Story of Sir Francis Drake - Mrs. O. Elton

Fort Diego

After the return to the ship Captain Rance departed. But Drake had a new plan in his head; he meant to attack Cartagena, the capital of the Spanish Main. Sailing into the harbour in the evening, they found that the townsfolk had been warned that Frenchmen and Englishmen were about. Drake took possession of a large ship that was outward bound. But the townsfolk, hearing of it, took the alarm, rang out their bells, fired their cannon, and got all their soldiers out. Next morning Drake took two more ships near the harbour, one of which was bound to Cartagena with a letter of warning against "Captain Drake." Drake sent his Spanish prisoners on shore, and so ended his first attempt upon Cartagena.

He saw that the coasts were aware of his presence. Yet he did not want to go away till he had discovered the Maroons; for his faithful negro, Diego, had told him that they were friendly to him as the enemy of Spain. This search might take time, and must be done in the smaller boats, which were swifter and could explore the rivers. He had not enough of men both to sail the boats and the pinnaces; so he now decided to burn one of the ships and make a store-house of the other. In this way his pinnaces would be properly manned, and he could stay as long as he liked. This was accordingly done. For fifteen days the big ship lay hidden in the Sound of Darien, to make the Spaniards think they had left the coast. Here Drake kept the men busy trimming and cleaning the pinnaces, clearing the ground, and building huts. Diego the negro was a very good builder, and knew the ways of the country well. The men played, too, at bowls and quoits, and shooting with arrows at targets. The smiths had brought forges from England and set them up. Every now and again the pinnaces crept out to sea to plunder passing ships. Much food was put away in different storehouses to serve till they had "made their voyage," as they said, or "made their fortunes," as we should say.

Later, Port Plenty being found an unsafe harbour, they moved to a new place, which they fortified and called Fort Diego. They now prepared to wait five months, because the Maroons had told them that the Spaniards carried no treasure by land during the rainy months. They were not idle during these months, for the ship and fort were left in charge of John Drake, while Captain Drake and John Oxenham went roving in the pinnaces. They had many adventures, being in some peril in their small boats, and always at the mercy of the weather, while at one time they were almost starving. Some of the men got ill with the cold and died, for they had little shelter on board. When they got back to the ships they found all things in good order; but they received the heavy news of the death of John Drake, the Captain's brother, a young man of great promise.

"Our Captain then resolved to keep close and go no more to sea, but supplied his needs, both for his own company and the Maroons, out of his storehouse. Then ten of our company fell down sick of an unknown disease, and most of them died in a few days. Later, we had thirty men sick at one time. Among the rest, Joseph Drake, another of his brothers, died in our Captain's arms.

"We now heard from the Maroons, who ranged the country up and down for us, to learn what they might for us, that the fleet had arrived from Spain in Nombre de Dios. The Captain prepared to make his journey by land to Panama. He gave Elias Hixon the charge of the ship and company and the Spanish prisoners. Our Captain was advised by the Maroons what provisions to prepare for the long and great journey, what kind of weapons, what store of victuals, and what kind of clothes. He was to take as many shoes as possible, because they had to pass so many rivers with stone and gravel. Twenty-eight of our men had died. A few were left to keep the ship, attend the sick, and guard the prisoners.

"We started on Shrove Tuesday, February the third. At his departure our Captain gave this Master strict charge, in any case not to trust any messenger that should come in his name with any tokens, unless he brought his handwriting. This he knew could not be copied by the Maroons or the Spaniards."