New Albion

From Academic Kids

This article is about the area claimed by Francis Drake. For the region named by Sir Edmund Plowden, see New Albion (colony)

New Albion was the name of the region of the Pacific Coast of North America explored by by Sir Francis Drake and claimed by him for England 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 has long been debated by historians, with the most prevailing theory that he landed on coast of northern California. Albion is an archaic name for the islands of Great Britain.


Sir Francis Drake's landing: 1579

Sir Francis Drake –.
Sir Francis Drake 15451596.

During his famed circumnavigation of the globe (15771580) 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 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, California, just north of San Francisco, perhaps at Drakes Estero or Bolinas Bay. Other theories suggests that it was farther up the coast. One recent theory advocates that it was in present-day Whale Cove in Oregon. No firm archaelogical evidence has yet been found anywhere on the coast that would establish the location of Drake's landing.

The western coast of North America had partially been explored in 1542 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo who sailed for the Spain, but as England was in conflict with Spain and there were no existing Spanish claims yet on the land, Drake decided the area could be claimed.

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 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 decade later, after the English forces destroyed 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 obfuscated.

However, Drake was always uneasy with the misrepresentations in the "official" account, and in 1592, he wrote 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.

Missing image
Jodocus Hondius map detail of New Albion, c. 1603

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 colonial presence on the west coast of North America until the 19th century in the Oregon Country.

Location of New Albion

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, just north of the Golden Gate. 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, while lies along the coast of Marin County, has often been suggested as being similar to the cove described by Drake. 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 incorrect, 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.

Missing image
Location of Whale Cove, Oregon, a possible location of Drakes landing.

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 Cove in present-day Oregon. Advocates of the Whale Cove theory argue that Captain James Cook, when first sighted the American coast at Cape Foulweather two centuries later, 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, to be 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. Drake, they argue, would have falsified the location if he had discovered the Strait of Juan de Fuca and believed it to be the long-sought Northwest Passage.

In 2003 Canadian R. Samuel Rawlf used a detailed study of maps of the period to support a theory that Drake voyaged as far north as southern Alaska, and that New Albion was located at what is today Comox, British Columbia, located on Vancouver Island in the Strait of Georgia. If true this would make Drake the first European to reach western Canada, approximately 200 years before Cook.

An Account of Drake's Landing

The following is an excerpt of an account by Francis Pretty, which can be found in its entirety in the article, Modern History Sourcebook: Francis Pretty: Sir Francis Drake's Famous Voyage Round the World, 1580 (

"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,13 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."

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. Those who advocate the theory that Drake landed in Oregon claim that this is further evidence to the connection between Drake's landing and Whale Cove, as muskrats are found in Oregon, and not in California.

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

Related Links


  • "The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake, 1577-1580", by R. Samuel Bawlf (Douglas & McIntyre, 2003)

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