Who was the only person left behind at New Albion?

The only person confirmed as left behind at New Albion was a man, N. de Morena. Morena was a European ship pilot who accompanied Drake aboard the Golden Hind. When the ship set sail from California to cross the Pacific, Morena remained ashore.

Card image cap

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

Morena later reported that when the Golden Hind and her crew left, he was in very ill health. Morena eventually recovered so much so that he embarked on a successful journey, walking all the way to a Spanish settlement in Mexico. 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.

There is reason others believe more crewmen may have been left behind because of a discrepancy in numbers by at least 20 men. Released Spanish prisoners stated that the Golden Hind had a crew of about 80 when they encountered Drake off the coast of Central America. This is at odds with two accounts by crewmen who reported different numbers after they sailed on the Golden Hind from California and had crossed the Pacific.

One of these accounts was given by Francis Drake’s nephew, John Drake, who crewed on the Golden Hind. To Spanish Inquisitors, John Drake gave the number as 60 crew members when the ship was at Ternate, an Indonesian island. The author of The World Encompassed, the ship’s chaplain Francis Fletcher, recorded a similar number. He said that 58 were aboard when the Golden Hind was at Vesuvius Reef. Both of these locations were reached several weeks after Drake sailed from New Albion.

The reason for this discrepancy is unknown and 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. This is shown when English captain Thomas Cavendish, who was in the Pacific a few years later, did not visit New Albion. And the English would have avoided a colony in this region because such a remote colony would have been impossible to adequately assist and supply. Perhaps most significantly, Drake did not prepare or outfit the expedition for colonization purposes, nor is there any physical evidence that a colony once existed. A nascent colony seems most unlikely.

Thus, presuming that the Spanish prisoners’ numbers were correct, individuals 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—others besides Morena 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 rigors of trans-Pacific sailing.

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.

  • Cummins, John (1997). Francis Drake: Lives of a Hero. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • ICF International, Davis Geoarchaeological Research, and Southeastern Archaeological Research. 2013. Inventory and Analysis of Coastal and Submerged Archaeological Site Occurrence on the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf. U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Pacific OCS Region, Camarillo, CA. OCS Study BOEM
  • Schulten, Susan (2018). A History Of America In 100 Maps. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 2013-0115. 280 pages, plus appendices.