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The Gentleman Pirate

Author: Krzysztof Wilczynski

Sir Francis Drake was born around 1540 as the son of a puritan farmer and preacher. He taught himself the art of sailing as the navigator of a small merchant sail vessel. Later in the beginning of his career, 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 vessels, and barely left with their lives. From that time on Drake would have a deep hatred for Catholic Spaniards. In the years 1570 and 1571 Drake familiarized himself with the Caribbean territory, 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 his associates. Queen Elizabeth also 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 (today’s 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, with certain setbacks, the enterprise 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.

On December 13th 1577, Drake began his expedition. Drake set sail with 3 ships, accompanied by two supply ships (Which he later planned to abandon). Drake sailed with the queen’s courtesan and his friend Thomas Doughty. After harsh weather, and tough sailing, Thomas Doughty, a mutineer, convinced Drake’s exhausted crew to revolt against their captain. 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 rain, and storms. His three-mast ship was devastated by the journey. No Spaniards were able to identify the Golden Hind as a pirate ship (make link to ship page), 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 named "Nuestra Senora de la Conception", popularly named by the Spanish sailors "Cacafuego" ("Fireball"). The Spanish galleon sailed smoothly to the coast of Panama unaware of the impending danger.

On the 3rd of March 1579 with the first sign of the "Cacafuego" on the horizon, Drake commanded all sails to be prepared. Around 6:00 p.m., the Golden Hind met the Spanish Galleon with cannon fire, in short the Galleon was forced to surrender. 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 on silver, 13 cases of silver coins, and cases full of pearls and precious stones. On the 26th of September 1580, the Golden Hind burdened with the holds heavy and precious cargo, sailed to the port of Plymouth after three years of adventures around the world.

Upon Drake’s return in 1580, Queen Elizabeth knighted him on the deck of the "Golden Hind", and made him the mayor of Plymouth. Queen Elizabeth had a good deal to be grateful for with Drake’s journey, as for each pound used to finance it, she earned 47.

Although Drake established fame for his bravery and courage, he wasn’t well liked by his contemporaries. Drake 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 oversea Spanish Empire.

On the 28th of January 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 vessels, and while the cannon’s did solute him, the water of the Caribbean Sea had engulfed him.


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