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The First Pirate in BC

February 4, 2015

This is Sir Francis Drake.


He was one of the finest pirates of Elizabethan England. Well, officially he was a privateer, which meant that he had royal permission to steal from the Spanish and that most of the treasure he captured went into Elizabeth’s coffers. (The English government miiiiight have had financial problems.)

But really, Francis Drake was a pirate, and he was really, really good at it. Like, he managed to raid the Spanish treasure route across the isthmus from Panama to the Caribbean twice, once by sailing upriver and once by crossing overland, with the aid of the Cimarrones and a group of Huguenotsand holding up the gold train itself. He later managed to raid Cadiz on a whim while the whole Spanish Armada thing was brewing, hung around the Strait of Gibraltar and captured more ships, and basically managed to push the date of Spanish attack back by a year. This was before he was placed in charge of the English naval defense against the Spanish Armada.

I suspect the governments and merchants of Spain and Portugal spent a good portion of the 1500s very, very angry with Sir Francis.

But Francis Drake is equally well-known for being the second person to circumnavigate the world, and this is where we get into fringe theory territory.


The Golden Hinde II, Southwark, London, England. September 2014.

See, there are about 44 days unaccounted for in Drake’s ship’s log. We know he sailed through the Strait of Magellan and up the Pacific coast of South America—raiding Spanish settlements along the way, of course—that he went pretty far out to sea to escape the Spanish in Mexico, and that when he turned east again and made landfall, he roughly mapped the coastline. (He must have, because he consulted on maps in Europe.) Officially, that coastline belongs to San Francisco.

Except that the island chain depicted looks quite a bit like the BC coast: mainland with lots of inlets, really big island off the coast, two smaller islands further north. And if you were a sea captain in favour with the Queen of England in the mid-1500s, and your country was trying to get one up on the Spanish, and you happened to be in the area, why wouldn’t you look for the Northwest Passage if you got the chance?

IMG_2964The theory goes that Drake made it all the way up the BC coast to Alaska, sailed back down to the tip of Vancouver Island, and then struck out west for Asia. It also asks that you accept government censorship after the fact, so that the discovery of the Northwest Passage didn’t fall into Spanish hands. This explains how every map Drake consulted on is a little bit different, and why it took years for an official account of the expedition to get published, when it was all anyone could talk about at the time.

Besides the map evidence, the missing time, and the accounts we still have (not many; most went up in flames), there are some coins and metal objects that have been discovered along the coast, including Alaska, which date to the late 1500s or are otherwise unexplainable.

You know how I mentioned in the Gavin Menzies post that I’d seen alternate explanations for those maps of North America? Yep, that would be the Francis Drake theory. I almost think Menzies and Samuel Bawlf, who’s putting forth the Drake theory, are working off the same maps, though I’m not going through both books to check right now.


A reproduction Elizabethan styrofoam life preserver

Now, like that life preserver, there are some things about the theory that aren’t entirely on the level. Some of Bawlf’s math is sketchy. He disregards some established facts from the accounts. He’s basically invented the censorship wholesale and doesn’t tell his readers how he discovered it. But I’m a little more inclined to believe Bawlf than Menzies because the reasoning is a lot sounder and better presented.

Plus, I can’t not put a pirate on the BC coast if there’s historical precedent for it, especially since he’s got ties to John Dee, who is equally fascinating and also demands to be used in some fashion.

Oh, and a side note? Drake picked up a Greek navigator in one of his Pacific raids on the Spanish. This Greek navigator goes unnamed. But a few years after Drake got back to England, a Greek navigator pops up in Spain bragging that he’d found the Northwest Passage. His name was Ioannis Phokas, better known as Juan de Fuca.


Source: The Secret Voyage of Sir Francis Drake, 1577-1580, by Samuel Bawlf




3 Comments leave one →
  1. Harold Rhenisch permalink
    February 6, 2015 11:25 pm

    Phokas, eh! Did you look up that name? Former Byzantine Emperor. Now, that’s a nice connection! Great post here, thanks.

    • anassarhenisch permalink*
      February 7, 2015 12:21 am

      Didn’t delve into that bit of history, no, but cool! Glad you liked the post.


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