Two Years Before the Mast

IMG_0328Hello all! I have been absent from the blogging world for the past few weeks while I put some finishing touches on my manuscript on Civil War veterans. I am pleased to announce that the work in now under contract with Louisiana State University Press – and once it has passed the reviewing stage, will be ready for publication (finally). It has been a long and storied road for this study, and I am quite happy that it is nearing completion.

Today I received Richard Henry Dana’s account of his two-year sea voyage along the coast of California, Two years Before the Mast. Published in 1840, this is among the several works available for eager readers in the East who were very much interested in the West Coast. People on the move later in the 19th century wanted to know what to expect once they reached the Golden Coast and this is among the selections that captured the imagination of a well-read public.

Part of my current study of California identity as seen through the eyes of the victorious Civil War generation is something of a history of popular culture. What did the authors using California as a backdrop have to say about the region? I want to know what folks in the East and Midwest thought of California before they got there and how these images contributed to their identities as new Californians. We’ll talk more about Dana shortly – but this is something to think about for now.

With compliments,


7 thoughts on “Two Years Before the Mast”

  1. I first read “Two Years Before the Mast” as a teenager. It was included in my grandfather’s set of the “Harvard Classics.” I read it a second time several years ago as an adult. It is a great read with some extraordinary descriptions of Los Angeles and the California coast in the era prior to the gold rush.

    1. I am looking forward to really unpacking this one. Are there any other accounts you can recommend on this topic?

      1. Hydraulic Mining in California: A Tarnished Legacy by Powell Greenland (brother of a good friend of mine) is a superb account of an important component of California civilization. Many modern technologies came about due to the fervor of extracting gold from the rocks and soils of this state. Most of our modern hydrology derived from these activities. This is a good read.

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