Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar designated 27 National Historic Landmarks as “places that possess exceptional value and quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.” Among them are three in Northern California: the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse at Seventh and Mission streets in San Francisco, the Knight’s Ferry covered bridge in Stanislaus County, and Drake’s Cove (1, 2 ) on the Point Reyes peninsula, where Sir Francis Drake landed in 1579 and claimed California for England. The designation quietly ended a 433-year-old controversy about the site of Drake’s landing.
On June 17, 1579, he sailed around the hook of an unnamed point of land, and found what he thought was good harbor, protected from the westerly winds and the mist Drake called “fogges.” He thought it looked like England – the Albion of ancient times.
Drake’s crew made contact with local people – possibly the Miwok people who lived in the region – repaired the ship, nailed a plate of brass to a tree claiming the land for Queen Elizabeth and sailed home, around the world.
Members of the Drake Navigators Guild, a Northern California organization of historians, has been lobbying for the Point Reyes site for more than 60 years. The guild said it had more than 50 detailed clues, including 16th century reports, identifying Drakes Cove, an inlet near the larger Drakes Bay, as the site where Sir Francis Drake landed.
The guild submitted a detailed nomination that was studied by several National Park Service historians, archaeologists and scholars. They recommended unanimously that Salazar pick the Point Reyes site.
Point Reyes had addition factors that favored it. The landmark declaration noted that the area near the Drake site was also the location of the wreck of the Spanish galleon San Agustin in November 1595, 16 years after Drake sailed the waters. The wreck of the San Agustin is the earliest known shipwreck on the West Coast of the United States. The galleon was bound for Acapulco in Mexico from Manila in the Phillipines and carried a cargo of Chinese goods “…including priceless Ming porcelain items, which were salvaged by the Indian people and traded across the San Francisco Bay Area.” The meeting of the members of Drake’s crew and Native Americans was “the earliest cross-cultural encounter” between native California people and Europeans, according to the citation.
The Point Reyes claim, as submitted by the Drake Navigators Guild, “had more evidence than any other possible site,” said John Dell’Osso, chief of interpretation at Point Reyes National Seashore.
Edward Von der Porten, president of the Drake Navigators Guild, said naming the Point Reyes site as a national historical landmark is “an important milestone in the guild’s more than 60 years of historical research.” Von der Porten cited the late Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz, who years ago had compared the site of Drake’s landing to other famous historic sites such as Roanoke, Jamestown and Plymouth Rock.
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