The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Drake, Francis

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DRAKE, Sir Francis, English navigator: b. probably in Tavistock, Devonshire, England, about 1540; d. off Porto Bello 28 Jan. 1596. When very young, he served as an apprentice to a sea captain and later became a coast trader. He joined Sir John Hawkins in his last expedition againat the Spaniards (1567), losing nearly all he possessed in that unfortunate enterprise. Having gathered a number of adventurers round him he contrived to fit out a vessel in which he made two successful cruises to the West Indies in 1570 and 1571. In 1572 with two small ships he again sailed for the Spanish main, captured the cities of Nombre de Dios and Vera Cruz, burned Porto Bello, captured and destroyed many Spanish ships, crossed the isthmus to the highest point of the dividing ridge, where, climbing a tree from whose tops the guides told him both seas could be seen, he gazed upon the vast waters of the South Seas, and with that touch of romantic enthusiasm that redeemed all his piracies, “besought Almighty God of His goodness to give him life and leave to sail once in an English ship in that sea.” Drake arrived in Plymouth on Sunday, 9 Aug. 1573, during sermon-time, when the news of his return “did so speedily pass over all the church, and surpass their minds with desire and delight to see him, that very few or none remained with the preacher, all hastening to see the evidence of God's love and blessing toward our gracious queen and country.”

In 1577 he fitted out a small squadron, consisting of his own ship the Pelican, the Elizabeth and three smaller vessels, and with these sailed from Plymouth on 13 December. On 20 August the squadron, now reduced to three ships, entered the Strait of Magellan, and here Drake changed his own ship's name from the Pelican to the Golden Hind. In 16 days they made the passage, then followed violent tempests for 52 days, during which the Marigold foundered with all hands and the Elizabeth parted with the admiral and resolved to return home. At Valparaiso Drake provisioned his ship from the Spanish storehouses, reached Callao on 15 Feb. 1579, found a rich prize off Cape Francisco (1 March) and another on 4 April. Drake now determined to return home by crossing the Pacific. He touched land at a creek on the northern side of the Golden Gate, then for 68 days together had no sight of land until he made the Pelew Islands. After refreshing three weeks at Ternate, and a thorough refit on the southwest coast of Java, he held for the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived in England 26 Sept. 1580. The Queen paid a visit to his ship at Deptford, and knighted him on its deck.

In the autumn of 1585 Drake sailed with a fleet of 25 ships against the Spanish Indies, harrying Hispaniola, Cartagena, and the coast of Florida, and brought home the 190 dispirited Virginian colonists, with tobacco and potatoes. Early in 1587 he set sail with a strong squadron to cripple the king of Spain in his own seas, and retard his preparations for invasion — a sport which he called “singeing the king of Spain's beard.” Sailing right into the harbor of Cadiz, he sank or burned as many as 33 ships, and made his way out unscathed. The seeming recklessness of his tactics was no devil-may-care bravado, but due to consummate seamanship no less than promptitude and courage. Drake next sailed to the Azores, capturing a rich homeward-bound Portuguese carack worth £100,000. In the face of the impending struggle for which Philip II had long been preparing, his persistent plan was to follow up the policy of harassing the enemy on his own coasts — “to seek God's enemies and her majesty's where they may be found.”

Drake's division in the threefold arrangement of the English fleet was at first stationed off Ushant, until all the ships were blown together to Plymouth by the same storm that carried the Spaniards across the Bay of Biscay. Here, on the Hoe, the admirals and captains were playing the famous game of bowls, when the news was brought that the enemy was off the Lizard. Howard was eager to put to sea at once, but Drake would first finish the game, saying “there's plenty of time to win this game, and to thrash the Spaniards too.” The story, whether true or no, is in perfect keeping with the character of the man. Early next morning the battle began, and raged along the Channel throughout the week. Drake's consummate seamanship and audacious courage covered him with fresh glory, and inspired new terror in the Spaniards. On 29 July occurred the final action so disastrous to the Spaniards, after which they came to their fatal determination to return to Spain round the Orkneys. Two days later Drake wrote to Walsingham, “There was never anything pleased me better than the seeing the enemy flying with a southerly wind to the northward. God grant you have a good eye to the Duke of Parma, for with the grace of God, if we live, I doubt it not, but ere it be long so to handle the matter with the Duke of Sidonia, as he shall wish himself at Saint Mary Port among his orange trees.” It was not long before want of ammunition compelled Drake and Howard to fall back from the chase, but the storms of the northern seas took up their work and swept the Spaniards to destruction. Next spring a great expedition under him and Sir John Norreys sailed for the coasts of Spain and Portugal, but had little success beyond the damage inflicted upon the Spanish shipping, while sickness and actual hunger carried off thousands on board the crowded and ill-victualed ships. In August 159S, he sailed from Plymouth on his last expedition to the West Indies. Ill-fortune followed the fleet from the beginning; Hawkins, the second in command, died off Porto Rico in November, and Drake himself fell ill and died off Porto Bello. Consult the ‘Life’ by Barrow (1843); Froude, ‘English Seamen of the 16th Century’ (1895); Julian Corbett, short ‘Life’ (1890); and his ‘Drake and the Rise of the Tudor Navy.’