Richard Henry Dana Jr., an attorney and author of Two Years Before the Mast, defended many African Americans who fought their return to slavery under the Fugitive Slave law. He also defended those who helped these African Americans. Dana refused fees for most of this work. In his later years he remarked that his involvement in this cause represented the “one great act” of his life.
Dana and his family were intimate friends with the Longfellows as well as backdoor neighbors throughout the 1850s. Henry Longfellow’s daughter Edith married Dana’s son Richard Henry Dana III. At Longfellow’s house the attorney and the poet must have shared their news and views on the abolition of slavery, as evidenced by Longfellow’s journal entry on January 2, 1863: “Beautiful as yesterday… R.H. Dana [Jr.] came in the evening, and talked of the president’s Proclamation, in his own clear way.”