Who REALLY discovered San Francisco?

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I've had the oppurtunity to answer a couple questions in this forum and would like to ask one myself...

Technically, Portola gets the credit for the discovery of San Francisco Bay (by land) but I've always been intrigued by the thought that Sir Francis Drake had visited the area previously and the thing that had led me to believe that it was Drake who did the discovering was the plaque which was discovered on a hillside near Greenbrae. My question is:

How did this plaque get where it was (just inside the Bay, as opposed to somewhere on Pt. Reyes)? Maybe we could open a discussion on this matter. I have given it some thought and it seems possible that some of the local indians may have found the plaque and carried it to where it was later discovered.

Any thoughts?

-- Robert W. Summers (summerstime@yahoo.com), December 24, 1998


This has been the subject of considerable debate at the University of California, Berkeley among historians and those at the Bancroft Library (where the famous plaque is located) for many years. Most historians now believe that the plaque found in Marin was a fake, (although I suppose it could very well have been moved by the Indians, if it were real) and that Drake indeed landed in what is Drake's Bay.

However, Drake's Bay did play a role in the discovery of SF after all. In 1595, The San Agustin was returning from the Philippines to Mexico loaded with treasures from the Far East. It anchored at Drake's Bay for rest and to fix up the ship before continuing south (unknown as to whether or not they had any idea someone had been there before). A storm broke the ship up. The crew had to build large row boats out of the wreckage to get back to Mexico, leaving the treasures behind on the shore.

In 1602, Sebastian Vizcaino commanded a ship that had also been to the Philippines, and on its return was charged with both finding Drake's Bay and recovering the Treasures of the San Agustin, and to chart the coast of California. He discovered a bay which he described in such glowing terms that Spain decided to make its headquarters in Alta California (upper California, Mexico was then called Baja California, or lower) at the bay and call it Monterey.

167 years passed (1769) when Spain sent Portola on an expedition (some of the group by land, some by sea) to find Monterey. When Portola, on land, arrived at where Monterey was supposed to be on the maps Vizcaino made (from the sea), he either didn't see the Bay because he was on the east side of the coastal mountain, or because the Bay he did see did not live up to the glowing description given by Vizcaino. Any sailor of the day would have realized that Monterey was not a fantastic port even in that day. Some believe that Vizcaino was puffing Monterey up as a way to get more rewards from Spain, perhaps even an admiralty.

Anyway, Portola continued north until he realized he had gone too far. He camped out on what is today Sweeney Ridge (overlooking Pacifica). He sent out scouting parties for one last look around, and that is when Sergeant Jose Ortega led his group to the tip of the peninsula where Fort Point is today. Ortega returned to camp and said he couldn't go any further because of the straight (the Golden Gate). Other scouting parties reported back that the bay extended for miles in every direction.

Still, Portola had no clue as to what his men had discovered. He wrote his supervisors, "I shall always give preference to the Port of Monterey, in order not to depart a jot from my blind obedience." A year later, 1770, Portola either returned to the area after going back to Mexico and found Monterey, or he found Monterey on the return trip to Mexico - which I am not sure. And, Spain did set up its Alta California headquarters in Monterey. For the next few years, Spain sent small scouting parties to explore the Bay Area. In 1775, in anticipation of the coming of a party of soldiers and settlers, The San Carlos under Captain Ayala charted the Bay, discovering and naming Alcatraz (Isla de Los Alcatraces) and Angel Island (Isla de los angeles). In the spring of 1776, Juan Bautista DeAnza led the Spanish to the tip of the peninsula Sgt. Ortega discovered in 1769. They established the Presidio, and later in the year, established Mission Delores.

-- Peter Moylan (pmoylan@trammellcrow.com), July 02, 1999.

I think the most obvious answer to this question has been totally overlooked by those who've responded so far. The Native Americans who first came to this area were the ones who truly discovered San Francisco Bay. All the later European explorers did was give it a new name. Let us not overlook the fact that the Bay Area was very much an occupied land when these explorers arrived.

-- Conor Casey (conartist9@hotmail.com), May 02, 2002.

You asked, "How did that plaque get where it was (just inside the Bay, as opposed to somewhere on Pt. Reyes)?" The answer is because some turkey came forward and said that in 1933 he found it at Drake's Bay and then threw it away when he got to San Quentin where the another turkey claimed to have found it in 1938. Whether those two turkeys knew each other and collaborated on this story to give the brass more credibility was never really established. If they did know each other then that would have been the end of the brass story right away. The main reasons why the brass plate is thought to be a fake is because on careful examination years later, it was discovered that the plate contains 35% zinc and there was hardly any brass anywhere in the world that contained zinc above 30% during Drakes time. Also, on careful microscopic examination it was detected that the brass was created from modern rolling sheets rather than being pounded into creation as had been done during Drake's time. And there was also a lot of criticism about the grammar and format used in the address on the plate something to do with that it didn't even mention the queens name in the opening address. There is still the possibility that the plate of brass could have been swiped by an Indian and perhaps later presented to a chief who surely would have taken it with him to his burial ground since the Indians thought Drake came back from the dead. The real plate of brass may still be out there and there still may be treasures burried from Cermeno's ship that sunk there while looking for Drake's landing in 1592. The problem with Drake's bay is that it is an extremely remote place and park rangers don't want anyone discovering anything out there that they couldn't get their hands on first. Some of the scientific equipment we have today could easily find a needle 100 feet underground. But lugging it out 2 miles down the beach or to other sites and getting it by the Rangers who patrol those grounds like it was Fort Knox could present some real obstacles. But if you can can put up $6,000 for a ground penetrating radar detector that will show you images of what it sees smaller than the size of a needle up to 100 feet underground and if you think you can get by the rangers, then by all means give it a shot and find the real plate of brass, who was out here first and even some treasures treasures. And if you need some ground penetrating treasure radar detectors then you can try http://www.futuregpr.com/2003_320.wmv or http://www.futuregpr.com/2003.html

-- Harry Murphy (harrymurphy@bigmailbox.net*), May 04, 2002.

I think that you all should go hump a sofa. And have sex with every man in the world thank ya very much!

-- Cynthia Lowell (Jklovvell@homo.com), November 04, 2002.

I believe that the Indians discovered San Francisco, way early than any other person getting credit for it.

-- Theresa Murphy (www.theresamurphy@blackplanet.com), December 10, 2002.

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-- Jocelyn Archila (jaaangel@msn.net), September 07, 2003.

Well, actually, um ..... I discovered it and am still waiting for my royalties.

-- Rosa (rosadebon@yahoo.com), September 08, 2003.

AS A member of the kingdom of Spain, I say: We did it "Nosotros lo hicimos" We Will buy it again to your next governor. :)

Jose, The next spanish governor of Nueva California :)

-- Jose Joaquin de Vicente y Sanchez (jjvicente@yahoo.com), September 26, 2003.

Clearly, the first humans to live in what is today San Francisco were Native Americans, or Indians, for 5,000 to 10,000 years prior to the discovery by Portola in 1769.

The Spanish called them the Costanoan, or Coastal People. There were dozens of tribes such as the Pomo, Miwok, Muwekma and Yelamu. There's a generic name for many of the tribes - Ohlone.

They hunted, fished, and gathered of acorns. They built fishing boats and "skirts" out of tule reed. At the time, the Bay Area was covered in all kinds of wildlife - bears, elk, fish, birds. One anthropoligist wrote: "Their lifestyle was so ideal, they had no need for progress."

There were probably 300,000 in California when the Spanish first arrived. The priests believed they had to save their heathen souls for God - if they didn't convert to Catholicism, they would not go to heaven. Good intentions, horrible outcome: many were essentially enslaved by the Catholic priests at the missions, forced to do the hard labor of the California missions. Punishments for disobediance were severe (whippings, etc.) even when the Native didn't understand the Spanish language. One observer said that the priests never bothered to learn their religions, languages and culture.

They had no immunity to European diseases, and the population of natives began to dwindle. In 1849, when gold was discovered, there were many murders of Indians for just living on land where the gold was discovered. Today, the Native American population of California is probably under 100,000.

-- Peter Moylan (pmoylan@pacbell.net), March 13, 2005.

Concerning the Plate of Brass as discussed earlier here. There was a story in the newspaper that confirms that the Plate of Brass discovered by San Quentin was indeed a forgery. Turns out that a couple of Professors at Berkeley finally admitted they created it AS A PRANK on another professor who believed Drake had found San Francisco Bay! So almost 70 years of controversy is now put to rest.

-- Peter Moylan (pmoylan@pacbell.net), March 13, 2005.

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