Drake’s Plate: A Fabricated Artifact and the Story of an Out-of-Control Prank

Francis Drake sailed his ship Golden Hind into history, 1578, by Cornelis de Vries, watercolour. 16th century. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Several generations of Californians felt a sense of pride knowing that their state was part of an important historical event…the first voyage to circle the globe. Sir Francis Drake undertook this navigational challenge in the 1500s and, according to an artifact found on the California coast, the explorer and his crew reached California in 1579, leaving behind a brass plate inscribed with the date of their arrival in California and a note claiming the land for England. Since the plate was found in 1936, it was common knowledge that Drake made it to California…heck, it was even included in history books for school children. There was one problem though. The brass plate found in 1936 was a fake. It was all part of a prank that spiraled out of control and into the history books.