Builders of Our Country: Book I  by Gertrude van Duyn Southworth

Sir Francis Drake

Drake and Sir John Hawkins

FOR the first half of the sixteenth century Spain practically ruled the seas. Her ships came and went across the Atlantic, and her trade was the greatest of any European nation's.

About the middle of this same century Elizabeth became queen of England; and during her reign, England, too, grew to be a great maritime power. Spain soon came to look upon England as a rival, and these two nations kept close watch of each other's every move.

In 1562 three English vessels sailed down the western coast of Africa. They were headed for Guinea, to carry out what seemed to be a fine scheme on the part of their commander, John Hawkins.

Hawkins's plan was to go to Guinea, load his ship with negroes, carry them to the West Indies, and sell them as slaves. And this is just what he did. Three hundred black men were crowded into his three ships and taken to the island of Haiti. Here these negroes and certain English goods that Hawkins had brought along were traded for sugar, hides, pearls, and spices. And so large was Hawkins's profit that, by the time his last slave was sold, he was forced to charter two extra vessels to carry away all his wealth.

At that time it was not considered wrong to deal in slaves, and John Hawkins's successful trip brought him great honor in England. But Philip II, the Spanish king, did not want, and would not have, Englishmen trading with the West Indies. The strictest orders were at once sent to the islands that no goods whatever were to be bought from the English.

Nothing daunted, however, John Hawkins soon repeated his voyage; and this time his profits were even greater than on the first trip. If the authorities of any port refused to trade with him, he merely landed one hundred men in armor and frightened the Spaniards into doing as he wished. His fame was greater than ever in England, and on his return Queen Elizabeth knighted him.

Now Sir John Hawkins had a young cousin in England named Francis Drake. As a boy Drake had been apprenticed to the owner of a channel coaster. It was hard service, and the boy had a bad time. Still he did his duty so well and seemed so at home on the sea that he completely won the old skipper's heart. When the old man died, he left his ship to Drake.

It was very natural, however, that, hearing of John Hawkins's wonderful success, young Drake should not be content with a mere channel coaster. So he sold his vessel; and when his famous cousin started on a third voyage, Francis Drake commanded one of his ships. This was in 1567, the year Drake was twenty-two years old.

First of all they went to Africa where they loaded their ships with negroes, and then the expedition sailed as before for the West Indies. And, as before, a market for the slaves was found, though, because of King Philip's orders, much of the trading had to be done secretly by night.

Finally the time to think of starting for home arrived. But at least two of the ships had stood the voyage so badly that they had to be repaired before they could be trusted on the open sea. For this purpose the little fleet boldly entered the Spanish port of San Juan de Ulua.

Here, riding peacefully at anchor, they were surprised by the approach of a Spanish fleet. The English ships certainly had the advantage, as they lay snugly in the port, and the Spanish vessels could not enter without the risk of being sunk by the English guns.

The commanders of the two fleets held a conference, and Hawkins agreed to let the Spanish ships enter the port on condition that the English should be allowed to repair their vessels before putting out to sea. All this was readily agreed to, and the Spaniards sailed into the port.

You would think that by this time Hawkins would have known the crafty Spanish nature too well to take such a risk. Before many days had passed, the Spaniards had turned on the English, and a fierce fight had taken place. When it was over only two ships of Hawkins's fleet were left. And these two—one under the command of Hawkins, and the other in charge of young Francis Drake—had a weary time getting back to England.

Drake the Voyager and Fighter—Magellan

FRANCIS DRAKE'S experience at San Juan de Ulua would have been quite enough to discourage the average man. He had lost money and friends by that piece of Spanish treachery, and he and his men had endured many trials on the voyage home.

But far from being disheartened, Drake was soon ready to sail again for the Spanish ports in America. He had two objects in mind when he started from England: on his own account, he meant to seize treasures enough from the Spaniards to repay himself for his losses at their hands; and he hoped to aid his Queen at home by crippling her rival's American colonies.

Judging by the results, Drake must have felt well satisfied. He made three such voyages on which he raided Spanish ships, took Spanish prisoners, and made himself a veritable terror to the Spanish settlements in the West Indies and along the Gulf of Mexico.

On his third voyage, Drake and his men landed on the Isthmus of Panama. Afoot they started inland to waylay a cargo of treasures which they knew was being brought across the Isthmus. In some way the Spaniards were warned and eluded Drake. Yet great results were to come from his effort to meet them.

Working their way through the dark, dense forests where no sunlight ever came, Drake and his men finally reached a mountain peak. And climbing a great tree Drake looked out over the forests and saw, stretching north, south, and west, the shining blue waves of the Pacific Ocean. He seems to have been as deeply stirred by the sight as Balboa was sixty years before.

From his seat high up in the tree, Drake thanked God that he had been permitted to be the first Englishman to see this mighty ocean, and prayed that he might "sail once in an English ship on that sea."

This was on February 11, 1573. On the 9th of August, Drake and his men reached the shores of Plymouth, England.

Then for a while Drake stayed at home. But he could not forget his wish to take an English ship into the Pacific Ocean. Moreover, he wanted some of the wealth of Peru and Mexico; and he did not believe it wrong to take from the Spaniards what they had seized from the natives.

Years before, in fact during the very time Cortez was busy conquering Mexico, an adventurous navigator, a Portugese sailing under the Spanish flag, had made a wonderful voyage. This bold sailor was Ferdinand Magellan. Down the eastern coast of South America he had slowly made his way until he had reached the straits which now bear his name. Then, passing through the straits, he had entered the Pacific, had crossed that great ocean, and had discovered the Philippine Islands. Here Magellan was killed by the natives; but his sailors, going on, had reached Spain in 1522, having sailed entirely around the globe.

Francis Drake now planned to reach Peru by following Magellan's course and sailing around South America. In November, 1577, he embarked from Plymouth with five ships and one hundred and sixty-four men. For fifty-four days they saw no land. Then the shores of Brazil came in sight. At last the Straits of Magellan were reached and Drake passed through them. His flagship, the Golden Hind,  was the only one of his fleet that entered the Pacific. The other ships either had turned back or had come to grief on the rocks.

To attack the Spanish ports of Peru with one ship certainly seemed foolhardy. But Drake perhaps realized that these ports had no real defense. You see the Spaniards themselves carried their cargoes across the Isthmus of Panama, because a southern route was considered very dangerous and very long. And without doubt it never entered a Spanish mind that any foe would come that way, or that defense was needed. So, sailing bravely up the coast of Chili, Francis Drake, in his single ship advanced on Peru.

It seemed almost as if the Spanish gold, silver, and jewels must have been just waiting to be seized. Into port after port the Golden Hind  dashed and came out again richer by enormous sums. Ship after ship fell an easy prey to her English captain. Surprise was on every hand, resistance nowhere.

At last, with plunder valued at millions of dollars, Drake was satisfied. Now he turned his attention to searching for some new passage by water from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Carefully examining the shores, he sailed north along the coast of California as far as the bay of San Francisco.

Here he gave up his search and resolved to go home by way of the Pacific. According to custom, however, before starting he took possession for Queen Elizabeth of the land he had been exploring, and called it New Albion.

After crossing the Pacific Ocean Drake rounded the Cape of Good Hope and sailed once more into the Plymouth port, in September, 1580.

Queen Elizabeth hesitated at first about recognizing this bold subject who had plundered so many Spanish settlements. She was afraid of angering still further the Spanish king. But she decided in Drake's favor, and consented to pay him a visit on the Golden Hind.  As was only fitting, Drake had a splendid banquet served in her honor. Then Elizabeth asked Drake to kneel before her, and in the presence of his many guests she knighted the brave mariner, who had first carried the English flag around the world.

Elizabeth also gave orders that the Golden Hind  should be preserved, but after a hundred years it fell to pieces. Out of the timbers a chair was made, which may still be seen at Oxford. So ended Sir Francis Drake's ship.

Drake had already risked and accomplished more than most men do in a lifetime, but his services were still to be demanded in other ways. At one time he was appointed Mayor of Plymouth, and later he served on a royal commission to inquire into the state of the Navy. Associated with him on this commission was Sir Walter Raleigh, of whom you shall hear more. And to the friendship of this knight Drake came to owe much.

In 1585 war was declared between England and Spain. Once more Drake crossed the Atlantic and wrought dreadful havoc among the Spanish colonies in America; and, when he got back to England, a still more dangerous undertaking was asked of him.

Philip II of Spain was collecting a great battle fleet, or armada, for the invasion of England. Queen Elizabeth sent Drake with thirty ships to destroy the enemy's storehouses and powder magazines. He entered the harbor of Cadiz early one morning and before many hours had burned upward of ten thousand tons of shipping, a feat which he afterwards called "singeing the beard of the King of Spain." It took Philip a whole year to repair the damages that Drake had done, and this gave England time to prepare for war.

When the Spanish Armada came in 1588 to invade England, Drake was appointed vice admiral under Lord Howard and served under him in the fighting that resulted in the destruction of the Armada.

Several years later, Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Hawkins were again trying to crush the power of Spain in America. But the old success was not with them. They were repulsed by the Spaniards, sickness broke out, and Sir John Hawkins died off the coast of Porto Rico.

This death, the sickness of his men, and the apparent failure of his voyage were all keenly felt by Drake. For some time he struggled to succeed in spite of the great odds against him. But at last he, too, fell ill and in a few days died. His men buried him at sea, and thus ended the life of one of England's bravest and boldest navigators.