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Captain Sir Francis Drake

Sir Francis Drake was born around 1540, the son of a Puritan farmer and preacher.   He taught himself the art of sailing while he was the navigator of a small merchant ship.   Later he served as an officer aboard West African slave ships.

Sailing from the Caribbean Sea to the Gulf of Mexico in 1567 Drake and his cousin John Hawkins were attacked and defeated by a Spanish Armada.   They lost all of their ships, barely left with their lives.   From then on Drake had a deep hatred for Spaniards.   In 1570 and 1571 Drake familiarized himself with the Caribbean waters and made many friends amongst escaped African slaves.   Soon Drake led battles against the Spanish with the help his African friends.

In 1572 Drake was equipped with 2 ships and 73 sailors by his cousin Hawkins and associates.   Queen Elizabeth commissioned Drake as a privateer to sail for America.   In 25 days Drake crossed the Atlantic and found himself in the Caribbean Sea.   After an unsuccessful attack on the Spanish port Nombre de Dios (Nicaragua), Drake started to make new plans on plundering a Spanish caravan transporting gold.   From the beginning, the entire escapade seemed to be another loss for Drake.   However, inspite of many set backs, the voyage brought Drake success and fame.   Bringing his plunder to Queen Elizabeth, he was selected to be the head of an expedition that was to sail around the world.   Drake was flattered with this appointment and made new more extravagant and hazardous plans.

Drake began his expedition on December 13th, 1577.   He set sail with 3 ships, accompanied by two supply ships.   Drake sailed with the Queen's courtesan and his friend Thomas Doughty.   After harsh weather and rough sailing, Thomas Doughty, a mutineer, convinced Drake's exhausted crew to revolt.   Drake's reaction was ruthless.   When Drake reached his destination on the West Coast of South America, Drake had Doughty convicted to be beheaded in a court-martial.   After the incident, Drake changed his ship's name to Golden Hind.   Sailing to Valparaiso, Drake encountered severe storms.   His three-mast ship was devastated by the journey.   No Spaniards were able to identify the Golden Hind as a pirate ship and fell victim to Drakes attacks.   Drake plundered a Spanish war ship and the port of Callo.   Drake's real treasure was the information on the heading of Spanish galleon the Nuestra Senora de la Conception, popularly named by the Spanish sailors Cacafuego.   She was a 120 ton merchant vessel, sailing from Peru to Panama, where her treasure and passengers would cross the Isthmus on her way to Spain.   Although pirates had been raiding the West Indies for decades, Drake was the first to pass from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast of South America.   Since the Spaniards did not expect to encounter marauders, most ships went unarmed.   Drake had been feverishly pursuing the Cacafuego for several days.   On March 1st, she was sighted near Esmeraldas, Ecuador.   It was midday and Drake did not want to attack before dark.   He was afraid that reducing sail would arouse suspicions and trailed wine pots filled with water to slow his speed.   Some nine hours later, Drake caught up to the Cacafuego.   Expecting to meet only Spanish ships, her captain turned toward the stranger.   Drake waited until the Cacafuego came alongside, then sent his boarders swarming to the attack.   The Cocafuego's crew surrendered quickly.   Drake led the captured ship out to sea beyond sight of the coast.   Elated by this marvelous piece of good luck, Drake treated these captives generously.   He dined with the officers and gentlemen.   All prisoners were released with presents appropriate to their rank.   Three days were needed to search the Cacafuego and to transfer her rich cargo.   The ships separated on March 6.   According to an anonymous history of the voyage the English raiders enjoyed a wry comment by a Spanish youth. "Our ship," the Spaniard joked, "shall no more be called the Cacafuego, but the Cacaplata.   It is your ship that shall be called the Cacafuego."   Only Drake knew the amount of his booty and he obeyed Queen Elizabeth's order never to reveal the secret.   Spanish merchants in Seville claimed that the Cacafuego carried 400,000 pesos in illegal cargo in addition to registered treasure worth £360,000. If this estimate was accurate, Drake took some £266,000 in gold and silver.   And he also seized jewels and other valuables concealed in the passengers luggage.

Drake plundered unimaginable wealth. The task of relocating the Galleons hold took Drake's crew four days.   Drake acquired 80 pounds of gold, 20 tons of silver, 13 cases of silver coins, and cases full of pearls and precious stones.   On September 26th, 1580, the Golden Hind, burdened with the holds heavy and it's precious cargo, sailed to the port of Plymouth after three years of adventures around the world.   Upon his return, Queen Elizabeth knighted him on the deck of his ship and made him the mayor of Plymouth.   Queen Elizabeth had a good deal to be grateful for with Drake's journey.   Queen Elizabeth grabbed his booty, and no accounting was ever made.   Before the treasure was taken to London, Drake took out> £10,000 pounds for himself, another £8,000 which he distributed among the crew.   Under the usual English booty rules, the crewmen would have received a third of the entire plunder.   But they had agreed to sail for set wages and thus had to accept whatever Drake gave them.   The remaining loot was stored in the Tower of London.   The Queen and her courtiers furtively removed most of the treasure and all the jewels.   The Tower still held 12 tons of silver and 100 pounds of gold in December 1585 which was only a small part of the original amount.   Drake said his backers received
£47 for each pound invested in his voyage, a profit of 4,700 percent.

Although Drake established fame for his bravery and courage, he wasn't well liked by his contemporaries.   He was, however, liked by Queen Elizabeth and she placed him in command of a fleet of ships with which he inflicted a great deal of damage on the Spanish Empire.

On January 28th, 1596, 16 years after Drake was knighted, he began his last journey against the Spanish strongholds of the West Indies where after successfully accomplishing his objectives Drake passed away.   As a farewell, Drake's crew ignited two captured ships and while the cannons saluted him, the water of the Caribbean Sea engulfed him.




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