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In Drake's Wake

The Need to Know the Year of Drake's Birth with reference to the Early Hawkins Slaving Voyages

Michael Turner

Frustratingly very little was recorded of Drake's personal life. For example, research has garnered limited answers to even the year of Drake's birth; the year when he sold his ship that plied the River Medway and the location and date of his second marriage. The first two examples are pertinent to this discussion. The sources agree that Drake was born at Crowndale in the parish of Tavistock, Devon: although dates vary from 1538-1543. If we knew when Drake sold his bark, we would have an exact year that he gained employment in the Hawkins firm. An absence of a date of birth also raises questions as to when Drake first sailed to Guinea and the West Indies with second cousin John Hawkins.

Our first record of Drake on such a sailing is on a John Hawkins sponsored voyage under Captain John Lovell in 1566. Kelsey and Sugden write that Drake could have sailed with Hawkins on his first two earlier voyages in 1562 and 1564-65. This view is influenced by writer Edmund Howes; whose book was a continuation of the earlier Annales or General Chronicle of England by John Stow, who died in 1607. Stow must have met Drake in London and may have known when he was born but did not publish the date. There is far less indication that Howes had met Drake. In 1615 Howes wrote that Drake sailed, "to Biscay at eighteen yeeres of age, at twenty yeres of age, he went to Guynea: at 22. yeares of age, made Captaine of the Judith, at Saint John de Vloa, in the Bay of Mexico...He was fifty & fiue yeeres old when he dyed."

If we work retrospectively from the 1568 battle of San Juan de Ulua which was a definite date and a watershed in Drake's life, according to Howes, Drake would have been born as late as 1546. He then would have sailed to Biscay in 1564 and with Lovell, as recorded to Guinea in 1566. However being born in 1546 would not make Drake fifty & fiue yeeres old in 1595. Since Drake was most likely born in 1540, a sailing in 1562 on Hawkins's first slaving voyage is when Drake was twenty-two years old; which does not accord with the Howes chronology and clearly contradicts the stated ages of Drake's forays into oceanic sailing.

Drake's nephew, John Drake, implied that his uncle was not born earlier than 1542. Two of Drake's prisoners on the world voyage, indicated a nativity in the very early 1540s. In Cartagena, Colombia, Drake told Spanish judge, Don Diego Hidalgo Montemayor between 6 and 14 April 1586, that he was 46 years old. Don Diego wrote this detail to the King of Spain on 23 May, 1586. The Drake portrait on the 1582/3 Nicola van Sype world map states that Drake was 42 years old. An earlier date of birth arises from the 1581 Nicholas Hilliard portrait that he painted of the great admiral. Around the edge he wrote that Drake was in his forty-second year. Other portraits give less exact information.

Kelsey is probably correct to state in his well researched appendix that Drake was born before Lady Day - the start of the Elizabethan New Year on 25 March - in 1540. This would equate to February or March using our modern-day Gregorian calendar. Therefore it is quite possible that Drake sailed on one or both of the first Hawkins voyages to the West Indies. This is because Drake would have been apprenticed to the Medway boat owner around the age of ten, about the year 1550. Typically Drake would have served his apprenticeship of seven years. We do not know the year the old skipper bequeathed his bark to Drake. Francis Drake may have consolidated the old skipper's business and then eagerly joined the prosperous Hawkins family in Plymouth. Drake was born early enough and had quickly learned the ways of the sea to have sailed as purser to Biscay as a trusted Hawkins employee by 1558. He then could have sailed to the Canary Islands on the scantly recorded Hawkins voyages from the late 1550s.

The Other Possible Drake Places

These two voyages are based upon the above discussion. These locations are included in case Drake sailed on a Hawkins voyage before 1566. The following lists ensure that every possible Drake location is included. Italicised names are places that I have not visited.

The First Slaving Voyage of John Hawkins

Date Place Comments
1562 October Plymouth Fleet sets sail.
  Adeje, Tenerife, Canary Islands Provisions obtained from Pedro de Pontes.
December River "Caces" = Great Scarcies River, Sierra Leone Captures a Portuguese ship with 200 slaves aboard.
  River "Mitombi" = Little Scarcies River Two more ships captured with 140 or more slaves.
1563 Jan River Sierra Leone / Tagarin 500 slaves captured. Hawkins sails to the West Indies. Drake sent home in a ship laden with cargo from Tenerife and the coast of West Africa. [Kelsey]
  Isabella = Bahía de La Isabela, Dominican Republic Hawkins could not trust the Spaniards who would have resided at El Castillo and does not trade.
  Puerto Plata Some slaves sold.
  Monte Christi Anchors in Bahía Monte Cristí. The remaining slaves are sold.
  "Caycos" Islands Caicos Islands sighted.
late Aug Plymouth Anchors in his home port.

The Second Slaving Voyage of John Hawkins

Date Place Comments 20 Nov
Date Place Comments
1564 18 Oct Plymouth Fleet sets sail.
25-30 Oct El Ferrol, Spain Five day sojourn. Hawkins famously instructs captains how to keep the fleet closer together.
4 Nov Madeira Sighted.
6 Nov Tenerife, Canary Islands Sighted.
7 Nov Palma Sighted.
8-15 Nov Adeje, Tenerife Hawkins converses with his friend Pedro de Ponte and provisions.
  Cape Barbas, Morocco Ten Portuguese caravels shelter here to avoid contact with Hawkins.
25-26 Nov Cape Blanco, Mauritania Kelsey calls this place Angla de Santa Ana. The Hakluyt Narrative names this anchorage within the cape as S. Avis Baye. Fishing and refreshing.
29 Nov - 7 Dec Cape Verde, Senegal Fishing. Joined by a Frenchman. An overnight stay which does not accord with the dates of arrival and departure.
8 Dec "Alcatrarsa Island" = Bijagos Islands, Guinea-Bissau Gannets captured in abundance; from which the Portuguese named the island.
8-9 Dec La Formio, one of the "Sapies Islands" = Bijagos. An unsuccessful pursuit of slaves.
12-21 Dec "Sambula" Island in the Los Islands, Guinea Villages raided for slaves. Dug-out canoes, oars, villages and huts described.
22-25 Dec River "Callousa," = Great Scarcies River, Sierra Leone Two caravels of slaves seized from the Portuguese 20 leagues up-river.
27-30 Dec "Bymba," Some slaves captured in battle in this riverside village on the "Callousa."
1565 1 Jan "River Casserroes" = Little Scarcies River Some smaller ships search the river for slaves.
18 Jan River Sierra Leone and Tagarin Fever claims lives and hastens the sailing for the West Indies. Ships leave Tagarin on the north side of the harbour.
29 Jan Sierra Leone = Freetown All ships quit Sierra Leone on the south side of the harbour for the West Indies.
Saturday, Sunday 9-10 March Dominica Just north of present-day Portsmouth water is collected from a shallow dale.
15 March Testigos Islands, Venezuela Nine islands sighted.
16-20 March Isla de Margarita Entertained by the mayor, provisions. Governor forbids trade.
22 March Cumaná Spanish soldiers unable to trade but point to a water source.
22?-28 March Santa Fé = Rio Manzanares Two leagues from Cumaná, anchors here for water. Indians trade food for trinkets.
29 March Tortuga Island, Florida Ships pass between the mainland and the south side of the "very lowe Island."
1 April ? A friendly exchange with the Caribs who canoed out to Hawkins's pinnace.
3 April Borburata Road, Venezuela Anchors.
6-28 April Borburata Cove Begins protracted negotiations for the eventual sale of slaves.
29 April - 4 May North of Borburata Road Converses with French captain Bon Temps.
6 May Curaçao Water too deep in which to anchor.
7-15 May Off Curaçao in open sea. Ashore, trades for hides, beef, mutton and lambs.
16 May Aruba Sighted.
17-18 May Cape Vela, Colombia Anchors on the west side at night. Departs next morning.
18 May Rancheria Hawkins asks a Spaniard how far away is Rio Hacha.
18 May ? Anchors that night in the open sea.
19 May Rio de la Hacha Anchors in the road since there is no harbour.
21-31 May Rio de la Hacha The treasurer surrenders to Hawkins's armed assault. Water taken at the mouth of the river. Crocodiles seen in the river. Slaves sold.
4-7 June "Hispaniola" = Dominican Republic and Haiti Sights the south shore of the island. Forced west by wind and current.
16-17 June Islas de Pinos, = Isla de la Juventud, Cuba Waters on the largest island.
20-23 June Cape San Antonio Spends three days clearing the cape - being the broad west end of Cuba.
29 June Florida, USA Taking soundings at 270 N. Coast barely seen due to shallow seas.
5 July Tortugas Islands, Florida. Comprise seven tiny coral islands. Sights "lowe Land." Captures turtles. Wind encourages a departure after six hours.
6 July Cuba Lay off the coast in front of a table-like mountain, eight leagues west of Havana.
7-11 July 20 leagues east of Havana Fruitless search for water as the ships sail east along the north coast of Cuba.
12 July Islands off Cape Florida, USA A boat is rowed ashore and water is found. The ships are blown northwards.
13 July ? The watering party is rescued by a pinnace. Fleet anchors every night as not to miss an opportunity to find water.
   28.5° N Hawkins probes all inlets. Unable to find the French settlement contrary to expectations.
15-28 July "river of May" = St John's River Anchors at 30.5o N. "all lowe land." The French fort is found. Provisions and water obtained.
23-24 Aug Newfoundland Banks, Canada Fishing for cod in 130 fathoms.
20 Sept Padstow, Cornwall, England Strangely docks here and not in his home port of Plymouth.

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