New Albion

This article is about England's legal claim to North America north of Mexico. For other uses, see New Albion (disambiguation).
Drake's Landing in New Albion, 1579. Engraving published by Theodor De Bry, 1590.

New Albion, also known as Nova Albion, was the name of all North America north of Mexico, from "sea to sea," claimed by Sir Francis Drake for England in 1579. The extent of New Albion and the location of Drake's port have long been debated by historians, with most believing that he came ashore in the Bay Area on the coast of northern California.

Albion, "the white", is an archaic name for the island of Great Britain. The name refers to the White Cliffs of Dover.


During his circumnavigation of the globe (1577–1580), in which he was ordered to destroy the Spanish flotillas in the New World and plunder settlements, Sir Francis Drake landed on the western coast of North America in his galleon, Golden Hind, and claimed the area for Queen Elizabeth I as New Albion. Along with Martin Frobisher's claims in Greenland and Baffin Island and Drake's claims at the tip of South America, New Albion was one of the earliest English territorial claims in the New World. Like Humphrey Gilbert's 1583 claim of Newfoundland, it was followed up by settlement of the Roanoke Colony in 1584, then by Jamestown, Virginia in 1607.[1] Assertions that Drake left some of his men behind as an embryo "colony" in California are based merely on the reduced number who were with him in the Moluccas.[2]

The western coast of North America had been partially explored in 1542 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who sailed for the Spanish, but as England was in conflict with Spain, Drake decided to claim the rest of North America that Spain did not control. Wherever his actual landing place was, it was well north of San Diego Bay where Cabrillo had asserted Spain's claim. Drake explored the coasts around his port by ship for some time as well as the surrounding land on foot.

Upon his return to England on 4 April 1581, Francis Drake was knighted by the French Ambassador on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I for his deeds against the Spanish during the circumnavigational voyage. However, in order to keep an uneasy peace with Spain, and to avoid having Spain threaten England's other claims in the New World, Drake's logs, charts, and other writings were confiscated. Thus, the discovery and claim on New Albion was ordered by the Queen to be considered a state secret. Drake and his crew were sworn to silence on pain of death. Only years later, after England's destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588 (in which Drake played a significant role), did Queen Elizabeth allow an official account of Drake's voyage by Richard Hakluyt to be published.

However, Drake was uneasy with inaccuracies in the published accounts of his voyages, and in 1592, he wrote to Queen Elizabeth in reference to "the certain truth concealed, as I have thought it necessary myself" and requested that the accounts be rewritten accordingly.[3] The Queen denied his request.

An account of the voyage, said to be based on the notes of his chaplain, Francis Fletcher, including many details of New Albion was published in 1628 by Drake's nephew and namesake.[4]

Jodocus Hondius map of Drake's port in New Albion, c. 1603

After Elizabeth's death, maps began to mark the area of North America above Mexico and New Mexico as Nova Albion, although the location of Drake's Port greatly differs among maps. However, Drake's claiming land on the Pacific coast became the legal basis for subsequent colonial charters issued by English monarchs that purported to grant lands from "sea to sea" (i.e., from the Atlantic where English colonies were first settled, to the Pacific). However, despite these claims, the English did not establish a colonizing presence on the west coast of North America until the late 18th century in the form of the explorations and asserted claims of Captains Cook and Vancouver and the associated Nootka Conventions. Soon afterwards, the Columbia Fur District of the Hudson's Bay Company and its headquarters at Fort Vancouver were established.

Location of landing

Despite universal agreement among historians that Drake landed on the west coast of North America, the exact location of his landing, and thus of Drake's Port, has been the subject of several theories.[5] The only confirmed sixteenth-century archaeological evidence consists of pieces of porcelain found at Drakes Bay, north of San Francisco.[6]

Officially recognized site – National Historic Landmark

Drakes Bay

The site of Drake's landing officially recognized by the U.S. Department of the Interior and other bodies is Drake's Cove, in Drakes Bay. The bay is in Marin County, California, near Point Reyes, just north of the Golden Gate. 38°02′02″N 122°56′28″W / 38.034°N 122.941°W / 38.034; -122.941[7]

Starting in the seventeenth century, maps identify Drakes Bay as Drake’s landing site.[8] George Vancouver studied Drake’s landing site and concluded it was in Drakes Bay.

"Professor George Davidson, of the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey, after a careful study of the narrative and the coast identifies the harbour entered by Drake with Drake's Bay, under Point Reyes, about thirty miles (50 km) north of San Francisco. 'Drake's Bay,' he says, 'is a capital harbor in northwest winds, such as Drake encountered. It is easily entered, sheltered by high lands, and a vessel may anchor in three fathoms, close under the shore in good holding ground.'"[9]

In 1947, Robert F. Heizer following up on work by Professor A. L. Kroeber and William W. Elemendorf analyzed the ethnographic reports of Drake's stay at New Albion. He states that "Drake must have landed in territory occupied by the Coast Miwok-speaking natives." In his full analysis, Heizer concludes, "in June 1579, then, Drake probably landed in what is now known as Drake's Bay."[10]

Since 1949, the theory that Drake landed at Drakes Bay has been advocated by the Drake Navigators Guild in California, and notably by its former president Captain Adolph S. Oko, Jr., its former honorary chairman Chester W. Nimitz, and its longtime former president Raymond Aker. Oko wrote, "Many other correlative facts have been ... found true to the Drake's Cove site as part of the total body of evidence. The weight of evidence truly establishes Drake's Cove as the nodal point of Nova Albion."[11] Nimitz stated that he did "not doubt that in time the public will come to recognize the importance and value of this long-lost site (Drake's Cove in Drakes Bay), and will rank it with other National Historic Sites such as Roanoke, Jamestown, and Plymouth."[12]

Aker made detailed studies reconstructing Drake's circumnavigation voyage. Advocates of this theory cite the fact that the official published account placed the colony at 38 degrees north. The geography of Drake's Cove, which lies along the coast of Marin County, has often been suggested as being similar to the cove described by Drake, including the white cliffs that look like the south coast of England and the specific configuration of the Cove. The current geographical fit is by no means complete, however, leaving open the question, even among those who support the Marin County theory, as to the location of the colony. Aker maintained that the criticisms of the cove's geography were unfounded, because the configuration of the sandbars in the cove was cyclic over the decades. He predicted that a spit of land which closely resembles one on the Hondius map that disappeared in 1956 would reappear: it formed again in 2001.[13]

Nearly one hundred pieces of sixteenth-century Chinese porcelains have been found in the vicinity of the Drake's Cove site which “must fairly be attributed to Francis Drake’s Golden Hind visit of 1579.”[14] Arguments do exist suggesting the porcelains came from Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeño's 1595 wreck, San Agustin, the only other ship with Chinese porcelains attributed to Point Reyes. However, x-ray fluorescence testing indicates differently. While encouraging further research to provide definitive answers, Dr. Marco Meniketti, tested ceramics from shipwrecks in Mexico, California, and Oregon as well as ceramics linked to Drake found near Point Reyes. The findings indicate the Cermeño ceramics and the supposed Drake ceramics were from two different ships. Meniketti states it appears that these two cargoes can be distinguished based on differences in their key elements.[15]

On October 17, 2012, the Secretary of the Interior recognized the Drakes Bay site as a new National Historic Landmark.[16][17]

Other theories

More than twenty other locations have been advanced as the site of Drake's port.[18] Davidson recognized a plethora of confusion from chiefly armchair historians including Samuel Johnson[19] and Jules Verne.[20][21]

Point San Quentin, San Francisco Bay, California

Robert H. Power (1926–1991), co-owner of the Nut Tree in Vacaville, CA, promoted the idea that Drake’s New Albion was inside San Francisco Bay near Point San Quentin.37°56′22″N 122°29′12″W / 37.939400°N 122.486700°W / 37.939400; -122.486700 Among his arguments was that the Hondius Broadside map matched a part of the topography when parts were adjusted using a 2:1 correction.[22] Among the problems with Power’s idea are the difficulty of sailors finding San Francisco Bay from the ocean (it was first discovered by land and the first sea attempts to then locate the Bay failed), the lack of continuous foggy weather,[23] the multitudes of good harbors, and the extreme dangers of entering such a bay on an unknown basis.

Whale Cove, Oregon

In 1978 British amateur historian Bob Ward, after making an exhaustive study of the geography of the Pacific coast of the U.S. and Canada, and a single visit to the site,[24] suggested that Drake actually landed much farther north, in Whale Cove in present-day Oregon (44°47′20″N 124°04′14″W / 44.788944°N 124.070689°W / 44.788944; -124.070689). Advocates of the Whale Cove theory argue that when Captain James Cook first sighted the American coast at Cape Foulweather two centuries later, he described it in his log, with unknowing accuracy, as "the long-looked for coast of New Albion." Whale Cove lies just north of Cape Foulweather. Advocates of the Whale Cove theory dismiss the latitude given by Drake on the grounds that he may have deliberately falsified it in order to deceive the rival Spanish. Although the official account of Drake's voyage gives the anchorage location as 38 degrees, the only two known hand-written accounts of the voyage, preserved in the British Library, say that it was at 44 degrees, which is on the mid-Oregon coast. Drake and Queen Elizabeth, they argue, falsified the location because he mistakenly thought he had discovered the North West Passage when he found, and sailed into, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which today separates Vancouver Island, British Columbia from the mainland Olympic Peninsula of Washington state.[25][26]

Whale Cove remains an unnavigable bay in a dangerous part of the Oregon coast: mariners are advised to stay at least 600 yards offshore for the distance one mile north of Whale Cove to one mile south of Whale Cove. Whale Cove is not considered a usable bay by any size of vessel.[27]

Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

In 2003 Canadian R. Samuel Bawlf suggested[28] that Drake's landing was on Vancouver Island and that Drake erected a post containing such a proclamation at what is today Comox, British Columbia, located on Vancouver Island (49°40′N 124°57′W / 49.66°N 124.95°W / 49.66; -124.95).[29] Bawlf supports the idea that Drake completed the "Neahkahnie Mountain Survey." Bawlf believes Drake careened the Golden Hind in Whale Cove, Oregon. Bawlf points to a number of pieces of evidence in support of his view that the official published record of Drake's voyage was deliberately altered to suppress the true extent of his discoveries. Bawlf also relies heavily upon the configuration of the coastline as depicted in some of the maps and globes of the era, including the so-called French and Dutch Drake Maps which depict his voyage as having reached a point northward of a chain of islands to the northwest of New Spain and other maps depicting New Albion at latitudes above those of northern California, such as Richard Hakluyt's 1587 map of the New World showing Nova Albion at 50 degrees north latitude. Bawlf also placed emphasis on the fact that on an initial rendition of his globe in 1592 Emery Molyneux depicted the line of the coast of North America behind Vancouver Island with remarkable accuracy, although the islands themselves, depicted on the French and Dutch Drake maps, do not appear.

Although Bob Ward initially drew some of the discrepancies between the official published accounts of Drake's voyage and other documents to Bawlf's attention, and concluded that Drake likely sailed much farther to the north than northern California, he has been critical of some of Bawlf's conclusions, such as Drake's erecting a post proclaiming New Albion at what is now Comox Bay.

Bawlf's claims regarding "spectral analysis" and four matching islands have been disputed by Derek Hayes.[30] Oliver Seeler disputes Bawlf's conclusions[31][32] as does Eric Powell.[33]

Bawlf's work has also been criticized by Edward Von der Porten, President of the Drake Navigators Guild. Von der Porten calculates that Bawlf's theory requires the Golden Hinde to have traveled "an average of 5.95 knots... in a ship capable of less than one knot in those conditions." Further, Bawlf fails to identify the white cliffs, the Islands of St. James or the Coast Miwok People. Von der Porten states that Bawlf "has no evidence for either the conspiracy or his 'ten degree rule.'"[34][35]

Other evidence

Richard Hakluyt's account of Drake's landing

Sixpence of Elizabeth I, like the one claimed by Hakluyt to have been used for Drake's plate.

The following is an excerpt of an account by Richard Hakluyt:[36][37][38]

Our necessary business being ended, our General with his company travelled up into the country to their villages, where we found herds of deer by a thousand in a company, being most large, and fat of body. We found the whole country to be a warren of a strange kind of coneys; their bodies in bigness as be the Barbary coneys, their heads as the heads of ours, the feet of a want [mole], and the tail of a rat, being of great length. Under her chin is on either side a bag, into the which she gathereth her meat, when she hath filled her belly abroad. The people eat their bodies, and make great account of their skins, for their king's coat was made of them. Our General called this country Nova Albion, and that for two causes; the one in respect of the white banks and cliffs, which lie towards the sea, and the other, because it might have some affinity with our country in name, which sometime was so called. There is no part of earth here to be taken up, wherein there is not some probable show of gold or silver.

At our departure hence our General set up a monument of our being there, as also of her Majesty's right and title to the same; namely a plate, nailed upon a fair great post, whereupon was engraved her Majesty's name, the day and year of our arrival there, with the free giving up of the province and people into her Majesty's hands, together with her Highness' picture and arms, in a piece of six pence of current English money, under the plate, whereunder was also written the name of our General.

It seemeth that the Spaniards hitherto had never been in this part of the country, neither did ever discover the land by many degrees to the southwards of this place.

N. de Morena

Drake had a European ship pilot aboard who was in ill health. Left ashore, N. de Morena recovered his health and walked to Mexico.[39][40]

Ancillary finds

Plate of Brass

For nearly four decades after the so-called "Drake's Plate of Brass" came to public attention in 1936, it was believed that the "plate" that Pretty describes had been found. The so-called "Drake's Plate" was revealed to be a practical joke among local historians that got out of control and became a full-blown public hoax.[41]

Once the plate was revealed as a fake, none of the 40 years of theories based on its authenticity were revisited or retracted.[42]

Silver sixpence

Proximate to Drakes Bay is the Coast Miwok village site of Olompali (historically spelled "Olompolli"). According to the Olompali Park website, a pierced Elizabethan silver sixpence (see Francis Pretty's account of Drake's landing, below) bearing the date of 1567—the oldest artifact bearing a calendar date ever found in California—was discovered in the park in an excavation of a Miwok village site by archeologists. While this could indicate that Olompali residents had contact with Sir Francis Drake or with people who had traded with the English explorer, this is a portable object with no certain association with Drake. The sixpence is now in the collection of the Bancroft Library, University of California at Berkeley, California.[43]

“Drake’s Cup”

The so-called “Drake’s Cup” is a bronze mortar with the date 1570 inscribed in it. The mortar hung in a Marin County, California church for many years and was called “Drake’s Cup” for decades. In the early 1970s, the mortar was researched extensively by the Drake Navigators Guild. While the mortar is an authentic European sixteenth century item of the type navigators used, no provenance associating it with Drake’s California visit can be established.[44]


The community of Albion, British Columbia, now part of the District of Maple Ridge and just across the river from Fort Langley, was named to celebrate the idea that Drake had explored that far north and that British Columbia was, as British colonists would have liked to believe or confirm, the area where Drake landed.

Several commemorative and historical societies have been founded to celebrate and research Drake's landing in northern California. These include the Sir Francis Drake Association, the Sir Francis Drake Society and the Drake Navigators Guild.

See also


  1. Sugden, John (1990). Sir Francis Drake. Barrie & Jenkins. p. 118. ISBN 0-7126-2038-9.
  2. Dismissed by John Cummins, Francis Drake: The Lives of a Hero 1997:118: "In view of the prominence given in different versions to the crowning of Drake it would be odd if the establishment of a colony had gone unrecorded."
  3. Nichols, Philip (1592). "Sir Francis Drake Revived".
  4. The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake, being his next voyage to that to Nombre de Dios formerly imprinted, 1628
  5. The representations of San Francisco (California): a portable harbor in the fragile geography of the North Pacific.
  6. Shangraw, Clarence; Von der Porten, Edward (1981). THE DRAKE AND CERMEÑO EXPEDITIONS' CHINESE PORCELAINS AT DRAKES BAY, CALIFORNIA 1579 AND 1595.
  7. Drake's likely 380 NM route (GoogleEarth)
  8. Wagner, Henry R. (1926). Sir Francis Drake's Voyage Around the World: Its Aims and Achievemennts. John Howell. p. 161.
  9. Brereton, Robert Maitland, C.E., Did Sir Francis Drake Land on Any Part of the Oregon Coast?, J. K. Gill Company, Portland, Oregon, 1907
  10. Heizer, Robert F. (1947). "Francis Drake and the California Indians, 1579". University of California Publications in American Archaeology and Ethnology. University of California Press. 42 (3).
  11. Oko, Captain Adolph S., Jr., Francis Drake and Nova Albion, California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. XLIII, No. 2, June 1964
  12. Nimitz, Chester W., Drake's Cove, Pacific Discovery, California Academy of Sciences, Vol. 11, No. 2, 1958.
  13. Again a safe harbor: Tiny cove many believe Sir Francis Drake repaired to 422 years ago suddenly reappears,San Francisco Chronicle, July 18, 2001.
  14. Shangraw, Clarence; Von der Porten, Edward (1981). THE DRAKE AND CERMEÑO EXPEDITIONS' CHINESE PORCELAINS AT DRAKES BAY, CALIFORNIA 1579 AND 1595.
  15. |url=|format=PDF|title=Initial pXRF Analysis of Chinese Ceramics from Spanish Shipwrecks on the Pacific Coast|publisher=Society For California Archaeology|author=Dr. Marco Meniketti|date= 2014|accessdate=17 September 2015}
  16. The Drake’s Cove site began its review by the National Park Service (NPS) in 1994 , thus starting an 18-year study of the suggested Drake sites. The first formal Nomination to mark the Nova Albion site at Drake’s Cove as a National Historic Landmark was provided to NPS on January 1, 1996. As part of its review, NPS obtained independent, confidential comments from professional historians. The NPS staff concluded that the Drake’s Cove site is the “most probable” and “most likely” Drake landing site. The National Park System Advisory Board Landmarks Committee sought public comments on the Port of Nova Albion Historic and Archaeological District Nomination and received more than two dozen letters of support and none in opposition. At the Committee’s meeting of November 9, 2011 in Washington, DC, representatives of the government of Spain, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Congresswoman Lynn Wolsey all spoke in favor of the nomination: there was no opposition. Staff and the Drake Navigators Guild’s president, Edward Von der Porten, gave the presentation. The Nomination was strongly endorsed by Committee Member Dr. James M. Allan, Archaeologist, and the Committee as a whole which approved the nomination unanimously. The National Park System Advisory Board sought further public comments on the Nomination : no additional comments were received. At the Board’s meeting on December 1, 2011 in Florida, the Nomination was further reviewed: the Board approved the nomination unanimously. On October 16, 2012 Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed the nomination and on October 17, 2012,The Drakes Bay Historic and Archaeological District was formally announced as a new National Historic Landmark.
  17. "The Drake Navigators Guild Press Release". Retrieved February 21, 2013.
  18. San Francisco Chronicle: Again a safe harbor / Tiny cove many believe Sir Francis Drake repaired to 422 years ago suddenly reappears: July 18, 2001: Nolte, Carl
  19. Johnson, Samuel (1767). The life of Mr. Richard Savage, son of the Earl Rivers; to which are added the lives of Sir Francis Drake and Admiral Blake (3rd ed.).
  20. Oko, Captain Adolph S., Jr., Francis Drake and Nova Albion, California Historical Society Quarterly, Vol. XLIII, No. 2, June 1964, pp. 6-7
  21. Verne, Jules, Great Voyages and Great Navigators, Part II, No. 466, Vol. XXIV, George Munro publisher, 1879, p. 33
  22. Power, Robert (1974). Francis Drake & San Francisco Bay: a Beginning of the British Empire. University of California, Davis.
  23. LeBaron, Gaye (October 16, 1983), Proof that Drake Landed at Drake's Bay: Our Photographer was There (PDF), The Press Democrat, retrieved July 12, 2012
  24. "Drake's trail traced to cove in Oregon". Eugene Register. June 1, 1986. Retrieved May 17, 2012.
  25. Ward, Bob (July 1981). Geographical. Royal Geographical Society. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  26. While Ward published one article in 1981, he writes that he will not be publishing a further work solely dedicated to his Drake landing site beliefs. Ward, Bob (Oct–Nov 2005). "Emails to Karen Pinto". Archived from the original on April 26, 2012. Retrieved March 21, 2013.
  27. Cape Foulweather is 1 NM south of Whale Cove. "Dangers extend for nearly 2 miles N of the N point of Cape Foulweather and about 600 yards offshore." Whale Cove is not even mentioned as a place to be considered by mariners of any size of vessel.United States Coast Pilot 7: Pacific Coast: California, Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii (Twenty-fifth ed.). U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service. 1989. p. 219.
  28. Bawlf, R. Samuel (2003). The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake, 1577-1580. Douglas & McIntyre. ISBN 1-55054-977-4.
  29. Bawlf's route for Drake is 2,000 NM (1,600 NM without detours) covered in 34 sailing days based on the theory that the published dates were intentionally in error. (GoogleEarth)
  30. Hayes, Derek. "Half-Baked Alaska". Retrieved December 1, 2011.
  31. "Did Francis Drake discover B.C.?". Vancouver Sun. August 6, 2000. Retrieved December 1, 2011.
  32. Seeler, Oliver. "Drake in British Columbia? The Turbid Theories of Samuel Bawlf". Retrieved July 23, 2012.
  33. Powell, Eric A. (October 5, 2005). "Sir Francis Drake Didn't Sleep Here". Archaeological Institute of America. Retrieved December 9, 2011.
  34. Von der Porten, Edward, A New Drake Myth,Sea History, National Maritime Historical Society, No. 106, Winter 2004, pp. 10-12.
  35. Bookworld's one-page summary of seven key problems with Bawlf's theory."Lookout: 7 Reasons Why the British Explorer Didn't Reach British Columbia in 1579: Doubting Drake" (PDF). 17. Bookworld. April 2004: 14. Retrieved April 10, 2012.
  36. The original English version of Richard Hakluyt's Famous Voyage in 1589 does not reference any specific author. The Hakluyt Society reports that Hakluyt's second edition credits Pretty for the account of Thomas Cavendish's voyage. An early French version of Famous Voyage ascribes the Drake Account to Pretty. Since then, this mis-attribution has been widely reprinted.
  37. Modern History Sourcebook: Francis Pretty: Sir Francis Drake's Famous Voyage Round the World, 1580.
  38. Hakluyt, Richard (1582). Divers Voyages touching the Discouerie of America. London.
  40. Charles F. Lumis, ed. (1900). "Narrative of the Pilot Morera, who passed through the North Sea to the South Sea through the Strait". The Land of Sunshine, The Magazine of California and the West (February). pp. 184–186.
  41. Edward Von der Porten, Raymond Aker, Robert W. Allen, James M. Spitze. "Who Made Drake's Plate of Brass? Hint: It Wasn't Francis Drake" California History, Vol. 81, No. 2 (2002), pp. 116-133
  42. Garry D. Gitzen. "The Plate of Brass Hoax White Paper"(2014)
  43. "California State Parks, Olompali State Historic Park". Retrieved July 23, 2013.
  44. Von der Porten, Edward P. (1973). ""Drake's Cup"? - 1570". Historical Archaeology. Society for Historical Archaeology. 7: 46–53.
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