What Does “Before the Mast” Mean and Where Did the Nautical Expression Come From?

In his book Two Years Before the Mast, the American lawyer and author Richard Henry Dana (1815-1882) reveals his experiences as a young man at sea aboard the brig Pilgrim in 1834.

The mast of a sailing ship was the boundary between the quarters of officers in the rear and the crew in front.

Dana kept a diary of the wretched treatment and conditions experienced by a common seaman living “before the mast,” and from his notes he compiled his book, published in 1840.