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The Story Of Sir Francis Drake
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The Story Of Sir John Hawkins

The Story Of Sir Francis Drake


Francis Drake is said to have been born at Crowndale, near Tavistock,
about the year 1540. Both his birth and his parentage are involved in
obscurity; but it is probable that he was born of good family in reduced
circumstances, for he was declared by the King of Arms in 1551 to have
the right "by just descent and progeniture of birth" to bear the arms of
the Drakes of Ash; while it is clear that he began life in a humble
capacity. According to Camden, he was apprenticed at an early age to the
master of a small coasting vessel, who, dying without issue, left the
barque to him. We find also that at the age of eighteen he was purser on
board a ship trading to Biscay, and at twenty he made a voyage to
Guinea. At twenty-two he had the honour to be appointed captain of the
Judith, in the harbour of St. John de Ullua, in the Gulf of Mexico,
where he behaved most gallantly in the glorious action, fought there
under his kinsman, Sir John Hawkins, described in the story of Sir John
Hawkins, and afterwards returned with him into England with a great
reputation, but not worth a single groat.

Upon this he conceived a design of making reprisals on the King of
Spain, which, some say, was put into his head by the minister of his
ship; and, to be sure, in sea-divinity, the case was clear; the King of
Spain's subjects had undone Mr. Drake, and therefore Mr. Drake was at
liberty to take the best satisfaction he could on the subjects of the
King of Spain. This doctrine, how rudely soever preached, was very
taking in England; and therefore he no sooner published his design than
he had numbers of volunteers ready to accompany him, though they had no
such pretence even as he had to colour their proceedings. In 1570 he
made his first expedition with two ships, the Dragon and the Swan,
and the next year in the Swan alone, wherein he returned safe, with
competent advantages, if not rich; and, having now means sufficient to
perform greater matters, as well as skill to conduct them, he laid the
plan of a more important design with respect to himself and to his

This he put in execution on May 24th, 1572, on which day he sailed from
Plymouth, himself in a ship called the Pascha, of the burden of
seventy tons, and his brother, John Drake, in the Swan, of twenty-five
tons burden, their whole strength consisting of no more than
twenty-three men and boys; and, with this inconsiderable force, on July
22nd he attacked the town of Nombre de Dios, which he took in a few
hours by storm, notwithstanding a dangerous wound he received early in
the action; yet upon the whole he was no great gainer, for after a very
brisk action he was obliged to betake himself to his ships with very
little booty. His next attempt was to plunder the mules laden with
silver which passed from Vera Cruz to Nombre de Dios; but in this scheme
too he was disappointed. However, he attacked the town of Vera Cruz,
carried it, and got some little booty. In returning, he met unexpectedly
with a string of fifty mules laden with plate, of which he carried off
as much as he could, and buried the rest. In these expeditions he was
greatly assisted by the Simerons, a nation of Indians who were engaged
in a perpetual war with the Spaniards. The prince, or captain of these
people, whose name was Pedro, was presented by Captain Drake with a fine
cutlass, which he at that time wore, and to which he saw the Indian had
a mind. Pedro, in return, gave him four large wedges of gold, which
Drake threw into the common stock, saying, that "he thought it but just
that such as bore the charge of so uncertain a voyage on his credit
should share the utmost advantages that voyage produced." Then
embarking his men with all the wealth he had obtained, which was very
considerable, he bore away for England, and was so fortunate as to sail
in twenty-three days from Cape Florida to the isles of Scilly, and
thence without any accident to Plymouth, where he arrived August 9th,

His success in this expedition, joined to his honourable behaviour
towards his owners, gained him a high reputation, and the use he made of
his riches still a greater; for, fitting out three stout frigates at his
own expense, he sailed with them to Ireland, where, under Walter, Earl
of Essex (the father of the unfortunate earl who was beheaded), he
served as a volunteer, and did many glorious actions. After the death of
his noble patron he returned to England, where Sir Christopher Hatton,
who was then vice-chamberlain to Queen Elizabeth, and a great favourite,
took him under his protection, introduced him to Her Majesty, and
procured him her countenance. By this means he acquired facilities for
undertaking that glorious expedition which will render his name
immortal. His first proposal was to voyage into the South Seas through
the Straits of Magellan, an enterprise which hitherto no Englishman had
ever attempted. This project was well received at court, and in a short
time Captain Drake saw himself at the height of his wishes; for in his
former voyage, having had a distant prospect of the South Seas from the
top of a tree which he ascended for the purpose, he framed an ardent
prayer to God that he might sail an English ship in them, which he found
now an opportunity of attempting; the queen's permission furnishing him
with the means, and his own fame quickly drawing to him a force

The squadron with which he sailed on this extraordinary undertaking
consisted of the following ships: the Pelican, commanded by himself,
of the burden of one hundred tons; the Elizabeth, vice-admiral, eighty
tons, under Captain John Winter; the Marygold, a barque of thirty
tons, commanded by Captain John Thomas; the Swan, a fly-boat of fifty
tons, under Captain John Chester; and the Christopher, a pinnace of
fifteen tons, under Captain Thomas Moon. In this fleet were embarked no
more than one hundred and sixty-four able men, and all the necessary
provisions for so long and dangerous a voyage; the intent of which,
however, was not openly declared. Thus equipped, on November 15th, 1577,
about three in the afternoon, he sailed from Plymouth; but a heavy storm
taking him as soon as he was out of port, forced him, in a very bad
condition, into Falmouth, to refit; which, being expeditiously
performed, he again put to sea on the 13th of December following. On the
25th of the same month he fell in with the coast of Barbary; and on the
29th with Cape Verd; the 13th of March he passed the equinoctial; the
5th of April he made the coast of Brazil in 30 deg. N. Lat. and entered the
river De la Plata, where he lost the company of two of his ships; but
meeting them again, and having taken out of them all the provisions they
had on board, he turned them adrift.

On August 20th, with his squadron reduced to three ships, he entered the
Straits of Magellan; on September 25th he passed them; having then only
his own ship, which, in the South Seas, he re-named the Golden Hind.
It may not be amiss to take notice here of a fact very little known, as
appearing in no relation of this famous voyage. Sir Francis Drake
himself reported to Sir Richard, son to Sir John Hawkins, that meeting
with a violent tempest, in which his ship could bear no sail, he found,
when the storm sank, he was driven through or round the Straits into the
latitude of fifty degrees. Here, lying close under an island, he went on
shore, and, leaning his body over a promontory as far as he could
safely, told his people, when he came on board, he had been farther
south than any man living. This we find confirmed by one of our old
chronicle writers, who farther informs us that he bestowed on this
island the name of Elizabetha, in honour of his royal mistress. On
November 25th he came to Machao, in the latitude of thirty degrees,
where he had appointed a rendezvous in case his ships separated; but the
Marygold had gone down with all hands, and Captain Winter, having
repassed the Straits, had returned to England. Thence he continued his
voyage along the coasts of Chili and Peru, taking all opportunities of
seizing Spanish ships, or of landing and attacking them on shore, till
his crew were sated with plunder. While off the island of Mocha Drake
landed with some of his men to seek water; but the inhabitants,
mistaking them for Spaniards, attacked them, killed two of their number
and wounded several others, including Drake himself, who was shot in the
face with an arrow. As the surgeon of the Golden Hind was dead, Drake
had to be his own doctor as well as surgeon to his crew. Realising that
the attack had been made in mistake, and not wishing to risk more
casualties, Drake did not attempt to punish the natives, but put to sea
and made his way to Valparaiso, where he made free with the stores and
valuables he found, and then proceeded further in search of his missing
vessels, and finding others which added to his booty; from one of which
he took a number of charts of seas then utterly unknown to the English
mariners. While pursuing this course he gained intelligence of a rich
ship laden with gold and silver for Panama, which he fell in with off
Cape Francisco on March 1st, 1579, and captured. The booty in this case
amounted to twenty-six tons of silver, eighty pounds of gold, thirteen
chests of money and a quantity of jewels and precious stones; valued in
all at nearly L200,000. Coasting North America to the height of
forty-eight degrees, he endeavoured to find a passage back into our seas
on that side, but being disappointed of what he sought, he landed, and
called the country New Albion, taking possession of it in the name, and
for the use of Queen Elizabeth; and, having trimmed his ship, set sail
thence, on September 29th, 1579, for the Moluccas; choosing this passage
round, rather than returning by the Straits of Magellan, owing to the
danger of being attacked at a great disadvantage by the Spaniards, and
the lateness of the season, whence dangerous storms and hurricanes were
to be apprehended.

On November 4th he sighted the Moluccas, and on December 10th made
Celebes, where his ship unfortunately ran on a rock on the 9th of
January; whence, beyond all expectation, and in a manner miraculously,
they got off, and continued their course. On March 16th he arrived at
Java, where he determined on returning directly home. On March 25th,
1580, he put this design in execution, and on June 15th doubled the Cape
of Good Hope, having then on board his ship fifty-seven men and but
three casks of water. On July 12th he passed the line, reached the coast
of Guinea on the 16th, and there watered. On September 11th he made the
island of Terceira, and on the 26th of the same month entered the
harbour of Plymouth.

In this voyage he completely circumnavigated the globe, which no
commander-in-chief had ever done before. His success in this enterprise,
and the immense mass of wealth he brought home, naturally raised much
comment throughout the kingdom; some highly commending, and some as
loudly decrying him. The former alleged that his exploit was not only
honourable to himself, but to his country; that it would establish our
reputation for maritime skill amongst foreign nations, and raise a
useful spirit of emulation at home; and that as to the money, our
merchants having suffered deeply from the faithless practices of the
Spaniards, there was nothing more just than that the nation should
receive the benefit of Drake's reprisals. The other party alleged that,
in fact, he was no better than a pirate; that, of all others, it least
became a trading nation to encourage such practices; that it was not
only a direct breach of all our late treaties with Spain, but likewise
of our old leagues with the house of Burgundy; and that the consequences
of owning his proceeding would be much more fatal than the benefits
reaped from it could be advantageous. Things continued in this
uncertainty during the remainder of that, and the spring of the
succeeding year.

At length they took a better turn; for on April 4th, 1581, Her Majesty,
dining at Deptford in Kent, went on board Captain Drake's ship, where
she conferred on him the honour of knighthood, and declared her absolute
approbation of all that he had done, to the confusion of his enemies and
to the great joy of his friends. She likewise gave directions for the
preservation of his ship, that it might remain a monument of his own and
his country's glory. In process of time, the vessel decaying, it was
broken up; but a chair made of the planks was presented to the
University of Oxford, and is still preserved.

In the year 1582 he was Mayor of Plymouth, and in 1584-5 a member of the
House of Commons.

In 1585 he concerted a scheme of a West-Indian expedition with the
celebrated Sir Philip Sidney. It was to be partly maritime and partly an
invasion. The sea force was to be commanded absolutely by Sir Francis,
the land troops by Sir Philip Sidney. The queen having required Sir
Philip to desist from his scheme, Drake sailed, notwithstanding, to the
West Indies, having under his command Captain Christopher Carlisle,
Captain Martin Frobisher, Captain Francis Knollys, and many other
officers of great reputation. In this expedition he took the cities of
St. Iago, St. Domingo, Carthagena, and St. Augustine, exceeding even the
expectation of his friends and the hopes of the common people, though
both were sanguine to the last degree. Yet the profits of this
expedition were but moderate; the design of Sir Francis being rather to
weaken the enemy than to enrich himself. It was, to do him justice, a
maxim from which he never varied, to regard the service of his country
first, next the profit of his proprietors, and last, his own interest.
Hence, though rich in wealth, he was richer still in reputation.

In 1587 he proceeded to Lisbon with a fleet of thirty sail, and having
intelligence of a numerous fleet assembled in the Bay of Cadiz, which
was to have made part of the Armada, he, with great courage, entered the
port, and burnt upwards of ten thousand tons of shipping. Drake's policy
was to attack the enemy in his own harbours and so prevent the
possibility of his invading our coasts; and this policy he was
continually pressing upon the home Government, but without success.
There can be little doubt that if he had been allowed to follow up his
success in the Bay of Cadiz by carrying out this policy the Spanish
Armada might have never set sail. Not obtaining the support and
authority he wanted, he now resolved to do his utmost to content the
merchants of London, who had contributed, by a voluntary subscription,
to the fitting out of his fleet. With this view, having intelligence of
a large carack expected at Terceira from the East Indies, thither he
sailed; and though his men were severely pinched through want of
victuals, yet by fair words and large promises he prevailed upon them to
endure these hardships for a few days. Within this time the East India
ship arrived, and was found to contain wealth to the value of L100,000,
which he took and carried home in triumph.

It was in consequence of the journals, charts, and papers, taken on
board his East India prize, that it was judged practicable for us to
enter into the Indian trade: for promoting which, the queen, by letters
patent, in the forty-third year of her reign, founded our first India
company. To this, we may also add that it was Drake who first brought in
tobacco, the use of which was much promoted by the practice of Sir
Walter Raleigh. How much this nation has gained by these branches of
commerce, of which he was properly the author, I leave to the
intelligent reader's consideration.

In 1588 Sir Francis Drake was appointed vice-admiral, under Charles Lord
Howard of Effingham, High-admiral of England; here his fortune favoured
him as remarkably as ever, for he made prize of a large galleon,
commanded by Don Pedro de Valdez, who yielded on the bare mention of his
name. In this vessel fifty thousand ducats were distributed among the
seamen and soldiers. It must not, however, be dissembled that, through
an oversight of his, the admiral ran the utmost hazard of being taken by
the enemy; for Drake being appointed, the first night of the engagement,
to carry lights for the direction of the English fleet, he being in full
pursuit of some hulks belonging to the Hanse Towns, neglected it; which
occasioned the admiral's following the Spanish lights, and remaining
almost in the centre of their fleet till morning. However, his
succeeding services sufficiently effaced the memory of this mistake; the
greatest execution done on the flying Spaniards being performed by the
squadron under his command.

The next year he was employed as admiral at sea over the fleet sent to
restore Don Antonio, King of Portugal; the command of the land forces
being given to Sir John Norris. They were hardly at sea, however, before
these commanders differed; though it is on all hands agreed that there
never was an admiral better disposed, with respect to soldiers, than Sir
Francis Drake. The ground of their difference was this: the general was
bent on landing at the Groyne, whereas Sir Francis and the sea-officers
were for sailing to Lisbon directly; in which, if their advice had been
taken, without question their enterprise would have succeeded, and Don
Antonio would have been restored. For it appeared, on their invading
Portugal, that the enemy had made use of the time they gave them to such
good purpose that it was not possible to make any impression. Sir John
Norris, indeed, marched by land to Lisbon, and Sir Francis Drake, very
imprudently, promised to sail up the river with his whole fleet; but
when he saw the consequences which would have attended the keeping of
his word, he chose rather to break his promise than to hazard the
queen's navy; for which he was grievously reproached by Norris, and the
miscarriage of the whole affair was imputed to his failure in performing
what he had undertaken. Yet Sir Francis fully justified himself on his
return; for he made it manifest to the queen and council that all the
service that was done was performed by him, and that his sailing up the
river of Lisbon would have signified nothing to the taking the castle,
which was two miles off; and without reducing that there was no taking
the town.

In 1590 he seems to have devoted himself to civil engineering, for we
find him contracting with the town of Plymouth to effect a water supply
from the River Meavy, which he did by conducting a stream a distance of
nearly twenty-five miles; after which he erected six mills for grinding
corn in 1591. In 1593 he represented Plymouth in parliament.

His next service was the fatal undertaking in conjunction with Sir John
Hawkins, in 1594, for the destroying of Nombre de Dios, referred to in
the story of Sir John Hawkins, who died the day before Sir Francis made
his desperate attack on the shipping in the harbour of Porto Rico. This
was performed, with all the courage imaginable, on November 13th, 1595,
and attended with great loss to the Spaniards, yet with very little
advantage to the English, who, meeting with a more resolute resistance
and much better fortifications than they expected, were obliged to sheer
off. The admiral then steered for the main, where he took the town of
Rio de la Hacha, which he burnt to the ground; a church and a single
house belonging to a lady only excepted. After this, he destroyed some
other villages, and then proceeded to Santa Marta, which he likewise
burnt. The like fate had the famous town of Nombre de Dios, the
Spaniards refusing to ransom any of these places, and the booty taken in
them being very inconsiderable. On December 29th Sir Thomas Baskerville
marched with seven hundred and fifty men towards Panama, but returned on
January 2nd, finding the design of reducing that place to be wholly
impracticable. This disappointment made such an impression on the
admiral's mind that it threw him into a lingering fever, of which he
died on the 28th of January, 1596, just two months after his
distinguished kinsman, Sir John Hawkins, with whom he had been so often
associated, and with so much glory.

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