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In 1834, The Pilgrim , a U.S. Merchant Marine ship run by Captain Francis Thompson and owned by Stewart Shipping Company, arrives in Boston from Monterey, California, in record time. Under the orders of Thompson, who brutally abuses his crew, Amazeen, the first mate, who has a blind devotion to his captain, shanghais a crew for the return trip to California. Among those kidnapped are Hayes, a farmer who was not able to notify his wife and children of his departure, and Charles Stewart, the spendthrift son of the company's owner. Stewart quickly learns that the men are fed measly rations while the officers eat fresh chicken, and when he discovers a hungry young stowaway, Sam Hooper, on board, Stewart steals food for the boy and himself, for which the whole crew is punished. Richard Henry Dana, the brother of a sailor who died during the Pilgrim 's last voyage, is onboard to write a book on the atrocities committed under Thompson. When Stewart catches Foster, the second mate, reading Dana's log, they fight, and Stewart is given twenty lashes with a cat-o'-nine-tails for assaulting an officer. In Pernambuco, Brazil, the ship picks up passenger Maria Dominguez and her duenna. As a result of Thompson's refusal to pull into port for fresh provisions, Hayes and another crew member die of scurvy. When Sam becomes sick and crew member Brown discovers that Foster has been hoarding fresh vegetables, Brown kills him. Amazeen, increasingly sympathetic to the crew's intolerable conditions, covers for Brown. When a Mexican island is spotted and Thompson still refuses to stop, Stewart pulls a gun on the him, but is disarmed by Amazeen and locked up to await trial for mutiny, which is punishable by hanging. Maria and Stewart have fallen in love, but she is to be married two weeks after her arrival in San Francisco. When The Pilgrim arrives at the island, Maria appeals to a Mexican officer on Stewart's behalf and accuses Thompson of the willful neglect of his crew. Maria leaves, but Stewart promises to find her. When the captain refuses the crew shore leave, the men free Stewart and abandon ship. When Thompson fires at the boat, Amazeen deflects the bullet, then dives into the water to join the crew and is shot by the captain. After the crew returns to the boat to save their lives, Brown knifes the captain and is himself shot by Thompson. The crew mutinies and flees the Mexican authorities. Some months later, in Boston, the crew is arrested, but Dana's book is published and the crew wins the sympathy of the public. Following a Senate investigation, Congress enacts a law in 1855 protecting the seamen of the Merchant Marine.