Sir Francis Drake

Francis Drake was born in 1540 to a farming family in Plymouth, England. His first sailing experience was as a young man aboard merchant and later slave ships as a navigator. In late 1567, he traveled with his cousin John Hawkins on a slave trip to the Spanish Main, which was attacked before returning by the Spanish Treasure Fleet galleons at San Juan de Ulua. Drake and Hawkins escaped with their vessels but lost the Queen's flagship Jesus of Lubeck, as well as the proceeds. What turned out to be Hawkins' last major expedition was only the first for Drake, who in the next decade became a one-man wrecking crew to Spanish interests in the New World.

In a series of privateering raids, Drake was commissioned in 1570 by the Queen to sail to America with two ships and some 70 men furnished by his cousin Hawkins. He had little success at first in his concentrated efforts against Spanish colonies and shipping, but persistence paid off in his second attempt to capture the annual mule train carrying Spanish gold and silver across the isthmus of Panama.

Although he brought back the equivalent of millions, the Queen could not openly sanction the work of the one she called, 'my pirate' after a peace treaty was signed with Spain. The man the Spanish would call, 'The Dragon' decided to lay low until the climate was more favorable.

In 1577, Drake was sent with five ships and the Queen's blessing to sail down the African coast before heading to South America. A storm at Cape Horn convinced those whose ships did not sink to return home, leaving explorer Francis Drake to himself in the Golden Hinde. He went up the left coast of South America, sacked Valparaiso, and kept bearing north.

In March 1579, Francis Drake captured with one shot one of the largest hauls of all time; the Cacafuego galleon yielded enough gold, silver, and jewels to put England's economy in the black. It took four days just to transfer it to the Golden Hinde's hold. Drake sailed to the coast of California, did some surfing, and then headed west to arrive in England by September 1580, the first to circumnavigate the globe. The Queen knighted him in 1581.

An expedition five years later led to the capture of Santo Domingo, Cartagena, and Saint Augustine, but produced little in terms of wealth. Sir Francis Drake also played a major role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. His last expedition was in 1595 when he led a force of 27 ships in a failed attempt to capture Panama.

Exploits at Panama:

Sir Francis Drake initially arrived in Panama during his 1572-73 expedition. He first was looking for a safe port to stage raids on Panama. Drake found such a port on Golfo De Darien he called Port Pheasant. It was roughly in the area of the present day Rio Aligandi. His Flagship DRAGOON carried four pinnaces aboard to use for the raids.

Drake had to dissassemble the masts on the Dragoon and remove all of the balast in order to get her out of sight. From here he went shorward to find the CIMAROONS, which were negros from Africa who had escaped and formed several small bands that relentlessly attacked the Spaniards. Once found he brought his charts and his leaders to find where would be the most promising target for treasure.

Everything went according to plan until the pirates reached the treasure vault and found a sturdy iron lock on the doors. They tried and tried to open the lock silently but with no avail. Finally they tried to use an iron bar to pry the lock open. They made a very loud noise. The sleeping town started to wake up and the pirates were going to have to fight their way out of town. As they made their escape Drake was shot in the leg. They pirates escaped without any thing else going wrong. Drake recovered for several weeks at Port Pheasant. While he recovered he gave thought as to what to try next. No one dad ever attacked the mule train before. Drake decided to attack the mule train.

After his leg healed the pirates entered the jungle in search of the mule train. The mule train was never found, but what was found was a sleeping Spaniard with 4000 silver bars. The pirates took the sliver and left the Spaniard sleeping.

El Draque returned to Panama in early 1595 with 1000 men and the intent of sacking Nombre De Dios. Drake settled back into Port Pheasant. His first plan was to find the Cimaroons and get fresh information. The Cimaroons had more or less been wiped out by the Spaniards. Those that he did find said the Nombre De Dios had been almost abandoned in favor of a new fortress twenty miles west in Portobelo. He prepared for the raid anyway. When the pirates entered Nombre De Dios they found the town just as the Cimaroons had described. Drake had his men move everything from Port Pheasant and made Nombre De Dios his new base.

His first order while setting up was to send out scouts to find where this new fort was, finding the new route of the mule trains and finding if it was possible for and attack on Panama Viejo. It was decided to attack Panama Viejo. Drake sent 700 men under the leadership of John Baskerville and another party of 150 up the Rio Chagres to Las Cruces. The mission of the second party would be to assist the first party after they had sacked Panama Viejo.

The first party fought through the jungle for days until they found a heavily fortified fortress blocking thier path. They had no choice except to abandon this plan and regroup back at Nombre De Dios. After both parties had returned Drake decided that they would head for more promising waters off the Central American coast. Their journey was delayed by a storm and the fleet anchored of a small island near Portobelo. Drake fell ill and died at the age of 56 on August 28, 1595. His body was cast into the sea in a lead coffin off Drakes Island near Portobelo.

His coffin was discovered by some present day divers who notified the British Government. The Government said not to desecrate the grave of a British Knight. It is not known what happened to the coffin after this.