Sir Francis Drake

Henry Bone [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

          Sir Francis Drake was born in Tavistock England to Edmund Drake and Mary Mylwaye sometime around the year 1544. Drake's first experience at sea came at a young age when he became an apprentice to a barque owner who made a living off of trade with France. Drake made such a good impression that when his master died, he was given the barque for his own personal use. At age 23, Sir Francis Drake made his first trip to the new world aboard a ship  owned by the Hawkins family, who were close relatives of his. During his time with the Hawkins fleet, he ended up being surrounded by the Spanish military at the port San Juan de Ulua in Mexico. After getting away on one of the two ships that managed to escape, he vowed to strike back at the Spanish.
          In 1572, Sir Francis Drake set out to attack the Isthmus of Panama (also known as the Spanish Main). The Spanish Main was an area where large amounts of gold and silver were transported by land and sea to eventually reach Spain. The amount of lightly guarded treasure there was astronomical and Drake sought to take advantage of this. In July 1572, Sir Francis Drake attacked the town of Nombre de Dios. The raid was successful but Drake was severely wounded. Drake's men chose to withdraw in order to save his life and the captured treasure was left behind. 

The Isthmus of Panama

          Later in 1573, Drake teamed up with a French buccaneer to attack a mule train that was reported to be transporting a large amount of valuable items. The raiding party ended up capturing over 20 tons of gold and silver from the train but they were forced to bury a significant amount of the loot because the group could not carry everything. Once the excess loot had been buried, the group dragged their treasure through 18 miles of jungle back to the spot where they had left their landing boats. However, when the group arrived at the shoreline, they discovered their boats were no longer there. To make matters worse, the Spanish were slowly closing in on the stranded raiders and their flagship was over ten miles away. 
          Drake decided to build a raft and try and float to the flagship by sailing along the shoreline. Once he reached the ship, Drake initially as a joke pretended that the raid had been a failure. He then surprised his men by pulling off a golden necklace looted from the attack and famously quoted, "Our voyage is made lads!".
          The success and loot brought back from the raid prompted Queen Elizabeth I to sponsor an additional voyage to attack the Spanish along the west coast of North America. After suffering multiple setbacks along the way, the small fleet eventually arrived at the bay of San Julian near modern day Argentina. Sir Francis Drake and his fleet waited through the winter to set sail for the Straights of Magellan. Drake lost two of his three remaining ships while in route and was then left with only the Pelican which was soon renamed the Golden Hind.
          Drake then sailed up the coast capturing many ports and other Spanish possessions including the port of Valparaiso. While sailing near Lima, Drake spotted the Nuestra Senora de la Concepion which he chased and eventually captured. Most historians agree that the captured ship yielded an exceptional amount of treasure although no exact amount was ever announced. In fact, Queen Elizabeth I later forbade Drake from disclosing the true amount, (probably because she took a larger share of the loot than her stake in the voyage allowed.) After sailing west and arriving near modern day Indonesia, the Golden Hind was briefly stranded on a reef for three days before she was freed by the crew. Drake made his way around the Cape of Good hope and eventually sailed back into Plymouth in September 1580 having successfully circumnavigated the globe.       

Sir Francis Drake's Circumnavigation

[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

          The total wealth brought back from the expedition was enormous. Queen Elizabeth's half share apparently was larger than the rest of the crown's income for that entire year. Sir Francis Drake became a national hero for his country and he was soon knighted aboard the Golden Hind.
          Drake later returned to North America and successfully looted both Santo Domingo and Cartagena. While he was returning to England, he raided a Spanish fort at San Augustin which may have incited Phillip II of Spain to try and invade England. Further angering the king, Drake later destroyed 37 Spanish ships that were intended for use in the invasion of England. 
          In 1588, the Spanish finally launched their invasion of England. According to legend, Drake was notified of the approaching ships while playing a game of bowls. He apparently insisted that there was more than enough time to finish the game and to later defeat the Spanish. The next link has a humorous reenactment of that incident if you want to check it out. (Not intended for younger audiences.)

          Sir Francis Drake eventually led the English fleet against the invading armada and defeated the Spanish after using fire boats to scatter their formation.
          Towards the end of his life, Drake suffered through a string of failed raids that took a toll on him and his men. He led a failed campaign in South America and only had limited success capturing small towns and other prizes. Drake's chances of achieving the success of his earlier voyages were slim. Finally in January of 1596, Sir Francis Drake died of dysentery off the coast of Portobello. His death was viewed as a national tragedy for the English, while the Spanish were undoubtedly pleased to be relieved of the menace they came to call "El Draque." Sir Francis Drake was dressed in full armor and buried at sea in a lead coffin. His burial site has never been found. 

The following link has a more brief account of Drake's life.

        Sir Francis Drake Page

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