Royal Navy -- Francis Drake

        YEAR    KM       diameter
        2003    ??         38.6       
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In 1577, Drake was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth to undertake an expedition against the Spanish along the Pacific coast of the Americas. He set sail from Plymouth, England, in December aboard the Pelican, with four other ships and over 150 men. After crossing the Atlantic, two of the ships had to be abandoned on the east coast of South America. Drake crossed from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Magellan Strait, after which a storm blew his ship so far south, he almost might have realized that Tierra del Fuego, the island seen to the south of the Magellan Strait, was not part of a southern continent (as was believed at that time).

The three remaining ships departed for the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of the continent. This course established "Drake's Passage", but the route south of Tierra del Fuego around the bottom of South America, where the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans meet at Cape Horn, was not discovered until 1616.

A few weeks later, Drake made it to the Pacific, however, violent storms destroyed one of the ships, and caused another to return to England. Drake pushed onward in his lone flagship, now renamed the Golden Hind in honour of Sir Christopher Hatton (after his coat of arms).

The Golden Hind sailed northward alone along the Pacific coast of South America, attacking Spanish ports like Valparaiso as it went. Some Spanish ships were captured, and Drake made good use of their more accurate charts. On his search for the Northwest Passage, Drake may even have reached today's US-Canadian border. His account of the voyage describes icy waters. Unable to find the fabled route back into the Atlantic, he turned southward again.

On June 17, 1579, Drake landed ashore somewhere above Spain's most northerly claim at Point Loma. Drake found an excellent port, landed, repaired and restocked his vessels, then stayed for a time, keeping friendly relations with the natives. Drake named the port New Albion (New England), and claimed it for England. It is usually assumed that Drake's port was somewhere near the northern San Francisco Bay anywhere from Bodega to San Pablo Bay. A bronze plaque inscribed with Drake's claim to the new lands, fitting the description in Drake's own account, was discovered in Marin County. This so-called Drake's Plate of Brass was later declared a fraud. Although Drake's port has also been theorized to have been at Whale Cove (Oregon), and as far north as Comox, British Columbia, no one knows exactly where it was.

Drake's brother endured a long period of torture in South America at the hands of Spaniards, who sought intelligence from him about Francis Drake's voyage. The precise location of Drake's port was carefully guarded to keep it secret from the Spaniards, and several of Drake's maps may even have been altered to this end. It is unlikely that the riddle of Drake's port will ever be unraveled, for the relevant records at London's Whitehall Palace were burned.

It is said that Drake left behind many of his men as a small colony, but planned return voyages to the colony were never realized. The land Drake claimed in the name of the Holy Trinity for the English Crown was called Nova Albion that is in Latin, "New England."

Drake's voyage to the west coast of North America is important for a number of reasons. When Drake landed, his chaplain held Holy Communion, as in the words of Thomas Cranmer, "it is very meet and right and our bounden duty so to do." This was one of the first Protestant church services in all the New World (though French Huguenots had founded an ill-fated colony in Florida in the 1560s). Drake was seen to be gaining prestige at the expense of the Papacy.

What is certain of the extent of Drake's claim and territorial challenge to the Papacy and the Spanish crown is that his port was founded somewhere north of Point Loma; that all contemporary maps label all lands above the Kingdoms of New Spain and New Mexico as "Nova Albion", and that all colonial claims made from the East Coast in the 1600s were "From Sea to Sea." The colonial claims were established with full knowledge of Drake's claims, which they reinforced, and remained valid in the minds of the colonialists when the colonies became free states. Maps made soon after would have "Nova Albion" written above the entire northern frontier of New Spain. These territorial claims would later become important during the negotiations that ended the Mexican-American War between the United States and Mexico.

Drake now headed westward across the Pacific, and a few months later, reached the Moluccas -- a group of islands in the southwest Pacific (east of today's Indonesia).

He made multiple stops on his way toward the tip of Africa, eventually rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and reached Sierra Leone by July 22, 1580. On September 26, the Golden Hind sailed into Plymouth with Drake and 59 crew remaining aboard, along with a rich cargo of spices and captured Spanish treasures. The Queen's half-share of the cargo surpassed the rest of the crown's income for that entire year. Hailed as the first Englishman to circumnavigate the Earth, Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth aboard the Golden Hind, and became the Mayor of Plymouth and a Member of Parliament.

The Queen ordered all written accounts of Drake's voyage considered classified information, and its participants sworn to silence on pain of death; her aim was to keep Drake's activities away from the eyes of rival Spain.


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