Turning Stones - George McKale


Sir Francis Drake subject of hoax

This week’s column concludes the trilogy on Sir Francis Drake.  The location of his landing has been a hot topic for centuries, but through archaeological excavations, a clearer picture emerges regarding his true landing site.  Today, for most, the debate is over. The National Park Service, who oversees much of California’s coast, has put the matter to rest, officially recognizing Drake’s Bay as the official location of his landing.

The historical journey and countless inquiries into this important piece of history, comes with great twists and turns. One of the most intriguing questions centered around a brass plate. Given the year that Drake placed the plate firmly on Sonoma county soil, one could even imagine George Washington muttering the words “where in the heck did he place that brass plate?”

Francis Pretty, a member of the Drake party, wrote that his captain left behind a “plate of brasse…a monument of our being there” and claiming “her maiesties, and successor right and title to that kindome.”  (Dn’t blame me for the spelling). He also indicated that the plate included the date of the landing, Drake’s name imprinted on the plaque and included a sixpence coin with the engraved portrait of the queen.

During archaeological investigations at Olompali state park, an Elizabethan silver sixpence minted in 1567 was discovered.  Was Olomplai actually the location of Drake’s landing? No, but it does suggest trading between Coast Miwok living on the coast with those living in the interior. A more intriguing question, was this the coin placed in the brass plate?

The plate itself was the center of a scandalous prank and a great story in and of itself.  Evidently, members of a fraternity of California history buffs created the hoax, manufacturing a plate based on the testimony of Francis Pretty.  The hoax was targeted towards Herbert Bolton, a distinguished professor of California history at UC Berkeley.  Bolton would take students into the field, year after year, looking for the plate left behind by Drake.

A former curator at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, had obtained brass from a shipyard and had it cut to the desired size.  Another conspirator hammered letters into the plate with a chisel.  There was even a hole for the sixpence.  Again, from Pretty’s 16th-century account of the voyage, the conspirators chiseled the following words:

BEE IT KNOWNE VNTO ALL MEN BY THESE PRESENTS.

IVNE.17.1579

BY THE GRACE OF GOD AND IN THE NAME OF HERR

MAIESTYQVEEN ELIZABETH OF ENGLAND AND HERR

SVCCESSORS FOREVER, I TAKE POSSESSION OF THIS

KINGDOME WHOSE KING AND PEOPLE FREELY RESIGNE

THEIR RIGHT AND TITLE IN THE WHOLE LAND VNTO HERR

MAIESTIEES KEEPEING. NOW NAMED BY ME AN TO BEE

KNOWNE V(N) TO ALL MEN AS NOVA ALBION.

G. FRANCIS DRAKE

In 1933, Leon Bocqueraz was hunting near the shores of Drake’s Bay. Bocqueraz happened to be a member of the California Historical Society.  Bocqueraz was driven to the hunting site by a chauffeur, one William Caldeira, who found the plate while Bocqueraz was out hunting.  Bocqueraz was not impressed and through the plate out the window near San Rafael.  The brass plate was discovered three years later and in 1936, the story of Drake’s Landing in Marin made great headlines.

Ultimately, it was the Chinese porcelain identified by archaeologists working in Drakes Bay, that strongly suggested his landing there.  The Coast Miwok had no use for the ceramics, as far as dinner ware was concerned, but the beautiful designs made for wonderful jewelry.  It is at Drake’s Bay, that one day with a little luck, we shall find the real brass plate left behind by him.  When the plate is finally found, researchers should look closely, just to make sure the signature doesn’t say “Sir George McKale”.

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