Who is Sir Francis Drake?

Whilst these expeditions were in progress, Francis Drake, another Devonshire man, was circumnavigating the globe; a feat performed by the Portuguese navigator, Magellan, half a century before. Drake had suffered much in person and property from the Spaniards, and had vowed vengeance and retribution. His friends fitted out five vessels for him to go on a voyage of discovery and plunder. Promising the queen gold and conquest, he sailed under her sanction at the middle of November, 1577, from the harbor of Plymouth, making the Pelican, of a hundred tons burthen--the largest vessel in his squadron--his flag-ship. After touching at Brazil, and other places down the east coast of South America, he passed through the Straits of Magellan at the southern extremity of the continent, early in September, 1578. Then he ran up the western coast, plundering the Spanish settlements in Chili and Peru, capturing a royal Spanish galleon heavily loaded with treasure, and taking possession of California in the name of his sovereign. Burdened with gold and silver, and with his revenge fully satisfied, Drake determined to return home. Fearing to meet a superior Spanish force in the ocean, he resolved to seek a passage around the northern shores of America. Repelled by severe cold, he sailed across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, doubled the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at Plymouth late in September, 1579, having discovered points on the western coasts of our country as far north as Washington Territory, above the Columbia River. The queen partook of a banquet given by Drake on board the Pelican in Plymouth harbor, that was spread under a rich canopy of silk and tapestry that covered the clean deck, on which lay beautiful Turkish mats. The queen was attended by several ladies and gentlemen of her court. The food was, served on silver dishes, and the wine in golden goblets. All the fruit of plunder. When the banquet was ended, the queen conferred upon Drake the honor of knighthood. He was then between thirty and forty years of age. Richly dressed in the uniform of his rank, he knelt before his sovereign, at her command, in the presence of the goodly company, and with his own sword she smote him gently over the shoulders, three times, and then bade him stand, a knight of her realm.

After that the exploits of Drake on the sea were marvellous. They were against the Spaniards, whom he hated intensely. Within the space of a single year he captured and plundered Carthagena in South America, and several other towns in that region; burned Forts Antonio and St. Augustine, ravaged places in the West Indies, and running up the coasts of Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, he visited Roanoke Island, and bore away from it, to England, a famishing colony which Raleigh had planted there. On another occasion he "singed the beard of the King of Spain," as he said, by burning one hundred Spanish vessels in the harbor of Cadiz. He was a terror to the Spaniards everywhere; and long after his death, in 1595, Spanish nurses used the name of Drake as a bugaboo to frighten children, representing him as a devouring dragon. Although he is honored for his enterprise and the glory he won for England, and is regarded as the founder of the Royal Navy, Sir Francis Drake was only a daring pirate on a large and legalized scale. Camden says: "Nothing troubled him more than that some of the chief men at court refused to accept the gold which he offered them as gotten by piracy."

In 1594, the Spanish king threatened England, with a great show of power. Drake entered the service of his sovereign, and with Admiral Hawkins he sailed for America in 1595, with twenty-six vessels. A divided command worked mischievously. Hawkins died at Puerto Rico, partly from the effects of a wound, and partly from chagrin because of reverses. Drake soon afterwards achieved great triumphs. He destroyed several Spanish towns; but a fatal fever seized him late in the year. It was aggravated by mental agitation caused by a defeat of his forces, and he died in December. The gallant sailor was honored with a sailor's funeral. He was buried at sea in sight of Puerto Bello.

Return to Our Country, Vol. I