Rare Book Monthly

Articles - March - 2005 Issue

Exhibit Recognizes Francis Drake, First Englishman to See California

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If his calculation was meant to be accurate, he probably stayed in one of a couple of bays a bit north of San Francisco. He left a plaque where he stopped, claiming the land for the Crown, and such a plaque was discovered in the San Francisco area in the 1930s. For years it was believed to be genuine, but updated testing in the 1970s proved it to be a fake (see the end of this article for more on this elaborate hoax). Among those who believe Drake faked his location, there is a place in Oregon frequently sited as Drake's bay, with possibilities as far north as Vancouver Island, Canada. The problem is that most of Drake's records were kept secret by Queen Elizabeth, who, as we noted, did not wish to antagonize the Spanish more than necessary. Those records were later lost or destroyed. We may never know for certain where Drake stayed, unless that elusive plaque truly is found one day.

Naturally, Drake did not find a northwest passage, and he had no desire to sail back along the west coast of South America where vengeful Spaniards might be waiting. Instead, Drake headed west, through Indonesia, around Africa and back home. In so doing, he became the first Englishman, and only the second navigator after Magellan, to circumnavigate the globe. He returned a hero, and though the details of his exploits were kept quiet, Queen Elizabeth knighted him. Drake would go on to serve as Mayor of Plymouth and as a Member of Parliament. However, as relations with Spain deteriorated, Drake would head back to sea to attack Spanish shipping. Then, in 1588, he led an expedition to the Spanish port of Cadiz. He would seriously damage the Spanish Armada, disrupting a planned invasion of England. Drake's legend was sealed.

Drake continued his activities into the 1590s, but his successes were now limited. The Spanish were better prepared for him. In 1596 Drake and his cousin John Hawkins would lead another venture to the Americas, but this one was a disaster. Neither would make it back alive. Drake contracted dysentery, would die, and be buried at sea. He was buried in a lead coffin, and there are regularly recurring plans to search for that coffin and someday bring Drake back home to England.

The collection of material pertaining to Drake now on exhibition by the Library of Congress is titled "The Kraus Collection of Sir Francis Drake." The collection was given to the Library by legendary bookseller H.P. Kraus and his wife, Hanni, in 1970. The late Hans Kraus had become fascinated with Drake and set about building a collection of contemporary items relating to his career. Here is the link to the Sir Francis Drake exhibition: http://international.loc.gov/intdl/drakehtml/.

Rare Book Monthly

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