American History Stories—Volume I - Mara L. Pratt

Sir Francis Drake

But of all the gay, brave knights of Queen Elizabeth's court, none was so gay and brave as Sir Francis Drake!

Like Sebastian Cabot, Drake had, as a boy, been as much at home on the water as on land. Indeed, perhaps it would be the whole truth to say this time that the boy was entirely at home on the water, inasmuch as his father had, when Francis was quite a little lad, moved his whole family, twelve children in all—into an old hull of a ship which lay wrecked off the coast of Kent. There they lived year after year—a jolly crew you may be sure—until, one by one, the boys grew up and pushed off for themselves to join some cruising party up and down the coast.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


In all the years since Columbus had discovered America,—for it was now 1577—the Spaniards had been pushing on across the new continent and up and down the coast, until there seemed a fair prospect of their gaining possession of the whole of the new world.

More than this, the Spanish navy, growing stronger and stronger as the years rolled on, had for some time been making things generally disagreeable to the vessels of all other nations, even when out upon mid-ocean.

"Does Spain propose to lay claim to the very waters of the ocean?" said Queen Elizabeth.

"We shall see," answered Sir Francis, gallantly. And he did see. Sailing away from England amid the cheers of his countrymen, loaded down with honors and buoyed up with promises of future glory on his return, Sir Francis Drake set gaily forth to teach the Spaniards a lesson—to explore new coasts and conquer new countries should opportunity present,—but above all to teach the Spaniards a lesson.

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


In 1572, he started for the West Indies, plundering every Spanish vessel he met on the way. He destroyed one whole Spanish town on one of the islands, and even crossed overland with his men the Isthmus of Panama, destroying Spanish shipping on the other side. From the top of a tree, which he climbed while on the Isthmus, he obtained his first view of the Pacific, and resolved, he said, "to sail an English vessel in those seas." And in a very few years he made good his word. Five years later, in 1577, while sailing down the coast of South America, driven blindly on by storm and wind, the Golden Hind, Drake's ship, reached one morning a point of high rocky land, the meeting place of two great oceans—the extreme southern point of South America—Cape Horn.

" 'Tis an ill wind that blows nobody any good," said Sir Francis (or at least, he might have said it) as he looked with surprise upon the strange view before him, "let us sail up this western coast."

At one place where they landed for water, they found a Spaniard asleep, thirteen bars of silver worth four thousand ducats, lying by his side. "We took the silver," said Sir Francis dryly, when he told his story to the Queen, "and left the man."

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


At another place they saw a Spaniard driving eight sheep to Peru. Across the back of each sheep were two bags of silver. Without so much as an "if you please," Sir Francis' men took the silver—for they had come, you know, "to teach the Spaniards a lesson."

Again, entering the harbor at Callao, where seventeen Spanish ships loaded with treasure lay at anchor, the Englishmen took possession of all the treasure and sailed away as gaily as mischievous school-boys.

So they went on up the coast, taking the Spaniards everywhere by surprise.

"Very likely," said this daring young captain, "since the two great oceans meet at the southern extremity of this great new land, they will also meet at the northern extremity. We will sail on northward around that point out into the Atlantic to our English coast."

"A very pretty little trip," thought all the crew; especially as, for the best of reasons, anything would probably be pleasanter than sailing back again through Spanish waters and past Spanish forts.

So on they went up the coast, enjoying everything and looking hopefully for the northern point. But it grew so very cold and the days grew so short and the ice was so threatening, they were forced to turn back and take their chances among the Spaniards, who by this time were pretty sure to have recovered from their surprise and to be on the lookout for the returning vessel.

"But what need of sailing around Cape Horn?" said Drake. "We can sail far out into these Western waters, and, the earth being round, we can sail through the Indian sea, around the Cape of Good Hope, up the European coast."

And this he did, reaching England November 3rd, 1580,—the first Englishman to sail around the world! How the church bells rang out as the ship entered the harbor! how the guns thundered and how the people cheered!

And Queen Elizabeth herself, delighted indeed at his success, conferred the honor of knighthood upon him, gave him the title of Sir Francis, and presented him with a coat of arms—a ship on a globe.

The Golden Hind  she ordered to be lodged in the Deptford dock as a monument to the courage and daring of the brave sailor. For years it stood there; and when its timbers began to decay, a chair was made from it and presented to the University of Oxford. And in the college building it still stands, as grand and as important as ever, ready to tell always its wonderful history.