Francis Drake and the Plate of Brass

Drakes Bay, CA

On June 17, 1579, British explorer Francis Drake landed his ship, Golden Hind, for repair in what is now Drake’s Bay (pictured above in foreground) at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Drake supposedly left a plate of brass proclaiming in Elizabethan prose the land of America for England. In 1934, a six-year old boy claimed he found it while digging near Agate Beach in Bolinas.  In 1937, Herbert Bolton, director of the Bancroft Library at University of California Berkeley, paid a Greenbrae resident $3,500 for the plate to display in the Bancroft Library. Scientists and metallurgy tests proclaimed its authenticity, but other experts claimed it a fake. In 1977, scientists determined the plate to be a hoax.

Members of E Clampus Vitus, (See my November 22, 2015, blog post for more information  about E Clampus Vitus) a fun loving fraternal organization dedicated to preserving California history, admitted the practical joke they played on their friend Herbert Bolton got out of hand. Five Clampers, including a San Francisco attorney, two historians, an art dealer and restorer, and an art critic, arranged to buy a piece of brass at an Alameda shipyard. To make it look hundreds of years old, they battered, burned, and gave it a patina. They also left a clue to their prank by painting “ECV” (for E Clampus Vitus) on the back to show up under black light. Clampers wrote Bolton letters spoofing the plate, issued a booklet Ye Preposterous Booke of Brasse, and etched another plate from the Miwok Indians reclaiming America from England.

Bolton, however, believed the plate was genuine. He died in 1953 also believing that finding the plate was the high point of his career.

Drake’s memorial anchor can be seen from a 1.7 mile unmarked and uncleared trail at LOW TIDE ONLY on the beach east of Drake’s Beach Visitor Center. Continue 0.3 mile from end of bluff on beach around head of cove to marker at utility pole. Unfortunately, we learned the hard way. At high tide, we hugged the bluffs, carefully watching for falling rocks; crossed onto ranch land to follow a dirt road up and down a steep hill; tip-toed around cowpies through a herd of Holsteins; and climbed over a gate to Drake’s Estero (estuary) and the marker.

Drakes Bay Marker Location   Drakes Bay Marker









About Lynne Schaefer

Lynne Schaefer has written two newspaper columns ("The Schussboomer" about skiing in California, and "Notes from Lynne's Journal" about Oregon wildlife); travel and garden articles for regional magazines copy for DVD tours of the High Desert Museum and the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, both in Bend, Oregon. She has published three non-fiction books, A Traveler's Guide to Historic California, Christmas Trivia Quiz, and His Daughter's Remembrance.
This entry was posted in History, Human Interest, Travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Francis Drake and the Plate of Brass

  1. Heather H. says:

    Another fascinating story! I didn’t remember that Francis Drake had come ashore in the 16th century, had no idea anyone even knew where he landed. Thanks, Lynne!

    Liked by 1 person

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