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English Privateers and Pirates of the Caribbean (W13:D3)




Sir Admiral Francis Drake (1541 – 1596) – Drake was like no other pirate on the open seas. He was an English explorer, sea Captain, privateer,

slave trader, naval officer, and politician. He started in humble means, born to a farmer-turned-minister, and became an apprentice to a wealthy merchant. The ship owner was so impressed that, upon his death, he gave his ship to Drake. In 1567, he made his first trip to the Americas, under the command of Captain John Lovell, who took his ships down the coast of West Africa, attacking Portuguese slave cities. They took the plunders, including slaves, to Spanish plantations in the Americas and tried to sell them; in the end, they released over 90 slaves, without payment. In 1568, on his second voyage to the Americas, and while docked at a Spanish fort in Mexico, a fleet of Spanish warships attacked, sinking their ships. Drake and John Hawkins, the owner of the other ship, survived, by swimming away from the rubble. He vowed that day to take revenge on the Spanish.


In 1570, he was provided with two ships, due to his reputation. In 1572, he laid out his plan to sail to Panama and attack the Spanish Galleon ships, full of Incan and Peruvian treasures. His plan was to travel to Tierra Firme - Northern South America - and capture the city of Nombre de Dios, and all its treasures. To do so, he teamed up with the Cimarrons, a group of former African slaves who had escaped, and together, they attacked the city by land and by sea. They captured the city, but as they were finishing off the siege, his men noticed that he was bleeding a great deal, and pleaded with him to withdraw and come back later. They abandoned the treasure, but they stayed in the area and continued to attack the Spanish fleet and plunder their settlements. In 1573, he attacked Nombre de Dios again, by land, capturing nearly 20 tons of gold and silver. They took as much gold as they could carry and buried the rest, then traveled 18 miles to where they had tied up their attack vessels, only to find they had been taken. They buried more of their treasure, built a raft, and Drake floated 10 miles to his flagship, returning days later to pick up his men, as well as their treasure. When he returned to England, England had signed a treaty with Philip II, King of Spain, so Drake couldn’t receive any recognition.


One of his accomplishments, while in Panama, was that he climbed a tree at the top of a mountain, and became the first Englishman to see the Pacific Ocean. It was at this point that he wanted to circumnavigate the entire globe. In 1577, Queen Elizabeth I of England gave him his chance. She gave Drake the assignment to fight the Spanish on the western coasts of the Americas. His expedition was patented through King Philip II, but later rejected by him. Drake would take with him Diego - an escaped Spanish slave, who Drake freed after the raid on Nombre de Dios and made his interpreter.


Leaving with five ships, he soon added a sixth, when they captured a Portuguese Merchant ship and employed their Captain, who had experience sailing around South America. During his travels, he lost many ships to rot, battles, and abandonment, when one crew decided to return to Plymouth. Drake continued forward, around The Straits of Magellan and up the west coast of the Americas, laying siege on many Spanish ports and treasure ships, taking their treasures and charts.


He continued north until about Oregon, and returned to California, before sailing west over the Pacific Ocean. Now with a few ships, and burdened with heavy treasures, Drake sought to escape the Spanish by traveling west across the Pacific. He made landfall in the Moluccas Islands, and continued his journey west, around Cape Hope, and arrived back in Plymouth, in September of 1580. Queen Elizabeth soon knighted him on his ship, the Golden Hind, performed by a French priest, as she worked to build a stronger relationship with France. Drake became a member of Parliament, working on issues of sailing and the Americas.


As war broke out again, against Philip II of Spain, Drake returned to the sea, attacking Spanish ships. A very large fleet of Spanish warships, known as the Spanish Armada, was to leave Cadiz, in 1587, to protect the Spanish treasure ships coming from the Americas; but before they could leave the harbor, Drake and his fleet came swooping into the harbor, early in the morning, and began sinking their ships - somewhere between 25 to 39 ships (depending on which account you trust - Spanish or English records). This delayed the Armada’s release by an entire year. When they were released, there were still 130 warships that left the harbor for the Atlantic Ocean. During that year, Drake sank another few dozen ships and confiscated their supplies.


When the Armada was released, part of the group was tasked with attacking England and bringing funds to the Spanish troops in the Low Country (also known as the Netherlands). Drake intercepted the fleet and chased them up the channel. At night, he would extinguish all his lights and, under complete darkness (minus one lantern), he captured the Spanish galleon, commanded by Admiral Pedro de Valdes, whose ship carried the gold to fund the continuous war in the Low Country.


In response to the Spanish Armada, Drake was given command of the English Armada, and began hunting the remaining Spanish Armada, especially around Spain and Portugal, which had merged as one country. During this time, he lost many ships to the Spanish and his fleet returned empty handed; in order to boost morale, he attacked the town of Vigo, burning it to ashes. For this, Drake was demoted, and not given another expedition for 6 years.


With this chance, he went back to the Americas and, in several defeats around Puerto Rico, after returning to Panama, he fell ill of dysentery. In his dying breath, he asked that he would be dressed in his royal uniform and buried at sea in a lead coffin. He was dropped into the sea around Portobello, and his coffin has yet to be found, though divers continue to this day to search.


Activity: Mapping Sir Francis Drake’s Journey - Reading through his adventures, try to map his journey between Plymouth, the Caribbean, back to Plymouth, down the west coast of Africa, then circumnavigating the globe, and his battles with later Spain.


Activity: Part #2 – Circumnavigating the Globe

How would you have traveled around the world if you had a chance? Name at least two things you would have done differently.

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