Sir Francis Drake
Francis Drake was born into a humble family of twelve children in about 1540 near Tavistock, Devonshire. He went to sea as a young boy and quickly learned basic seafaring skills. By 1567 he was captain of the Judith and engaged in commercial trade in the Caribbean as part of a fleet of ships under the command of John Hawkins. In 1568 a Spanish fleet attacked the English fleet and only Hawkins and Drake's ships escaped. Five English ships and most of the profits of the expedition were lost. An angry Drake returned to England intent on revenge against the Spanish.
In 1570 Drake was back in Caribbean waters raiding Spanish ports and attacking Spanish shipping. In 1573 he succeeded in capturing a Spanish mule train in Panama carrying a wealth of Peruvian gold and silver. On his return to England he was rich and famous and eager to get back to sea in search of even more fame and plunder at the expense of Phillip II of Spain.
In November 1577 Queen Elizabeth secretly sanctioned Drake to act as a privateer on her behalf and gave royal support to an expedition that was to sail into the Pacific Ocean in pursuit of Spanish treasure at its source in Peru. During Drake's passage around Cape Horn one of his three ships was lost and one forced to turn back. Drake emerged in the Pacific with only the Golden Hind but was undeterred in his mission. He successfully raided Spanish ports and attacked Spanish shipping all along the coast of South America. In 1579 he captured the Spanish treasure ship Cacafuego off of Ecuador. In this one action he captured twenty six tons of silver bars, thirteen chests of silver coins and eighty pounds of gold and jewels. It was obviously time to head home.
Drake had two options: circumnavigate the world or find the fabeled Northwest Passage through the mythical Strait of Anian. He chose the latter course and headed north. Adverse weather forced him to abort his northward journey at latitude 42 degrees north and he sought temporary shelter at South Cove, Oregon. He was now committed to sail around the world but needed to refit his ship and resupply his stores of food and water for the journey. He continued south along the very foggy, very rocky, and very dangerous North American coast looking for a safe harbor.
Over four hundred years ago, Drake found his harbor at what he judged to be latitude 38 degrees north. Four centuries later people are still arguing about its' precise location. Claims are made that run the gamut from the mouth of the Albion River to San Francisco Bay - sometimes even places in Oregon are mentioned. The most popular contenders for the honor are San Francisco Bay, Bolinas Bay, Tomales Bay, Bodega Bay, and Drake's Bay. The various stories surrounding each of these claims are interesting and worthy of a hearing, but the consensus among the scholars that have studied the subject (including Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, U.S.N.) comes down on the side of Drake's Cove in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
On landing Drake claimed the land for England and named it Novo Albion because the white cliffs of Drake's Bay reminded him of the cliffs facing the English Channel. Scholars have fixed the exact location of Drakes safe harbor as having been inside Drake's Cove in Drake's Estero. Drake and his crew spent more than a month refitting and reprovisioning their ship. They had extensive friendly interaction with the local Coastal Miwok people and they briefly traveled inland to the Olema Valley. Once his ship was ready, Drake sailed out past the Farallone Islands and on to the Mollucas at the other side of the world. Still on shore were about twenty of the crew. Most of these men incorporated themselves into the Miwok culture and account for the occasional mention in Miwok folk lore of red haired and bearded descendents. (One of the crew left behind, a Portuguese named N. de Morena, walked to Mexico four years later.)
Drake arrived back in England in 1580 becoming the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world. Queen Elizabeth knighted him in 1581 and in that same year he was made a member of parliament and appointed Mayor of Plymouth. He returned to the sea in 1585 and continued warring with the Spanish for the rest of his life. He was promoted to Vice Admiral during the fight with the Spanish Armada and in 1593 was named Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Devon. Sir Francis Drake died off of the coast of Panama in 1596 and was buried at sea.