Nipomo’s William Goodwin Dana

Did you have a chance to view the Dana family genealogy at our December Open House? Carlos has illustrated the family line of our City’s namesake, Richard Henry Dana, Jr. and has included a brief explanation of the Dana family origins in this issue. Wikipedia defines a name’s sake as a term used to characterize a person or place that is called after or named out of regard to a person. Dana Point was named for Dana’s characterization of these shores in his book Two Years Before the Mast wherein he wrote that this area (San Juan) was the only romantic spot in California during his visit in 1835.

The DPHS observance of the 175th Anniversary of Dana’s visit with the first public reading of his 1840 bestseller was the inspiration for my husband and me to visit the Dana Adobe in Nipomo on our return from Monterey. We wanted to see Rancho Nipomo and learn more about William Goodwin Dana, the fourth cousin of Richard Henry Dana, Jr. We remembered passing the historic landmark sign for the Dana Adobe on California Highway 101 when we wondered about the Dana family relationship and our curiosity was piqued when we met a charming Dana descendant, Susan Dana George, while attending the CPF Conference in Grass Valley last May.

William Goodwin Dana

We researched the Dana Adobe web site to read more about William Goodwin Dana. Both Richard and William were from Boston and had traveled a great deal. Both men could trace their family tree back to Richard Dana who arrived from England in 1640. However, William was born 18 years before Richard and lost his father when he was only two and his mother died when William was nine and his sister Adeline was eight. Fortunately, his uncle, William Heath Davis, a prominent ship owner, helped him launch a career at sea at the age of 18. He went on to become a proficient navigator spending time in China, India and eventually establishing himself as a mercantile Captain in the trade between the Sandwich Islands (Hawaii) and California. William Goodwin Dana’s store and shipping business in Santa Barbara (1825) led to his meeting and marrying Maria Josefa Carrillo (1828), after waiting five months for naturalization papers to be processed and permission to marry from the Governor, General Echeandia. Each of Maria’s four sisters would also marry Yankee settlers in California. Although Dana and his Yankee counterparts criticized the Mexican government in their letters to each other, they adjusted and were prosperous. Dana converted to Catholicism to marry, received his Mexican citizenship (1835) and applied for the large land grant that became Rancho Nipomo (1837). Joseph L. Dana wrote in the historical biography of his great-great-grandfather that it was ironic that, despite his criticisms, William would hold political offices including appraiser at La Purisima Mission, captain of the port of Santa Barbara and alcalde (mayor and judge) of Santa Barbara in 1836.

William ran a vast, prosperous ranch 60 miles north of Santa Barbara and built Casa de Dana of adobe brick with a New England influenced floor plan, a style known today as Monterey Colonial architecture. William and Maria would have 21 children, 13 of whom would survive to adults. The Danas practiced their religion and they received special permission to bury their little daughter Adelina Eliza within the Mission San Luis Obispo walls where her burial marker can be seen today. Dana was involved unwillingly in the power struggles between the Mexican governors when backing his father-in-law for Governor and he eventually sided with the Americans wanting to take California. Dana welcomed John C. Fremont and his battalion of soldiers on his property, furnished large quantities of food for the men, and provided counsel and horses to them. Both a battalion member and an officer wrote complimentary remarks about Captain Dana and his family, one commented on his intelligence and generosity and the other observed the attractive California woman he married, his fine property and a really beautiful daughter then 17 years of age.

Rancho Nipomo Dana Adobe

Dana continued to be active locally and, through his future son-in-law, indirectly in the writing of the state constitution. Sadly, due to rheumatism from his early days at sea, William became paralyzed and was confined to his home before his death at the age of 60 in 1858. Maria Josefa (d. 1883) and William Goodwin Dana are buried in the Old Mission Cemetery in San Luis Obispo. The Dana Adobe is being restored by the Nipomo Amigos and you can learn more at the web site.

William’s son, Juan Francisco Dana, is quoted in The Blond Ranchero as remembering it was a quirk of fate that, when Richard Henry Dana, Jr. came to the California coast in 1835-1836, he and his father did not meet at that time. It is interesting that the brother of the Captain on whose ship Richard Henry sailed would later be the father-in-law of William’s son, the same Juan Francisco Dana. It does seem strange that Richard Henry Dana, Jr. would not have mentioned his cousin who was a prominent resident and businessman at the time. There are at least four theories in Joseph L. Dana’s book, The Life of California Pioneer William Goodwin Dana speculating on this most interesting omission, especially regarding the wedding that Richard describes in his now famous book.

We called Rancho Nipomo and asked if the Dana Adobe was open on a week day and, though under restoration, the Executive Director Marina B. Washburn, gave us a personal tour. For those of you who have visited Pio Pico State Historic Park in Whittier, there are similarities in the construction and style of these two adobes. The Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos (DANA) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of Rancho Nipomo Dana Adobe as a living historical park, one that you may want to visit in Nipomo, California.

Barbara Force Johannes
(Photos courtesy of Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos)

Dana Genealogy

The first Dana to come to America was Richard Dana (1617-1690) in 1640 from England who settled in Cambridge MA. Among others, he had a son Benjamin and a son Daniel. From there, the Danas have spread all over the United States. In addition to Richard Henry Dana, also important to California, is the William Goodwin Dana written about above who descended through Benjamin and settled in the Santa Barbara area. He is the fourth cousin to RHD, Jr. This clan continues to live in the Nipomo area.

Carlos N. Olvera

7 thoughts on “Nipomo’s William Goodwin Dana”

  1. Cindy Dana-Monitor

    My Father was Daniel George Dana, his father was George Henry Dana. My father grew up in Eau Claire Wi. We grew up knowing of our ancestor Richard Henry Dana Jr. I would like to learn more.

  2. My name is Rebekah George.

    I have recently been looking into my mom’s family. Her father was E. Stuart Dana, a descendant of Benjamin Dana, the son of the original Richard Dana. My mom grew up in Arlington VA, and before that, I know that her father lived in Salisbury Maryland, and before that I think she said his family came Massachusetts. I found all of this accidentally by finding out through a document that tracks the Dana genealogy. Thought this was something cool to know.

  3. Nice write up. Glad you enjoyed your time on the central coast of CA. The Dana family has continued to keep alive the local family history, including time Richard Henry Dana was in the area. There are a number of Dana’s burred in the old Catholic cemetery in San Luis Obispo. I work with one of the family descendants. She lived for a time in one of the ‘other’ historical family homes in the Nipomo area. It’s quite interesting to go through this private residence as well as the adobe.

  4. I came here to find out about a Captain Dana mentioned in The Vaquero Song by Dave Stamey. It sounds like it could be the same one. Very touching song.

    1. After looking at the lyrics, it appears Captain Dana was not Richard Henry Dana Jr., our city’s namesake. It seems that there was a rancher named Captain Dana. RHD Jr. was never a rancher in California.

      Max Brown
      Web Editor

  5. My name is Dana Wilson SantaOlalla. I happen to live outside Santa Barbara, Ca.
    I recently became aware of the Dana Family connection of William Goodwin Dana and the Nipomo Dana Adobe. I am from Nebr. and my father had a cousin that was from Omaha, Nebr. and family in Massachusetts, some of them named Richard Dana. I would like to learn my genealogy tracing back to Richard Henry Dana Sr., born 1787. Any guidance?
    Thank you.
    Dana SantaOlalla

    1. Hello Dana!
      After a busy holiday season we are just getting back to our social media and email. I will forward your question to our president, Barbara Johannes. Have you also joined or one of the other genealogy sites? Personally, I found that very useful.

      Max Brown
      Web Editor

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