Sir Francis Drake
Seaman of England
By Rebecca O
Grade 4, Chabot School, Oakland, CA
November 23, 1998
Sir Francis Drake was famous for sailing around the world, for robbing and burning Spanish ships and towns, and for defeating the Spanish Armada. Heís especially well-known in Marin County, where many places are named for him.
Francis Drake was born about 1541 in Devon, England. He was the oldest of twelve brothers. His father was named Edmund Drake. In 1549, the family fled to Kent, England, to escape religious fighting. They lived in an abandoned ship and Edmund Drake got a job as a reader of prayers. Francis Drake did not go to school and had no formal education.
When Francis was twelve, he was apprenticed to a captain on a worn out ship. His small ship guided larger ships into the English Channel. The ship also carried cargo along the English coast. Drake became so good at guiding ships that when his master died, he left his ship to Francis in his will. Now, at the age of twenty, Drake had earned his own ship.
In 1562, Drakeís cousin John Hawkins was doing illegal slave-trading in South America and the West Indies. Francis wanted to have the same adventures, so he sold his ship and went to join his cousin in Plymouth. In 1566, they crossed the Atlantic to Central America carrying slaves to sell to the Spanish towns, but the Spanish refused to buy them. In 1567, they tried again. Hawkins made Drake the captain of a ship called the Judith. Drake sailed ahead and made an agreement for peace with Don Martin, the Viceroy of Mexico. But the next morning, Don Martin broke his word and attacked the English. They killed many English sailors and sank two ships out of the four that Hawkins and Drake had. From then on, Drake hated the Spanish and promised to have revenge.
Over the next ten years, Drake made several trips to the Caribbean, where he attacked many Spanish ships and towns. He was following secret orders from the Queen, who had given him a commission as a privateer. There he saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time. He vowed to sail it one day.
When he returned to England, the Queen could not thank him publicly, because she had just made a truce with the King of Spain. So he went into hiding for two years and later fought in Ireland.
In 1577, Drake set out on another voyage with four ships. He tricked everyone by saying he was going to the Nile, but actually he had secret orders to go the Pacific Ocean. He was supposed to go through the Straits of Magellan and attack the Spanish ships and towns on the West Coast of South America. He was also supposed to find people who werenít under the control of Spain and make trade agreements with them. In addition to all this, he had to see if there was a continent in the South Pacific. One last thing he had to do, was look for the western end of the Northwest Passage through North America. The idea to do all these things came from Queen Elizabeth and her government, because they wanted to challenge Spain for control of the Pacific Ocean. The government secretly gave Drake money to buy supplies and hire men.
While still in the Eastern Atlantic, they captured a Portuguese merchant ship. On the ship was a pilot who stayed with Drake for fifteen months, telling him how to find his way. This was lucky, because the pilot knew the way along the coast of South America. Now they had five ships in the fleet.
With the pilotís help they crossed the Atlantic to Brazil. Then they sailed south along the coast. They had problems with storms that separated the ships from each other. Some of the sailors were grumbling that the voyage was unlucky and they wanted to go home. Drakeís friend Sir Thomas Doughty thought that he should be in charge, because he was a gentleman and Drake was not. He told Drake that, so Drake arrested him and put him on trial. The jury found him guilty and Drake selected a headsman to cut off his head. This all happened at a place called St. Julian.
Before they left St. Julian, they decided that two of the ships were in such bad shape they might not make it through the Straits of Magellan. They took off everything they wanted to keep and sank the two ships. Now they had three ships left: the Pelican, which was Drakeís ship, the Elizabeth, and the Marigold. Drake renamed the Pelican the Golden Hind.
They sailed through the Strait of Magellan in just sixteen days, which was a record for over a century. After they left the Straits, there were terrible storms that wrecked and sank the Marigold. The Elizabeth was damaged so badly that she had to turn around and go back to England. The Golden Hind sailed on alone.
There in the Pacific, Drake captured the Cacafuego, a Spanish treasure ship. From the Cacafuego, he robbed twenty-six tons of silver, eighty pounds of gold, thirteen trunks of silver coins, and many chests of jewels. The Spanish spread news of an English pirate (Drake) whom they called el Draque, meaning "the dragon." The Dragon robbed many other ships and burned several towns along the Pacific coast of South America.
Then he went north. He was still looking for the western end of the Northwest Passage. He sailed north for a long time, until he gave up looking.
He was ready to go home, but was afraid the Spanish would catch him if he went back the way he came. So he sailed to the West Coast of North America. He landed on the coast and claimed the land for England. He called it Nova Albion, which is Latin for New England. He repaired his ship and made friends with the Indians. No one knows exactly where Nova Albion was. Some people say it was near San Francisco, at a place called Point Reyes. The place where he might have landed is called Drakeís Bay. But other people think it was farther north, maybe even as far as Oregon.
After his ship was repaired, he sailed west across the Pacific Ocean. After sixty-eight days, they reached the Philippines and got fresh water. Then they went through the Indonesian islands and stopped to trade for spices. From there, they sailed across the Indian Ocean and went around the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom of Africa. They finally reached England in 1580.
After the three-year trip around the world, there was a big festival. Queen Elizabeth came to visit him on the Golden Hind. The Spanish Ambassador wanted Drake punished for his piracy, and the Queen promised to do something to him. She knighted him. This made the Spanish Ambassador very upset, but all the English were very happy.
Drake was the first Englishman to sail around the world. He discovered that there was no continent in the South Pacific west of South America and that there was no western end to the Northwest Passage unless you went very far north. He showed that Englishmen could sail in the Pacific just like the Spanish. He made the English feel proud and encouraged them to compete with Spain at building towns in the New World. He also made the English feel like they could do anything.
Francis Drake had many qualities of greatness. Once while attacking a town in Central America, he was shot in the leg. But he continued telling his men to fight, and everyone got away safely. No matter what problems there were, he kept going. He also didnít care that he wasnít born a gentleman. He was leading an expedition around the world, and that was enough for him. He was also a great leader. He was able to inspire his men to face great difficulty. When they were about to go into the Straits of Magellan, his men said they couldnít do it. He inspired them to try, and they succeeded.
In 1588, Spain sent a huge fleet of 125 ships to attack England. They called the fleet the
Invincible Armada. Because he had sailed around the world, Drake had been made the Vice-Admiral of the English Navy. When the Armada appeared in the English Channel, Drake was playing a game of bowling and wanted to finish it. When he was done, he went out to fight the huge galleons of the Armada with small, quick English ships. He defeated the Armada because the galleons saw his ships and tried to shoot them by turning around to point their cannons at them. But Drakeís ships were too quick, so once the galleons had turned around, the English ships were somewhere else. After the battle, there were terrible storms. The English ships went to their harbors and were safe while they watched the galleons get ripped apart, wrecked and sunk.
On Drakeís last voyage, he became very sick with dysentery. On January 28, 1596, he died and was buried at sea off the coast of Panama. When they heard, the Spanish celebrated the death of their enemy el Draque, but he was remembered by all English men and women as the best English seaman of the Elizabethan age.
Hook, Jason. Sir Francis Drake. The Bookwright Press, New York. 1988.
Marrin, Albert. The Sea King: Sir Francis Drake and His Times. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, New York. 1995.
Syme, Ronald. Francis Drake: Sailor of the Unknown Seas. William Morrow and Co, New York. 1981.
"Drake, Francis" article in The World Book Encyclopedia. World Book Inc, Chicago. 1992.
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