Francis Drake might have landed in Oregon, not California

Francis Drake

Melissa Darby argues that Francis Drake may have landed in Oregon rather than California, that Chinese porcelain fragments may not have come from Drake’s ship, and that Herbert Bolton, who had already established a reputation in academia and was in the twilight of his career, may have made up the whole thing about the Point Reyes site as a joke that got out of control.[1] Note that none of this actually amounts to a refutation:

Members of the Drake Navigators Guild, a nonprofit group championing the Drakes Bay theory, soundly reject [Melissa] Darby’s assertion about [Herbert] Bolton. “The idea of a conspiracy doesn’t work,” says Michael Von der Porten, a financial planner and second-generation member of the guild whose father was part of the 2003 team that studied the hoax. He also dismisses her conclusions about a landing north of Drakes Bay. “This is yet another fringe theory, a total farce.”

Michael Moratto, an archaeologist who has been digging around Drakes Bay for decades, agrees. “I’ve spent 50 years listening to all sides of the debate, and for me it is settled.” Darby favors an Oregon landing site for parochial reasons, he adds, and “is twisting all of this to suit her own purposes.” He still maintains that some of the Chinese porcelain found at the bay came from [Francis] Drake’s cargo.[2]

Andrew Lawler, “Did Francis Drake Really Land in California?” Smithsonian, September 26, 2019,


Felicia Schwartz, “Netanyahu Is Given Four Days in Pretrial Hearing to Fend Off Formal Charges,” Wall Street Journal, September 29, 2019,


Kate Proctor, “Boris Johnson fuels speculation he could ignore Brexit delay law,” Guardian, September 29, 2019,


I’m beginning to make a project of cataloging the weapons, gratuitously displayed, that I refer to in a previous blog post.[3] It is possible to honor veterans and war dead without guns—indeed, many sites in the area do just this—so the fetishization here remains truly striking and while I may need to refine the scope of my claim, there are an awful lot of weapons on display in and around redlined areas.

After I recognized what I was seeing from Ta-Nehisi Coates’ description,[4] my mother confirmed that there was “terrible” (I think she used that word) redlining in Pittsburgh. I pondered that later, wondering how she knew: Wouldn’t, I thought to myself, something like this be kept an insiders’ secret?

Um, no. I’ve found a redlining map of Pittsburgh. It does not cover the entire area that I am covering. But it is well worth exploring. The site is interactive in ways you might not expect, so try clicking on things, and then read the reports compiled at the time for each of the “graded areas.”[5] This is a historical gold mine.

What I can say is first, that it is shocking to see just how much of Pittsburgh was redlined—much, much more than could possibly be kept a secret—and second, that, over 80 years later, many of these areas have still not recovered, either through redevelopment or gentrification. There are many abandoned buildings, often more than one on a block, some of which have satellite dishes attached to them, indicating more recent occupancy, but showing that when calamity of one sort or another (often fire) strikes, properties may simply be left to crumble while neighbors strive to carry on. And, of course, these areas appear to have very high proportions of Blacks among their populations.

To be honest, I’ve never seen anything quite like this before. It’s jawdropping—all of it—what I’m seeing on the redlining map and what I’m seeing on the ground.

I’m still finding guns and other heavy weaponry on a catch-as-catch-can basis, so far, mostly south of the Monongahela River (the area I cover most intensively while driving for Lyft). It would be good to be more systematic about this.

  1. [1]Andrew Lawler, “Did Francis Drake Really Land in California?” Smithsonian, September 26, 2019,
  2. [2]Andrew Lawler, “Did Francis Drake Really Land in California?” Smithsonian, September 26, 2019,
  3. [3]David Benfell, “The banners and the guns: Flagrant racism in Pittsburgh,” Not Housebroken, September 22, 2019,
  4. [4]Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” Atlantic, June 2014,
  5. [5]Robert K. Nelson et al., “Mapping Inequality,” University of Richmond, ed. Robert K. Nelson and Edward L. Ayers, n.d.,

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