Who was the only person left behind at New Albion?

There is reason to believe that Drake may have left behind crewmen at New Albion; however, that anyone actually remained ashore as the Golden Hind sailed from Drakes Bay is uncertain. Here is the background to this idea.

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Looking west at New Albion while viewing the land and water at Drakes Bay

Difference In Numbers

After taking the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción off Cape San Francisco, Ecuador on March 2, 1579, Drake continued raiding along the Central American coast until leaving Guatulco, Mexico on April 16. Drake’s next port was New Albion, in California, to which he arrived on June 17 left on July 23. His next stop, the Farallon Islands, was on July 24, and the Golden Hind would not make landfall until Palau on October 3.

There is an unsettled difference in numbers of at least 20 men from before Drake was in California and after he sailed across the Pacific. Released Spanish prisoners stated that the Golden Hind had a crew of about 80 when they encountered Drake off the coast of Central America, well before his anchorage in California. This is at odds with two accounts by Golden Hind crewmen who reported different numbers after they sailed across the Pacific.

One of these crew accounts was given by Francis Drake’s cousin, John Drake. To Spanish Inquisitors— after being imprisoned in 1584—John Drake gave the number as 60 crew members when the ship was at Ternate, an Indonesian island, to which the Golden Hind arrived on November 14, 1579. The author of The World Encompassed, the ship’s chaplain Francis Fletcher, recorded a similar number. He recorded that 58 men were aboard when the Golden Hind was at Vesuvius Reef on January 9, 1580. Both of these locations were reached months after Drake sailed from New Albion on July 23, 1579.

The reason for this incongruity is unknown and has given rise to much speculation. Some authors state that Drake established a colony. But this is unlikely because the English never followed up to support any colony. The next English expedition would not arrive in North American Pacific coast waters until 1587 when Thomas Cavendish raided the area. If there actually was a colony located at New Albion, Cavendish would almost certainly have tried to make contact with it.

Additionally, the English would have avoided a settlement in this region because they knew such a remote outpost would have been impossible to adequately support. Perhaps most significantly, Drake did not outfit the expedition for colonization purposes. Neither is there physical evidence that a colony once existed. All considered, a nascent colony seems most unlikely.

Thus—presuming that the Spanish prisoners’ numbers are correct—individual historians have suggested the discrepancy in numbers can be attributed to various other reasons. These include reasons such as desertion—some sailors decided to take their chance ashore with friendly people, who included females, rather than risk circumnavigation; illness—crewmen who were too ill (possibly from shellfish poisoning) to make the trip across the Pacific were left behind, hoping that remaining on land would assist their recovery better than the adversities of trans-Pacific sailing.

This shellfish warning, posted in 2019 at Drakes Bay, is indicative of a possible cause of illness to members of the Golden Hind crew in 1579.

While plausible and reasoned, none of these notions are certain.

The Mystery of N. de Morena

The only identity of a person reported as left behind at New Albion was a man, N. de Morena. Morena (spelled Morera in the original writing) was a European ship pilot, probably Spanish or Portuguese, who accompanied Drake aboard the Golden Hind. When the ship set sail from California on July 23, 1579, Morena seemingly remained ashore.

Morena later reported that when the Golden Hind and her crew left, he was in very ill health. More dead than alive, Morena was left ashore to convalesce and recover in the relatively favorable circumstances of the Point Reyes environment with the Coast Miwok people. Morena eventually recovered so much so that he embarked on a successful journey, ostensibly walking all the way to Sombrerete, Mexico to deliver his message to the region’s governor. This astonishing journey took him four years. Other than that, we know little about the man, his situation, illness, or why he did not sail with Drake. One can only imagine the marvelous stories he could have told.

Sombrerete, the settlement to which Morena reportedly walked from Drake’s New Albion anchorage, now Drake’s Cove at Point Reyes, California.

The account of Morena was recorded by Father Jerónimo de Zárate Salmeron in 1626. Zárate Salmeron received it from Father Antonio de Ascensión, a Carmelite who served on Sebastián Vizcaino’s 1602-3 journey which explored the California and Oregon coasts. This was one end of a hearsay chain apparently originating with Governor Rodrigo de Rio y Losa who was in Sombrerete—where Morena was said to have personally given the governor the account. That moment would have been in or near the year 1583.

How or why Morena would have been on Drake’s crew is unknown but such an inclusion is plausible. Drake is known to have kept certain prisoners aboard the Golden Hind for their services. For example, The World Encompassed records that Drake impressed Nuño da Silva near the Cape Verde island of Santiago. Da Silva ably served Drake for over a year until released at Guatulco, Mexico on April 16, 1579. And the Morena story is given some support in a written statement which was dated Aril 13, the day Drake arrived at Guatulco. Written by Guatulco’s Mayor Gaspar de Vargas, the statement asserts that the name of the Golden Hind’s pilot was named Morena.

So, who was the only person to remain at New Albion? Maybe it was Morena, and maybe there were others. We will probably never know.

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