Roanoke 1585, Jamestown 1607, Oregon 1579?


For the day after Independence Day in the spirit of the beginnings of our nation I thought I would get others opinions on an interesting question about when Oregon was first explored in relation to these oldest European colonies in the United States.  It could be the one of the earliest places where considerable time was spent by Europeans within the current borders of the U.S.  Sir Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe in 1579 but spent the summer of 1579 on the west coast of America to repair his ship and claimed some of the west coast as a land he called “New Albion.”

There has been much debate about where this landing spot exactly was, but many Californians claim Drake’s Bay is a location a little north of San Francisco Bay and just south of Point Reyes.  No firm evidence has been found although there was a fake gold plaque made that was quickly proved a hoax.  Where does Oregon fit into this?  Well, we have few details on New Albion but one is a 1589 map called the Jodocus Hondius map. 

Other sparse information is that there was a native American village nearby which lived in earth lodges and that furry animals which sound like muskrats were in the area.  In 1978 British amateur historian Bob Ward proposed that a small cove in Oregon was Drake’s landing spot based mostly on its remarkable similarity to the Hondius map.  Let’s take a look.  As you can see, Whale Cove near Depoe Bay does have a strong resemblance to the map showing Drake’s summer harbor of 1579.

Notice the right side of the bay even appears almost spot on.  Because I used thumbnails for the images the map partially cuts off what is shown as a small island but Ward explains that Whale Cove produces a similar island at high tide when part of the north rocks are separated.  There are also varying reports on the latitude of Drake’s summer encampment but the only two known hand-written accounts of the voyage, preserved in the British Library, have it at 44° N latitude.  Ward theorizes that the told accounts of the day that said it was at 38° N latitude, which match close with the California bay south of Point Reyes, were an effort by the British crown and Queen Elizabeth I to hide the Puget Sound area that Drake is believed to have briefly explored and which he thought might be the long sought NW Passage.

It is tough to say anything for sure since there just is no great physical evidence that has been found but we can take a look at the suggested location in California’s Marin County.

This is an expansive bay that doesn’t bare much resemblance to the Hondius map.  One wonders why San Francisco Bay itself would not have been explored but the explanation we are told is that it is often so foggy there that it is hard to find the entrance to S.F. Bay.  While this story has loose connections with Pac-12 Athletics it is another fun argument between the Oregon schools and our new yearly Bay Area rivals of the Pac-12 North.  Oregon State University even has some direct involvement.  In 1985 they conducted a brief excavation at Whale Cove.  The site seems to have converted from its traditional native use as a place to harvest and process shellfish to one having spiritual significance around the time of Drake’s potential arrival and departure.  More specific info on the Oregon State findings can be found here.  

I found some of the pics and basic info for this story from Wikipedia and I would encourage you to explore some of that knowledge as well.  One last thing to note is that harbors are rare along the Oregon coast and Drake could have been essentially forced into a cove by necessity.  After reading this story and learning more are you inclined to believe Oregon’s Whale Cove is where Drake spent 36 days repairing his ship in the summer of 1579?