Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake

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Sir Francis Drake

“El Draque” or “The Dragon” the Spanish called this English admiral out of fear. Sir Francis Drake was born at Crownsdale, near Tavistock, Devon around the 1540’s. He served, as an apprentice in the Thames Coastal Trade after his father became a preacher at Chatham. He led several expeditions against the Spanish Main as well as an attack against the Spanish city of Cadiz. Drake was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe and he helped defeat the Spanish Armada in 1588. He was a successful privateer, a talented navigator and one of the most famous seamen in history.

Drake made several voyages to the Caribbean with English seaman John Hawkins in the 1560’s, which were the early years of Drake’s career. They were not privateering voyages, but attempts to smuggle Spanish goods into the colonies. On the third voyage Hawkins’ fleet of six ships, one commanded by Sir Francis Drake, were driven into the Gulf of Mexico by a hurricane. The ships were led into the Vera Cruz port and demanded supplies. The Spanish however had a different plan of assaulting and killing many men and destroying four ships. Drake and Hawkins returned to England safely but, this incident led to Drake’s desire for revenge on the Spaniards.

In 1572 Drake sailed from England with two ships and 73 men. They landed at a small island called the Isle of Pines and began preparations for his attack on the Spanish. His plan was to sack the city of Nombre de Dios. On their first attempt they did not succeed but they made another soon after. They then took the town of Nombre de Dios on the Isthmus of Panama, they captured a ship in the harbor of Cartagena, they burned Portobello, they crossed and re-crossed the isthmus, and they captured three mule trains bearing 30 tons of silver.

Drake’s real opportunity came in 1577 when Queen Elizabeth gave him a grant to make the first circumnavigation of the world by an Englishman. On December 13th Drake sailed from Plymouth in the Golden Hind with four other small ships and about 160 men. They were set out to raid the Spanish property on the Pacific coast of the New World. He abandoned two ships in the Rio de Plata in South America, and, with the remaining three, navigated the Straights of Magellan.

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A storm came and drove the ships farther south; one ship and its crew was destroyed. Another ship was separated from Drake’s vessel and returned to England. Drake continued alone up the coast of South America. He then plundered Valparaiso and smaller settlements, cut loose the shipping in Callao and captured a rich Spanish ship. With the newly acquired Spanish charts, Drake continued along the coast looking for a possible passage to the Atlantic Ocean. He sailed possibly as far as Washington state and then turned south again towards San Francisco to repair his ship. He then sailed across the Pacific to the Moluccas and arrived at Plymouth on September 26, 1580.

In 1585 Drake commanded a fleet that sacked Vigo in Spain and burned Sao Tiago in the Cape Verde Islands. It was the first act of open war with Spain. He took Santo Domingo and Cartagena and plundered the Florida coast. He also rescued Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke colony under Ralph Lane on the Carolina coast. He returned to England and heard news of the preparations of the Spanish Armada. In 1587 Drake entered the harbor of Cadiz with 26 ships and destroyed 30 of the ships the Spanish assembled.

When the Spanish Armada sailed in 1588, Drake was appointed vice admiral of the English fleet at Plymouth. He began a chase up the Channel and slowly captured several ships. In 1589 it was decided to destroy the remnants of the Armada in Spain.

Also in 1589, Drake was in joint command of an attempted invasion of Portugal but failed to capture Lisbon. Queen Elizabeth was so displeased with this failure that Drake was not employed again for five years. During this time he became the mayor of Plymouth.

Drake’s last expedition, in 1595, undertaken jointly with Hawkins, was directed against the West Indies. The Spanish settlements were so well prepared that nothing was achieved. Hawkins died of dysentery on the attempt on Puerto Rico. Shortly after Hawkins death, Drake died of yellow fever on January 28, 1596 off Puerto Bello, and was buried at sea.


Bard, Roberta. The World’s Great Explorers: Francis Drake. Childrens Press; Chicago. 1992. Pg. 32-57,74-112.

Foster, John. A World Explorer: Sir Francis Drake. Garrad Publishing Company; Illinois. 1967. Pg. 64-95.

Global Travel Club, Central American Travel Specialists. Sir Francis Drake.

Sir Francis Drake.
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