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Drake's Great Armada   By: (-1586)

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by Captain Walter Biggs


This text was prepared from a 1910 edition, published by P. F. Collier & Son Company, New York.


Nearly five years elapsed between Drake's return from his Famous Voyage and the despatch of the formidable armament commemorated in the following pages. During the last of these years the march of events had been remarkably rapid. Gilbert, who had been empowered by Elizabeth, in the year of Frobisher's last expedition, to found colonies in America, had sailed for that purpose to Newfoundland (1583), and had perished at sea on his way homeward. Raleigh, who had succeeded to his half brother's enterprises, had despatched his exploring expedition to 'Virginia,' under Amadas and Barlow, in 1584, and had followed it up in the next year (1585) by an actual colony. In April Sir Richard Greenville sailed from Plymouth, and at Raleigh's expense established above a hundred colonists on the island of Roanoak. Drake's Great Armada left Plymouth in September of the same year. It marked a turning point in the relations between the English and Spanish monarchs. Elizabeth, knowing that the suppression of the insurrection in the Netherlands would be followed by an attack upon England, was treating with the insurgents. Philip deemed it prudent to lay an embargo on all her subjects, together with their ships and goods, that might be found in his dominions. Elizabeth at once authorized general reprisals on the ships and goods of Spaniards. A company of adventurers was quickly formed for taking advantage of this permission on a scale commensurate with the national resources. They equipped an armada of twenty five vessels, manned by 2,300 men, and despatched it under the command of Drake to plunder Spanish America. Frobisher was second in command. Two thirds of the booty were to belong to the adventurers; the remaining third was to be divided among the men employed in the expedition.

Drake's armament of 1585 was the greatest that had ever crossed the Atlantic. After plundering some vessels at the Vigo river, he sailed for the West Indies by way of the Canaries and Cape Verde Islands, hoisted the English flag over Santiago and burnt the town, crossed the Atlantic in eighteen days, and arrived at Dominica. At daybreak, on New Year's Day, 1586, Drake's soldiers landed in Espanola, a few miles to the west of the capital, and before evening Carlile and Powell had entered the city, which the colonists only saved from destruction by the payment of a heavy ransom. Drake's plan was to do exactly the same at Carthagena and Nombre de Dios, and thence to strike across the isthmus and secure the treasure that lay waiting for transport at Panama. Drake held St. Domingo for a month, and Carthagena for six weeks. He was compelled to forego the further prosecution of his enterprise. A deadly fever, which had attacked the men during the sojourn at Santiago, still continued its ravages. In existing circumstances, even had Nombre de Dios been successfully attacked, the march to Panama was out of the question; and after consultation with the military commanders, Drake resolved on sailing home at once by way of Florida. He brought back with him all the colonists who had been left by Sir Richard Greenville in 'Virginia.' Drake had offered either to furnish them with stores, and to leave them a ship, or to take them home. The former was accepted: but a furious storm which ensued caused them to change their minds. They recognized in it the hand of God, whose will it evidently was that they should no longer be sojourners in the American wilderness; and the first English settlement of 'Virginia' was abandoned accordingly.

Ten years afterwards (1595) Drake was again at the head of a similar expedition. The second command was given to his old associate Hawkins, Frobisher, his Vice Admiral in 1585, having recently died of the wound received at Crozon... Continue reading book >>

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