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Letter to the Editor: Remembering Sir Francis Drake on a Milestone Anniversary

Do you know what June 17th is?  Why, it is the 437 anniversary of a visit from renowned British Explorer, navigator and General of the fleet, Sir Francis Drake, the first explorer to circumnavigate the world successfully. It is highly likely Sir Drake visited what is now the Santa Barbara Airport  then a large inland water way or “Goleta Bay”  to  find a  safe place to clean his ship, the Golden Hinde, before setting out for his return to England with a ‘hold’ full of Spanish booty.  He arrived on June 17th and stayed 5 weeks at a fort on the northwest shore, at Willow Springs on Hollister, while his ship was being cleaned and caulked.

The whole waterway was surrounded by Indian villages.  For 14 years, the huge Spanish merchant “Manilla galleons” passed this area on their yearly way south to Acapulco from the Philippines Island after six months crossing the Pacific Ocean.

Before departing what is today the Santa Barbara Airport property, Drake gathered together his 80 man crew and the Indian leaders and claimed the whole area, which he called New Albion, for his sponsor Queen Elizabeth I of England.  She had provided his expedition with funds and letters of marque with which to explore and claim property for England.

While standing on the island in the middle of the Goleta Bay, later in 1769 referred to by the Spanish as Mescaltitlan Island, Drake made the following claim on the day of his departure July 23, 1579:

“Be it known unto all men by these presents, June17, 1579 by the grace of god and in the name of her majesty Queen Elizabeth of England and her successors forever I take possession of this kingdom whose king and people freely resign their right and title in the whole land and unto her majesty’s keeping now named by me and to be known unto all men as Nova Albion Francis Drake.”

These words were placed on a plate and mounted on a post on the island by Drake’s men.

Drake returned to England on August 26, 1580 and presented the Queen with his treasure and maps and drawings of where he had been. The treasure paid off the national debt of England and Drake was knighted.

By an amazing historical coincidence, Queen Elizabeth II came to the Santa Barbara Airport to meet with President Ronald Reagan on March 1, 1983, only a few hundred feet from where the area was claimed 404 years earlier by the English explorer.

The Drake records called this bay the “Good Baye” on this anniversary 437 years ago.

So when you walk out of the front door of the Santa Barbara Airport look at the hill in front of you on which it all happened.  Are we all really British?

Justin M. Ruhge

​​(Reference: Sir Francis Drake in Central California, 1579. In local libraries.)

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