Sir Francis Drake

Drake's ventures made him the first English millionaire in his lifetime.











Queen Elizabeth I liked Francis Drake a lot. He brought her stolen jewels...













Link to the Teacher Resource Page for Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake was a soldier and an explorer from England who played a role in the history of Florida. Before we get too far along, let's first take a look at Drake's early life:

Sir Francis Drake was born in Crowndale, England, near Tavistock, in approximately 1540.  No one is positive of the exact date. Here his grandparents held a lease on about 180 acres of farmland and made what was probably a reasonably secure living as farmers.  His father, Edmund, was possibly a sailor who became a yeoman farmer.  His mother was of the Mylwaye family but her first name is unknown.  We do know they had 12 sons of which Francis was the eldest.  When Francis Drake was still a young boy the family left Tavistock and moved to Kent, where they lived in the hulk of an old ship.  Edmund made a bare living as a preacher to the sailors of the navy. Francis Drake's childhood doesn't sound all that wonderful. Drake wasn't the most learned of all people. Historians like to point out that Drake spelled his name Drak.

Francis Drake (pictured at left) began his career when he went to sea sometime in the 1550's as a young boy apprenticed to the master of a small coastal freighter.  True to character, Drake did well and the old captain left the little ship to Drake.  When he was 20 he sailed with his cousin, Sir John Hawkins, to Guinea on the west coast of Africa to buy slaves. 

Contrary to orders from the British Crown, he and his cousin traded with the Spanish. He rose to command a ship under Hawkins and was with him when Spaniards attacked their fleet off the port of Veracruz in Mexico.  The Spanish had double-crossed them!  All but two of the English ships were destroyed in this battle, and Drake lost nearly everything he possessed.  Drake never forgave the Spanish for their treachery on this occasion or for their cruel treatment of their English prisoners.  He devoted the rest of his life to a relentless war against Spain. 

Drake gathered together his own band of adventurers and made three profitable voyages to the New World, plundering Spanish settlements and destroying Spanish ships. The last line was a nice way of saying that Drake was a full-blown pirate! The Spanish wanted him dead.

During his lifetime he achieved many amazing feats of valor.  Drake was the first Englishman to sail around the world in 1577-1580 and became Vice-Admiral of the English Fleet fighting the Spanish Armada.  This great voyage around the world had the secret financial support of Queen Elizabeth I and the war party in her council.  They hoped it would end the Spanish monopoly of the profitable trade in the Pacific. 

Drake set sail with five ships.  He intended to pass through the Strait of Magellan, near the southern tip of South America, and then explore the waters he had seen from the Isthmus of Panama.  When the straits were passed, Drake's ship, the Golden Hinde, pushed on alone, the other vessels having either turned back or been lost.  As he went up the coast he plundered Spanish settlements in Chile and Peru and captured treasure ships bound for Panama.  Drake then sailed northward and claimed the Californian coast in the name of his queen.  To avoid meeting the angered Spaniards by returning the way he came, he determined to return home by sailing around the world, as Ferdinand Magellan had done.  He crossed the Pacific and Indian oceans and reached the Atlantic by sailing around the southern tip of Africa.  He reached England in November 1580, nearly three years after he set out.  He was warmly acclaimed.  Elizabeth shared the treasure he brought on his ship, which was "literally ballasted with silver".  She honored him by dining on board his ship and by raising him to knighthood, though she knew this would infuriate the Spaniards.

Drake's ship, the Golden Hinde.

 in 1585, Drake was sent from England to attack Spanish settlements. He was selected for this mission because of his successful raid of Panama. He brought back a major cache of gold to England to present to Queen Elizabeth I. Because of Drake's excellent sailing abilities and soldier training, England was sure he would be successful in gaining more land for British control.

Drake sailed to America with 40 ships and more than 2,000 soldiers. He attacked the Spanish ports of the Dominican Republic and Cartageņa, Columbia. Next, he sailed north in search of more Spanish settlements to conquer.

In 1586, as he sailed up the Florida east coast, he spied a St. Augustine watchtower. St. Augustine was an important landmark for Spanish settlers and free African Americans. Most of the buildings were made of wood and clay, which made them vulnerable to attacks and raids. Drake attacked St. Augustine. He and his soldiers burned crops and caused major damage to the fort and surrounding area.

He did not burn a neighboring Timucuan village because he thought that the native Floridians might later help the British settle the fort. Many of the Spanish settlers fled to the woods and were able to escape from the soldiers. After Drake and his crew sailed away, the people of St. Augustine returned to the ruins and immediately began to rebuild the damaged parts of the fort. Fort Castillo de San Marcos still stands today as a symbol of perseverance.

Sir Francis Drake returned to England. He got married and lived on a large estate outside of London. In 1596, he was aboard one of his ships, the Defiance. A tropical disease that he probably picked up during his last trip to America struck him. He died and was buried at sea. It was said that he got out of his deathbed early the morning of his death and attempted to put on his suit of armor. He wanted to die as a soldier.