, and escape the perils of such a chef magistrate as Greeley, and such a combination as would use and control him. President Grant will be elected and surrounded by those forces of society, which, with his powerful aid, have saved the Union, abolished slavery, extended equal rights to freedmen, enacted and enforced laws against barbarism and the South, secured the debt from repudiation, preserved the public credit, done justice to the Indians, avoided foreign war with honor and given new scope and dignity to arbitration among nations."

To sum up all, my friends, this is a war of elements. Platforms, professions, promises are claimed to be alike, and alike are of little account. The true character of these elements, and of the two representative men about whom they gather, is what we wish to know. It is that which will decide the history of the next four years, at least. And these elements are ranging themselves, by natural laws, very much as they did in 1860, 1864 and 1863. There is before us what we may well hope will be the last struggle on the issues we shall have to make, whether with the sword or the ballot and the Good Old Cause is still the Good Old Cause for you and me.

February 4, 1892, Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.

Old Jack Stewart of San Diego Dies at the Age of 91.

San Diego, February 3. 0ld Jack Stewart who had lived in San Diego sixty years, died last night at his home in Old Town, aged 91 years. Jack Stewart was a historical character, as he was one of the shipmates of Richard Henry Dana, whose Two Years Before the Mast has become classic. Stewart came here with Dana in 1832 as pilot of the ship Alert, and never left Old Town except on whaling ships. He married a Spanish woman and leaves six- or seven children.

December 6, 1895, San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California

The subject of the accompanying illustration (by W. A. Coulter) is the famous Yankee brig Pilgrim, in whose forecastle Richard Henry Dana Jr. passed much of his two years before the mast. This This type of vessel was quite common along the Pacific Coast nearly fifty years ago; but to-day not a single one of that rig can be found in these waters.

Yankee brig Pilgrim.

This brig, it may be noted, is square-rigged on both masts. It is a type of a time gone by, so far as this coast is concerned. The sketch herewith (above) produced was made from a painting done by a nephew of Captain Thompson of the Pilgrim. This brig sailed from Boston August 14, 1834, on a trading voyage along the coast of California. She was under the command of Captain Frank Thompson, a bluff New England skipper, whose favorite expression was that he was "a regular down-East Johnny-cake, good when hot but bad when cold."

Richard Henry Dana.

Dana, while in the Pilgrim, visited the ports of San Diego, Santa Barbara and Monterey, and describes accurately in his book those places. He also visited the port of San Francisco, but not in the Pilgrim; it was in the ship Alert, August 13, 1835. This ship was destroyed off the Azores Islands by the Confederate steamer Alabama September 9, 1862.

The Pilgrim first entered San Francisco harbor October 1, 1835. In the end she was accidentally destroyed by fire off the coast of North Carolina.

The Project

Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.



Kindly Kindly support our work.


DALevy @
164 Robles Way
Suite 237
Vallejo, California
94591 ~ USA

Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

Please inform us if you link from your site. Please do NOT link from your site unless your site specifically relates to immigration in the 1800s, family history, maritime history, international seaports, and/or California history.