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New Albion, also known as Nova Albion, was the name of the region of the Pacific coast of North America explored by Sir Francis Drake and claimed by him for Englandmarker in 1579. The name is also applied to the settlement Drake founded on the coast. The extent of New Albion and the location of Drake's landing have long been debated by historians, with the most prevailing theory that he landed on the coast of northern Californiamarker. Albion, "the white", is an archaic name for the island of Great Britainmarker, a reference to the chalk cliffs lining the English Channelmarker.

Sir Francis Drake's landing: 1579

During his famed circumnavigation of the globe (1577–1580), in which he was ordered to destroy the Spanishmarker flotillas in the New World and plunder settlements, Sir Francis Drake landed on the western coast of North America and claimed the area for Queen Elizabeth I as New Albion. Historians continue to dispute the exact location of his landing. It is often suggested that Drake landed in modern-day Marin County, Californiamarker, just north of San Franciscomarker, perhaps at Drakes Estero or Bolinas Bay. Other theories suggests that the landing site was farther up the coast, and at least one has posited the Santa Barbaramarker area. One recent theory advocates present-day Whale Covemarker in Oregonmarker. No firm archaeological evidence has yet been found anywhere on the coast that would establish the location of Drake's landing. Assertions that he left some of his men behind as an embryo "colony" are founded merely on the reduced number who were with him in the Moluccas.

The western coast of North America had been partially explored in 1542 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who sailed for the Spanishmarker, but as Englandmarker was in conflict with Spain Drake decided to claim the region. Wherever his actual landing place was, it was well north of San Diego Baymarker where Cabrillo had asserted Spain's claim. Spain had claimed the entire Pacific coast of the Americas since the Inter caetera papal bull of 1493, reinforced in 1513 when Vasco Núñez de Balboa formally claimed all lands adjoining the Pacific Ocean for the Spanish Crown. However, England did not recognize the authority of the Inter caetera and Balboa's claim covered a vast and mostly unknown area.

Upon his return to England on 4 April 1581, Francis Drake was knighted by 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 — though with many of the details obscured.

However, Drake was always uneasy with the misrepresentations in the "official" account, and in 1592, he wrote to Queen Elizabeth in reference to "the certain truth concealed, as I have thought it necessary myself." and requesting that the account be rewritten accordingly. The Queen denied his request.

After Elizabeth's death, maps began to mark the area of North America above New Spain and New Mexico as Nova Albion, although the boundaries and locations greatly differ among maps. However, Drake's claiming land on the Pacific coast became the legal basis for subsequent colonial charters granted by English monarchs that claimed 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, shortly after, the establishment of the Columbia Fur District of the Hudson's Bay Company and its headquarters at Fort Vancouvermarker.

Location of New Albion

[[Image: Overlay NB&Nova Albion.jpg|thumb|250px|Jodocus HondiusIn 1971, Wayne Jensen, Director of the Tillamook County Pioneer Museum, determined that the incised rocks and cairns distributed over the face of Neahkahnie Mountain was a survey performed by Francis Drake. Samuel Bawlf’s book refers to this survey as the “Point of Position” where Drake took his bearings. In 2008, Garry D. Gitzen’s “Francis Drake in Nehalem Bay 1579” subtitled “Setting the Historical Record Straight” has expanded on Jensen’s work to include ethnology, topography, flora and fauna. The Oregon Archeological Society Newsletter December 2008 describes the book as: “magnificent and without parallel.”

map detail of New Albion, c. 1595 overlay on Nehalem Bay Oregon]]Despite universal agreement among historians that Drake landed on the west coast of North America, the exact location of New Albion has long remained a mystery, compounded by the lack of any firm archaeological evidence. The most prevalent theory has been that Drake landed in Marin County, California, near Point Reyesmarker, just north of the Golden Gatemarker. The theory that Drake landed there has long been advocated by the Drake Navigators Guild in California, and most notably by its longtime former president Raymond Aker, who 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 Drakes Estero, 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. The 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 correctly predicted in 2001 that a spit of land would reappear in the cove which had disappeared 53 years ago and which more closely resembles that one that appears on the Hondius map.

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, suggested that Drake actually landed much farther north, in Whale Covemarker in present-day Oregon. Advocates of the Whale Cove theory argue that when Captain James Cook first sighted the American coast at Cape Foulweathermarker 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. Cook later sailed on to Friendly Cove on Vancouver Island, for which he is given credit for discovering western Canada. 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 Fucamarker, which today separates Vancouver Islandmarker, British Columbiamarker from the mainland Olympic Peninsulamarker of Washingtonmarker state.

In 1997 California environmental engineer Brian Kelleher published Drakes Bay: Unravelling California's Greatest Maritime Mystery. Kelleher made a very strong case for the Drake landing at Campbell Cove at the entrance of Bodega Harbormarker—latitude north 38 degrees 14 minutes. Kelleher's statistical analysis of Drake's determinations of latitude made on land showed that they were within +/- 11 minutes of arc, which made Campbell Cove the only possible anchorage within the determined range of error of The World Encompassed's "38,deg. 30.min." The source of Drake's error in latitude determination was revealed in a 1999 analysis by Bob Graham. Graham retrocalculated solar declinations to find errors in the published tables of Drake's time, and when correcting those declinations for 123 degrees west of London (which Drake could not do), found that at Campbell Cove, in the particular days near the solstice in 1579, Drake would have determined a latitude of 38 30, had he been at Campbell Cove (N38 14).

Preliminary magnetometer sweeps of the site by the University of California in 1999 yielded positive results. The site has yet to be examined in detail by State of California archaeologists.

In 2003 Canadian R. Samuel Bawlf suggested in The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake that Drake's New Albion was Vancouver Islandmarker and that Drake erected a post containing such a proclamation at what is today Comox, British Columbiamarker, located on Vancouver Islandmarker in the Strait of Georgiamarker. 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.

An Account of Drake's Landing

The following is an excerpt of an account by Francis Pretty:

Pretty's description of some of the animals in the area as looking like strange kind of Conies with the tail of a Rat, being of great length suggest that of a muskrat. The apparent description of a muskrat is important as it indicates that New Albion was at least as far north as Northern California *.

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.


The community of Albion, British Columbiamarker, now part of the District of Maple Ridgemarker and just across the river from Fort Langleymarker, 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 of Nova Albion.

See also

Related links


  1. See, e.g., Harry Kelsey, Sir Francis Drake; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998; pp. 182-83.
  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."
  • "The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake, 1577-1580", by R. Samuel Bawlf (Douglas & McIntyre, 2003)
  • "National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Mammals" 649-652. 2nd ed. Knopf publishing 1980

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