Richard Henry Dana, Jr., 1815-1882

Richard Henry Dana, Jr., 1815-1882

Richard Henry Dana, Jr., 1815-1882

Richard Henry Dana, Jr., 1815-1882

Excerpt

Few American families provide more abundant or more interesting material for the student of social mobility than the Danas of Cambridge. Stemming from a penniless Puritan immigrant in 1640, they rose generation by generation to membership in the ruling class of Massachusetts, establishing their position by the accumulation of landed estates and improving it with a series of fortunate marriages. After producing a colonial magistrate and a revolutionary patriot, the family reached an apogee with Francis Dana (1743-1811), who married the daughter of a signer of the Declaration of Independence and was a member of the Continental Congress, Ambassador to Russia, and Chief Justice of the State Supreme Judicial Court. Conscious of their position in history and of their responsibility to posterity, many members of the family had begun to keep diaries and to collect the mass of family papers and correspondence now deposited at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The family's landed estates and the traditional education the sons received at Harvard, as apprentices to leading Boston lawyers, and in the almost hereditary Cambridge seat in the state legislature, had been sufficient, in the eighteenth century, to qualify them for high political office. Even during the Judge's lifetime, however, rapidly changing economic conditions began to shake the secure position that had taken the Danas a century and a half to build up. The Judge's eldest son, aspiring to a mercantile fortune, entered a business for which he was unfit by training and temperament, mortgaged the family lands to finance his unsound speculations, and eventually had to flee to Russia to escape his creditors. Other sons, unprepared to make their way in the world without a comfortable inherited income, sank into querulous lives of idleness and self-pity.

The Judge's grandson, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., was made of tougher fiber, and he had the invaluable experience of two years before the mast as a common sailor to strengthen his physique and his determination to re-

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