Around the World

Bon voyage! On December 13, 1577, Francis Drake set out from Plymouth on a journey that would take him around the earth, making him only the second known person in history to circumnavigate the globe.

Drake’s journey was supposed to begin a good month earlier, and his fleet did in fact set out on November 15. Unfortunately, bad weather forced the ships back to Cornwall, and then to Plymouth for repairs. In December, Drake’s flagship, Pelican, and four other ships were finally able to leave.

The journey, as you might imagine, was not without drama. Drake captured a ship called the Mary off the coast of Africa, but then had to scuttle two of his ships in the Atlantic due to loss of men. He landed in Argentina, where he and his men were greeted by the sight of the bleached skeletons of mutineers Ferdinand Magellan had killed 50 years previously. Here, the Mary was burned after it was discovered she had rotting timbers.

Drake and the crew wintered in San Julian and departed in 1578, rounding the southern tip of South America in summer. Violent storms destroyed one of the three remaining ships, and another was forced to return to England, leaving only the Golden Hind. He sailed along the Pacific coast for a while, harassing and raiding Spanish ports and ships, before visiting Mocha Island, where he was wounded by hostile natives. Near Lima, he captured a Spanish ship laden with gold estimated to be worth about 7 million today. He and his ship crossed the Pacific in 1579, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and reached Sierra Leone by July 22, 1580. The Golden Hind sailed into Plymouth with Drake and his remaining 59 crew members on September 26. The queen’s share of his treasure was worth more than the crown’s income for the entire year, and Drake was hailed as a hero. He was knighted aboard the Golden Hind in 1581, and later that same year he became Mayor of Plymouth and a Member of Parliament. He purchased a manor house, Buckland Abbey, that remained in the Drake family for several generations.

Drake didn’t have long to sit back and enjoy his success. When England and Spain went to war in 1585 he sailed to the New World and sacked Spanish possessions in Colombia and Florida. His actions provoked King Philip to order an invasion of England that would become the ill-fated Spanish Armada. Drake was back in England in time to act as vice admiral in command of the fleet when the Armada attacked in 1588. After defeating the Armada, Drake continued going to sea, despite the fact that he was in his mid-50’s (fairly advanced age, for the time). He suffered several losses and misfortunes in the 1590s, and he died of dysentery in January 1596, off the coast of Panama. He was buried at sea; divers have yet to find his lead coffin.

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