My 92-year-old father spent half a century trying to prove that Marin County's Agate Beach is Sir Francis Drake's "Nova Albion," the lost harbor where Drake and about 80 men spent 36 days overhauling his ship and making friendly contact with the natives (June 17 to July 23, 1579). What follows are photos from an album that Dad compiled, plus some of his documents and notes. (I do not have Dad's depth of knowledge about Drake. If you find an error, please consider it mine.)
I was with Dad in 1958 when he found his first artifact. We were exploring Agate Beach during a very low tide. Suddenly Dad reached into a tide pool, pulled out a crusty lump, and exclaimed, "This is a pirate's boarding hook." All I saw was a lump. After the wood dried and fell off, the crust fell off. We looked closely at the boarding hook. The letter "D" was carved near the tip.
The hull of Drake’s ship was in serious need of repair. The hull’s red oak planks could not have been driven off from the inside because the Golden Hind was double hulled. A seaman might have used the boarding hook to pry the first plank from the hull. In trying to get a firm grip when breaking off a piece of the hull, did he drive the hook in so hard that it flew off the pole?
The Farallon Islands (on the horizon of second photo) are key to locating Drake's careening site. Agate Beach has the closest harbor to the Farallons.
Most books that describe Drake's Nova Albion quote the same source -- the journal of Francis Fletcher, the chaplain on board the Golden Hind. Everything in Fletcher's account can be found at Agate Beach. Here and elsewhere, my father matched photos taken at Agate Beach with Fletcher’s writings.
Fletcher noticed "trees without leaves." Many trees like the one in this photo collect at Agate Beach. There are no breakers in the harbor to carry off trees that fall onto the beach. Thus bare trees collect in front of the area Dad calls “Drake’s Fort.” The absence of breakers also accounts for why many artifacts left by Drake have stayed on the beach.
Is this Drake's careening site? This 125-foot channel was the right width for his 100-foot ship. The calm harbor where Drake careened his ship was three fathoms deep. The water off Agate Beach is only one fathom. This is the only area where Nova Albion that doesn’t fit Agate Beach. Did the combination of plate movement and earthquakes caused the sea bottom to rise two fathoms in the past 400 years?
Agate Beach is next to the San Andreas Fault. A major earthquake has been recorded about every fifty years. And California’s coast is constantly rising and moving north, pushed up by the East Pacific Rise. So it is possible the combination of plate movement and earthquakes did cause the sea bottom to rise two fathoms in 400 years.
Compare the previous photo with this map from GULLIVER'S TRAVELS (Jonathan Swift's anti-Whig satire, completed in 1725). If the peninsula above "Port of Sir Francis Drake" is Point Reyes, Swift's map shows Drake's port at Agate Beach!
Most artifacts were found between the two black, horizontal lines (left photo). If any of these artifacts are authentic, the Drake Navigators Guild could be mistaken about their claim that Drake camped elsewhere. The Guild is an historical research group of distinguished mariners and Drake scholars whose purpose was to find Drake’s “Nova Albion.” After a careful study of maps for decades, they determined that the mouth of Drakes Estero, slightly north of Agate Beach, made the most sense. (But what makes sense in the 20th century, might not have been the best choice 400 years earlier.) Since then, the Guild’s sole purpose has been to get national recognition for its site. In 2012, after lobbying for 60 years, the Guild succeeded in having Drake's Cove (“Guild’s Cove”) designated as an historic landmark of the possible landing spot of Sir Francis Drake.
This map shows where many artifacts were found. The black outline shows how Agate Beach fits the 16th-century “Broadside Map. When Dad found an artifact, a story often came to him that explained its connection to Drake. Not everything that Dad imagined is true. But many findings, which he researched and/or carbon-dated, appear to be authentic.
Drake Navigators Guild does not have similar findings. For decades their archaeologists searched the area around the Guild’s Cove for evidence of Drake's landing. The only artifacts found were pottery shards and metal (which could be from a shipwreck, Cermeno’s San Augustin), and a stone wall. The Guild’s Cove has some of Fletcher’s features. But Agate Beach is a closer match to Chaplain Fletcher’s journal.
Dad came in the nick of time to find artifacts in Drake's campsite. This area is eroding into the ocean. Most of the campsite is gone. Unlike the Drake Navigators Guild who spend decades looking for this site, Dad wasn't looking for it. He just stumbled across it. And when he found it, proving his findings became his life's passion.
The Arnold Mountanus woodcut of 1671 (at top) shows Drake being crowned by the Indians. This woodcut depicts the area looking south from where Dad found the claim plate's post. The top photo is taken from a similar place. The hill in the background is still there, but has eroded considerably. (The bottom photo is the same area from a different angle.) If you look north from the top of Duxbury Bluff (south end of Agate Beach), you can see all the natural features that are drawn on the Broadside Map. No more or less. From this point you have a spectacular panoramic view of the area and of Bahia Grande (named by Rodrigo Cermenia 17 years after Drake). What Drake called Islands of St. James (named earlier by Rodrigo Cabrillo as the Farallones) can be seen a short distance west-southwest. When Drake sailed back to England, he stopped overnight at these islands to take on a supply of birds and seals. Agate Beach is the closest point of land to these islands.
This is the remains of a stone wall at Agate Beach. Wall remains are also found near the Guild's Cove. But only one site is Drake's "Nova Albion." Which one?
Once the guild determined their site, the renowned Adan E. Treganza and other archeologists searched for artifacts. After searching from 1939 to 1959, Treganza wrote: “In more recent times, an organization known as ‘The Drake Navigators Guild,’ a non-profit organization composed of members of various backgrounds and intent, has dedicated itself to the study of Francis Drake’s California landing. Though this organization is to be commended for assembling some new and interesting data on the background of Drake, they have not, contrary to their claims, provided data adequate enough to justify their selection of a pinpoint landing spot for Drake, nor have they added any new data of a tangible nature.” Treganza went on to say that iron and porcelain shards found at Drake’s Cove could be from a Spanish shipwreck, Cermeno’s "San Augustin."
Drake's encampment was fortified by a rock wall. The photo on the left is another view of a rock wall remains at Agate Beach. This is the only California beach where Dad found "Tar Baby" ballast or flint from Dover (what Drake used on the "Golden Hinde"). Dad also found eggshell ballast (what was used on 16th-century Spanish ships, like Tello's frigate, the Spanish bark that Drake captured after he lost his other ships and needed more room for his pirate booty).
The Golden Hind, like other early British sailing ships, used “tar baby” ballast from Dover. Since Drake had 26 tons of silver, he had no need for his ballast. So he left it on the beach. No ballast was found at the Guild’s Cove. Tons covered Agate Beach, the only beach in California where Dad found any. These heavy, round, black stones are out of character with the rest of the area. The Smithsonian Institute confirmed they look like Dover ballast. The ballast is disappearing because mineral societies from all over California have been coming to Agate Beach for years to gather this stone. When cut, this rock is like beautiful black Italian marble with white quartz veining but much harder.
When Dad brought in a quantity to use as a monument to Drake, he left undisturbed some football-sized ballast for archaeologists to find. They were under water and could only be found at very low tide. A year later they were gone.
LETTER FROM SMITHSONSIAN: Smithsonian confirms that this rock looks like flint from Dover, England. Early British sailing ships used this rock for ballast. Drake left his "tar baby" ballast behind to make room for booty. His 26 tons of silver was sufficient ballast for the return trip.
This is a replica of Drake's claim plate. The original is at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. Is this plate a fake? In 1938 the director of Bancroft Library had the plate tested by metallurgists at Columbia University who concluded that it was genuine. Then the Drake Navigators Guild decided that Drake camped at their cove. If the Guild is right about its site, this plate has to be fake. The plate was retested. Results published in 1977 and 1979 declared the plate was a 1930’s fabrication, partly because the sixpence was missing. But the sixpence found at Olompali fits this plate. If this plate is fake, what happened to the real plate?
Around 1934, a young boy found a claim plate buried by a fence post on the hill above Agate Beach. Jefferson Graves was just learning to read. He and a friend were in his grandparents’ car when he tried reading the words. He remembers seeing “Queen,” “God” and “Drake.” He asked his friend to help him read the rest. Instead, as the car drove through Greenbrae, the other boy tossed the plate out the window. It landed by the side of the road, where others found it. Mr. Graves believes the claim plate that he found is now in the Bancroft Library. He said, “I have seen pictures of it and it is as hard to read now as it was then.”
NOTARIZED STATEMENT: Jefferson Graves's statement that he found Drake's claim plate at Agate Beach around 1934 and lost it in Greenbrae.
NOTARIZED STATEMENT: Joe Cattaneo's statement that he found Drake's claim plate in Greenbrae around 1936, then left it there between rocks.
NOTARIZED STATEMENT: Florence Paganetti Schattl tells of also finding Drake's claim plate in Greenbrae in 1934.
At one point, the plate fell into the hands of a playful fraternity of California history enthusiasts, the “Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus.” As a prank, they hid it near the shores of Drake's Bay. William Caldeira, a chauffeur, found the plate while his employer, Leon Bocqueraz, was hunting with Anson Stiles Blake. Caldeira showed the dirt-covered plate to Bocqueraz, then stowed the plate in the car. He forgot about it until he was cleaning the car on the San Rafael Ferry. He threw the plate away on the side of the road, where it was again found.
When the Independent Journal published a story about my father’s initial findings, Jefferson Graves contacted Dad. Graves took him to where he found Drake's Claim Plate of Brass. This is the spot. The post was still there. At the post’s base, Dad found two spikes. These spikes fit the notches on Drake's claim plate! They also fit the holes on the redwood post! In 1989, Roger Kelly, Western Region archaeologist for the Dept. of Interior, had the University of Arizona test this post to determine its age.
RADIOCARBON DATING: According to the carbon dating, it is possible Drake had his men cut down this post to hold his claim plate!
RADIOCARBON DATING: Redwood post
These photos illustrated how the two spikes, which were found next to the redwood post, fit the notches on Drake's claim plate and holes on the post!
Here are the actual redwood post and spikes with a replica of Drake's claim plate. A quarter shows where the sixpence went. If Drake's plate is authentic, this is our country's oldest document.
This brass cutting, with a small piece of wood stuck inside, was also found.
RADIOCARBON DATING: Wood stuck to brass cutting appears to be from the redwood post.
RADIOCARBON DATING: Wood stuck in brass cutting
These tools were found on Agate Beach. Did Drake use them to make his claim plate?
Did Drake dropped these brass scraps (found at Agate Beach) when he made his claim plate? Two cuttings appear to be from notches on the plate that Drake cut so he could nail the plate to a post.
Drake cut a hole in his plate to hold a Queen Elizabeth sixpence. Was the large brass cutting (previous pages) from this hole? Here is an analysis of that cutting by Robert N. Anderson, professor of Materials Engineering.
Anderson found significant similarities between the brass cutting at Agate Beach and Drake's claim plate at the Bancroft Library.
Anderson's analysis of the large brass cutting (page 1 of 4)
Anderson's analysis the large brass cutting (page 2 of 4)
Anderson's analysis the large brass cutting (page 3 of 4)
Anderson's analysis the large brass cutting (page 4 of 4)
The tip of this ancient hand axe matches dents in Drake's claim plate and holes in the post. But the post has extra holes. Could these have been made by a crewman who was very angry at being left behind?
When Drake’s crew left England, they did not know Drake’s plans. They thought they were on a short cruise to the Mediterranean. They saw mates succumb to enemy action, privation, and illness. One was executed for mutiny. (164 people left Plymouth, England with Drake. Francis Drake sailed his ship back into Plymouth Harbor on September 26, 1580 with only 56 of the original crew.) Did one of those left in Marin pry off the sixpence in a rage, knock down the plate, and use the axe to bang extra holes in the post?
In upper left photo, Leroy Cardoso finds a brass cutting.
Drake put a sixpence in his claim plate. This sixpence was found at Olompali, an encampment used by Marin County's Native Americans. This coin is now at the Bancroft Library.
Arrow on left points to Drake's careening site. Arrow on right points to where the brass cuttings were found.
The tip of this ancient hand axe also matches dents in Drake's claim plate.
Did Drake use these tools to carve his claim plate?
Some cloth was found on the back of pewter. Could the pewter be from Drake's neck armor? If yes, what caused the armor to break?
46 letters are carved on these two pieces of pewter. Drake appears to have used the pewter to test his cutting tools before carving the claim plate.
Image on left is the top of a Drake Dial made by Humphy Calle around 1570. On the right is top view of a similar object found at Agate Beach. According to Helen Wallace of the British Library, every gentleman on Drake’s voyage had one of these latest navigational instruments. The dial would fold to the size of a pocket watch or was worn around the neck. Neither the Spanish nor Portuguese used this type of compendium.
Here is another view of the encrusted object against a photo of a Drake Dial. According to a 16th-century Spanish legend, Drake had a magic mirror in which he could see all the movements of Spanish ships. Did Spaniards that Drake defeated draw this conclusion when they saw him consult his mirror-like dial?
Thomas Snead DDS, who x-rayed this object, determined it could be a Drake's Dial.
Letter from Thomas Snead DDS, president, Marin Historical Society
In this woodcut (photo below) Navigator De Morena wears a Drake Dial compendium around his neck. The 18-carat, 32" gold chain photo (photo above) weighs 7 ounces. This chain was found at Drake's fort. Could this be the compendium's chain?
In the North Pacific, Drake's ship began to leak badly from teredo worm holes. The Golden Hind with its load of treasure was in danger of sinking. Drake needed a protected harbor to repair the hull. He went as far north as the 42nd-degree latitude where it became so cold that he had to turn back. At the 38-degree latitude he sailed around Pt. Reyes and into Drake's Bay. On June 17, 1579, Drake dropped anchor under the protective nook of land near Chimney Rock, known as Jack's Cove. The small beach would have been a nice careening site. But a settlement of Indians lived on the shore. Previously, in South America, Drake had a close escape from supposedly friendly natives. Drake was wounded in the face. Several of his men were killed. The memory of this would still be fresh in his mind. Drake hoisted anchor next day and continued south for four more days, until he found a safer harbor for careening his ship.
Dad believes the "fair fit harbor" where Drake landed in June 21 is Agate Beach, Bolinas, in Marin County, California, in the beautiful Bahia Grande within the Gulf of the Farallones. Here was everything he needed: a good beach, plenty of fresh water, and food for his crew. Drake spent 36 days here repairing the Golden Hind.
Around 1598, map maker Jadocus Hondius drew a chart of the world that shows the routes of circumnavigation of Sir Francis Drake, 1577-1980, and Thomas Cavendish seven years later. The border of the map contains five sketches. The one in the upper left corner (known as the Broadside Map) shows details of Drake's Port of Nova Albion.
If you look north from the top of Duxbury Bluff( on the south end of Agate Beach), you can see all the natural features drawn on the Broadside Map -- no more or less. All match -- including the cliffs and banks, slipping hillside, position of trees and fields, wind direction (indicated by smoke of 3 campfires), 3 streams, valleys, and 17 hills. (The sand spit on the left and the sand bar have eroded, but the underlying rocks where they were can be seen at low tide.)
The Marin Historical Society compared the wind flow at Agate Beach with camp fires on the Broadside Map. Smoke from the map's three fires circle counterclockwise. Smoke from the pot blows east, not southeast with the prevailing wind, as might be expected. A small fire in front of the Golden Hind blows north. Smoke from the third fire, which looks like a barbeque up on the hill, blows west out to sea. This whirlwind effect explains how the Golden Hind sailed easily out to sea when Drake left. A committee of the Marin Historical Society used a wind streamer to prove that the wind at Agate Beach does indeed circle and blow out to sea.
This spike, found at Agate Beach, appears to have Drake's "D" on the head.
A variety of Ds on the artifacts correspond to the ten Ds on the Claim Plate, the D etched on the boarding hook tip, and the D in Drake's signature. All the Ds are made with five strokes of a small chisel, with Drake’s secret mark-- a dot in the center of the D.
A "D" was carved into this clay cannon ball, found at Agate Beach.
The cloth (top right photo) was found in the same location where, according to Montanus's 1671 engraving (middle left), Drake posted the flag of Plymouth. In bottom photo Martin Mayer (Roger Kelly's assistant with the National Park Service) and Sherman Hahs find this material.
Roger Kelly (National Park Service) dug up pieces of what could be Drake's Flag of Plymouth and handed them to my father. The flag in the woodcut has holes in it to allow the wind to pass through. Does this imply the flag was intended to stand a long time?
Some flag pieces are still buried on the hill.
Silk material and another view of flag material
The beads found in the campsite appear to match the beads in the woodcut. Are these the beads Drake gave to the natives? Or did they belong to Maria? Africans were presented at Drake's landing. Drake’s personal retainer Diego was black. In South America, Drake rescued two African men (who had run away from their Spanish masters) and captured a beautiful, young, African, sex slave. Maria became pregnant (probably in Marin, possibly with Drake’s child). But the baby wasn’t born here. On December 13 Drake left the pregnant Maria and the two men, along with a supply of rice, seeds, and the means of making fire, on an uninhabited island.
To make room for his tons of silver, Drake left Ming porcelain on the beach. Can you see why Dad thinks these white shards are Ming porcelain?
Dad found common white china (and bullets) all along Agate Beach. Since Drake had to lighten his ship, could this china have been used for target practice?
Could this be the spruce mast that Ferdinand Magellan used to hang mutinous crew? The mast, which Drake took on board at San Julian, never reached England. This spruce carbon dates to around 1517. Some say Magellan was the first European captain to sail around the world, but he was killed en route in the Philippines. Drake was the first captain, but not the first European. Magellan's men were first, 58 years before Drake.
RADIOCARBON DATING: Spruce mast
The "Golden Hinde" had a swivel gun. Lt. Col. Besby Holmes found the remains of a swivel gun which appears to have been plugged with tar and exploded.
Part of a swivel gun that was plugged with tar and exploded
Part of a swivel gun from another angle. Did Drake deliberately destroy this gun so it wouldn't fall into Spanish hands?
Swivel gun's barrel is still attached to a rock at Agate Beach.
Swivel gun chamber and trunnion were found at Agate Beach.
Pieces of an exploded musket were found in Drake's campsite. Part of the musket appears to have been used as a pry bar. Dad thought the end of the ramrod might also be Drake's seal – a lion and phoenix bird.
Piece of exploded musket on the right was found at Jack's Creek. Piece on left, which was used as a crowbar, was found in Drake's campsite.
Was the ramrod handle from the exploded musket also Drake's seal: a lion and phoenix bird? Photo on the right is the ramrod handle; on left, an imprint from the handle.
Above is one of Dad's theories as to how Drake's 20mm musket may have exploded, blowing off a brass button, breaking his pewter armor collar and a piece of his helmet. Another theory is that Drake deliberately exploded his musket as a symbol of peace when the native chief broke his arrow. (A broken arrow was also found in Drake's fort.)
Breast plate, founded by Wildcat Pierson's wife at Agate Beach in 1904. Part of the booty that Drake plundered from the Spanish was armor. Was Drake's claim plate made from Spanish armor?
Sailor's darning needle (upper left)
Encrusted 3/8" brass spike and a sailor's sail-sewing needle
Some artifacts from the fort area could have been left by the friendly natives that Drake met, including the broken arrow in the bottom photo. The woodcut in upper left shows a low stone wall around Drake's camp. Part of this wall is still in place at Agate Beach. (The stones in the woodcut are smaller than the stones in the wall found near the Guild's Cove. This makes me wonder if the Guild’s wall was built by someone else who intended to stay there a long time. Artifacts were found by the Agate Beach wall, but none by the Guild’s wall.)
"The Voyages of Drake" tell of native women coming into the bulwarks carrying wassail bowls. Could this sea lion bone found in Drake's camp (Agate Beach) be the "wassail bowl?" Dad thinks "DRAKE" and the date could have been carved on the edge. It's the kind of thing Drake would have done. This was near where the claim plate was originally found.
Soldering iron and tent pins from Drake's campsite
A view of where Drake's campsite stood (Agate Beach). As you can see, part of the camp is no longer there.
Another view of Drake's campsite
I found an oak plank in sand in front of Drake's fort. The position of this plank matches the plank in woodcut. Roger Kelly (National Park Service) had this wood carbon dated. It dates to Drake's time. (As mentioned earlier, the harbor is deeper in the woodcut because Agate Beach is on the East Pacific Rise, which is constantly rising and moving north.)
My father, George Epperson, with the gangplank.
The gangplank was left in Dad's possession for safe keeping, but belongs to the National Park Service. After Dad's death, Point Reyes National Seashore would not let me return it to them or give them any of my father's artifacts and test results.
RADIOCARBON DATING: Oak gangplank
Joe D. Hood (in photo), former state historian and archaeologist with California Department of Parks and Recreation, wrote: "Having examined the artifacts that you describe being found at Agate Beach, as well as visiting the Agate Beach site March 23, 1994; I feel quite certain that Agate Beach, situated just west of Bolinas in Marin County is where Francis Drake and his ship the Golden Hind anchored June 21, 1579. The historic maps along with Chaplain Francis Fletcher's description appear to indicate that Agate Beach is indeed Nova Albion. Even the artist of the Drake woodcut has faithfully captured the natural land forms at Agate Beach."
Above is Joe Hood's letter, May 27, 1994. Little is known about the movements of Drake's great voyage from north of Mexico to Oregon because the ship log, charts, and Drake's own account were put away in the Tower of London for secrecy. Drake's orders were to explore the Pacific coast in search of a strait passing through North America which would give quick passage from England to China. Until recently, scholars have overlooked two maps: Lok's map in 1582 and Edward Wright's in 1599. These two maps shed new light. They show that Drake carefully examined the California coast and returned south to careen his ship near San Francisco. Drake's own map has a symbol where he posted his flag of St. George at Olompoli and a large dot for his Agate Beach fort. Given Drake’s mission, he may have also camped at other sites. But my father's findings are strong evidence that Drake careered his ship at Agate Beach.
This red oak beam is from Drake's careening site. (To protect the wood, my father added the coating.)
RADIOCARBON DATING: Red oak
Could these chock beams, which Dad believes were used in careering the Golden Hind, be from Drake's boyhood home (an old ship hull)?
RADIOCARBON DATING: Four-foot chock beam
Folded sheet lead found in campsite.
400-year-old scissors like these are in the Deutches Museum, Munich. The insert on the right shows the scissors' tip.
Wood handle knife
Inlaid bone handle knife sifted from Drake's camp
Drake had captured a small Spanish vessel, the frigate Tello, which he abandoned when it was no longer seaworthy. The Golden Hind was already overcrowded. When Drake abandoned Tello’s frigate, much had to be left behind -- including some of Drake's crew. Could this account for all the artifacts that Dad and others found?
RADIOCARBON DATING: Black ebony, believed to be from Tello's frigate
RADIOCARBON DATING: Ebony with tie-down hole, believed to be from Tello's frigate
Top left object may be part of a crossbow arrow. The plugged beam (upper right) has been carbon dated to Drake's time. The worm holes in this wood could explain why Tello's frigate was no longer seaworthy. Fifteen pieces of black ebony beams have been found on the beach which date to 1530, and a teak beam dated to 1500. This type of wood was used in shipbuilding in Cavite, Philippine Islands, before Manila was established. Is this wood from Tello's frigate?
Ancient basalt blocks and one granite block were found on the site. Could they be from the streets of ancient Rome or Athens? When stored in the bow of the ship, these heavy blocks added weight for ramming another ship. Sailors could also use these blocks as anchors and as work blocks to sharpen their swords. Are these from Tello’s frigate?
More blocks from careening site
A keystone (top right), which was found near the claim post, is now in possession of Gordon White, cultural services chief, National Park Service at Point Reyes National Seashore. Charmaine Burdell (bottom right) holds photo of tree at Olompoli with a cross chiseled in it like Sir Francis Drake's symbol of the flag of St. George.
Charmaine Burdell saw this tree at Olompoli before it was destroyed by fire. The tree has a cross chiseled in it like Sir Francis Drake's symbol of the flag of St. George. The Drake symbol faced to the south. Did Drake carve this as a sign of his being there in 1579? The tree photo was taken about 1900.
Top photo is a rope maker. The bottom wood, possibly from Tello'' Frigate, is dated to Drake's time.
Could this piece of cannon, found at Agate Beach be from Cavendish's Content? In 1586 Thomas Cavendish sailed three ships from Plymouth to follow Sir Francis Drake and Magellan around the world -- and to rescue the men left by Drake at "Nova Albion." One of his ships, the "Content," and the men that Drake left behind never made it back to England. Could the ship remains on Brighton Beach in Bolinas (near Agate Beach) be the "Content"?
The letter "C' is carved in this cannonball.
In 1980 Dad found 21 cannonballs at Agate Beach. Did Drake leave these behind? Or was a 21-one-gun salute fired when the "Content" came seven years later to get the men that Drake had left behind? The impact of firing heavy guns off this small 40-foot ship may have been too much for its structure. The "Content" never made it back to England.
A Coastal Miwok legend tells of a great white bird that came from the sea and perched off Brighton Beach for years. The ship’s ribs are now buried in the sand. If this is Cavendish’s missing ship, the wreck of "Content" (which is earlier than the wreck of the “San Agustin”) could be the earliest shipwreck on the West Coast of the United States.
The men that Drake left behind unwittingly became the first British inhabitants in North America. When Spanish explored this area two centuries later, they found fair skinned, bearded natives with blond hair. What happened to the descendants of these men? Where are they now? Does each generation pass down the story of being left here by Drake?
The "Content" had Tar Baby ballast from the Lizard Peninsula, England – which looks like this ballast found on Brighton Beach.
This beam, found on Bolinas spit, is believed to be from the "Content."
Same beam from different angles
RADIOCARBON DATING: Beam believed to be from the "Content"
More 16th-century artifacts were found in Bolinas. Do the pike and halberd date back to Cavendish's "Content"?
Older ships used single deadeyes (or bull's eyes) to guide and control a line. What ship might this one (found at Agate Beach) have come from?
Dad also found Cermeno's claim post. In 1595 Sebastian Rodriguez Cermeno, captain of the San Augustin, was ordered to explore the coast of California. When he anchored in Drake's Bay (which he named "Bay of San Francisco"), heavy swells caused the ship to drag anchor. His ship was pounded to pieces. Several drowned but about 70 men made it to shore.
Cermena's redwood post is still above the visitors' center at Drake's Beach.
The parking lot on lower left is believed to be where Cermeno camped. His claim post is on the hill (to the right). Ceremeno claimed the land for Spain, then salvaged a small launch from the wreckage of his galleon and sailed south. The Guild's site is near here. If Drake had camped at the cove, Ceremeno should have seen evidence of Drake’s visit. Cermeno's report includes no mention of Drake's camp.
Has any evidence of Drake's visit been found at the Guild’s Cove? “The Navigators Guild have selected what they call a 'navigational approach' as a means of solving their problem,” concluded Treganza. “This approach, by its own definition, does not qualify as evidence, but suggests only an idea."
So who is right about Drake's careening site? My father or the Guild? I encourage you to visit the Guild's website, then make your own decision: http://www.drakenavigatorsguild.org
Rudder found at Agate Beach is dated to Cermeno's time. Could these ebony beams be from the San Agustin?
More Agate Beach artifacts are under here.
For decades, on Father's Day, in commemoration of Drake's visit to Marin County, California, Dad led an annual hike to Drake's campground at Agate Beach. Many participants, like Charlie and Sandy Cook (above), came in costume. For more information about the various proposed landing sites in Marin County, Dad recommends LOST HARBOR by Warren Hanna. Dad’s findings aren't in Hanna's book because Hanna was not aware of them until after his book was published in 1979. After meeting Dad and seeing these artifacts, Hanna invited my parents to Plymouth, England with the Sir Francis Drake Commission to celebrate the 400th anniversary in 1980 of Drake's circumnavigation of the world. Dad's dream is to someday have a monument at Agate Beach in honor of Drake's landing.
George Epperson at Agate Beach (photo by Duane Van Dieman, 2008). Has enough been found to make a compelling argument that Dad found one of our most historic sites? Drake's careening site predated Roanoke by 7 years and Plymouth by 41 years. The first Protestant services in North America were performed here by Chaplain Fletcher. Here English was first spoken in North America. Drake's fort was the first construction by the English in North America (a blockhouse built with 26 tons of solid silver blocks, weighing from 60 to 75 pounds each, would make a room about 10 feet by 10 feet and 7 feet high -- a great place to store the gold, jewels, coins, etc. and nice protection if attacked by natives).
Some of these artifacts are currently being studied by Marco Meniketti (possibly the only archaeologist in the Bay Area whose expertise includes 16th-century Spanish nautical archaeology) and his SJSU anthropology students. So far, they've determined that three of the pottery shards are from the 16th century.