Sherman R. Frederick
About 200 people tuned in to a two-hour Zoom meeting designed to highlight current and historical perspectives on Sir Francis Drake and the accompanying controversy surrounding naming Marin’s major East-West road after him.
Sir Francis Drake Boulevard runs from San Quentin to Highway 1 at Olima, then to Tomales Bay and to Pt. Reyes National seashore. It follows ancient Miwok trade and hunting routes. It was named after Drake in 1929 primarily as a tourism vehicle by a booster group called “Marvelous Marin”. At the time, tourism leaders deemed Drake the best known name associated with Marin.
Drake was an English sea captain most famously known for his circumnavigation of the world in a single expedition. He landed in Marin briefly and made contact with the Coast Miwok. Later scholars have associated Drake with the slave trade at the time, causing some to question his worthiness of a statue in Larkspur and the major thoroughfare in Marin.
The session, fueled by the national debate surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, delved into the history of Drake.
Dominican history professor Jordan Lieser pointed out that Drake, like many historical figures, have a complex story to tell. Throughout the years, Drake has gone from a romanticized hero to a pirate. The latest revisionist work on Drake peg him as a little bit of both.
The Coast Miwok representatives on the panel said they were glad to be part of the discussion.
While the Drake landing in Marin is primarily known from the European perspective, Matthew Johnson said it’s important that “we can tell our side of the story.”
Lorelle Ross said “California Indians are alive and thrive. A lot of people say ‘we thought you were all dead.’ Our slogan is ‘We are still here.’”
One of the questions from the public asked about the naming conventions used by the ancient Miwok. Unfortunately, Ross said, there are no living speakers of the Miwok language.
The latest scholarship on Drake indicates that he was a proponent of equality.
“This is not to say that Drake was not involved in the slave trade,” Lieser said. “We have very good evidence that Drake was there when slaves were traded while working for his cousin (Capt. Hawkins). He may very well been involved in the slave trade, but was not a racist,” the most recent work on Drake suggests.
The time in which Drake lived was a “horrific time,” said Lieser. In England, a similar naming issue arose around Drake. It was solved there by expanding the story of Drake to include multiple perspectives.
Ross said “We’re all living through new times. There needs to be truth telling about the history. It doesn’t have to be ‘blame and shame.’”
“We all have that responsibility, no matter our heritage.”
A Marin Library history resource page has been set up here:
You can reach Sherman R. Frederick at firstname.lastname@example.org.