The Naming of Drakes Bay

...what's in a name?

The name "Drakes Bay," as applied to the open roadstead that lies below Point Reyes, a few miles north of the Golden Gate, has nothing to do with Drake's exact former whereabouts on the Northwest Coast, as was perhaps most succinctly pointed out by H.H.Bancroft in the 1880's. A few other historians have since restated the events, but of course it is a subject on which booster clubs for the site remain silent - it certainly doesn't hurt their cause a bit to have Drake's name hanging on their theories, and the public at large has no idea about the true origin of the label.

The gist of what happened is this: the Spanish, as a result of their infrequent early nautical forays along the north coast, produced a rough map of the coastline in the early years of the 17th century. This was, of course, long before the discovery of San Francisco Bay. However, the bay below what is now called Pt. Reyes, where the galleon St. Augustine lies wrecked, was all too well known to the Spanish, and on this map they labeled it the Bay of Saint Francis (in Spanish). Subsequently, a version of this map reached England via Holland, and was published in 1622 by Henry Briggs, a promoter of English expansion. Briggs, apparently as a patriotic flourish, altered the name of the bay on this map to Puerto de Francisco Draco (creating in the process a Spanish-sounding name that no Spanish-speaking person would have contrived). This, then, translated back into English, became "Drakes Bay." As an aside, no Spaniard would ever have thought of naming anything after the hated enemy Drake, who had so thoroughly humiliated Spain.

Compare the above with this statement by the Drake Navigators Guild (from their self-published 1979 Discovering Portus Novae Albionis - Francis Drake's California Harbor):

...other British explorers came and tried to locate the site, naming a great bay and inner harbor in his honor...

Nonsense. This, coming from a group with at least rudimentary knowledge of the facts is difficult to labeled politely; it is an, ah, untruth.

Author's Note: Much of this material is adapted from my forthcoming book Francis Drake in Nova Albion - The Mystery Restored, in which these and neighboring thickets are explored much more deeply than on these few web pages. Thus there may be references here not fully explained, or answers missing their questions. Also lacking here is documentation, provided in the book by 782 endnotes. - Oliver Seeler

Nova Albion Research
Copyright 1996 by Oliver Seeler
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