Sir Francis Drake: Navigator and Privateer

Sir Francis Drake was an English Vice Admiral who was born in 1540. Also a privateer, sea captain, navigator, and slave-trader, he was considered a hero to the English people, but a pirate to the Spaniards who called him El Draque.

In 1577, Queen Elizabeth I enlisted him to sail against the Spanish along the Pacific coast of the Americas. Whilst he was doing this, he made his famous discovery of Nova Albion, and when he returned home, he was knighted for his exploits. Drake had captured a Spanish ship that had 25,000 pesos of Peruvian gold and another, the Nuestra Señora de la Concepción, which had 80 lbs of gold, 13 chests of royals of plate, 26 tons of silver, and a golden crucifix.

Around 1585, Drake, then second-in-command of the English fleet, led them against the Spanish Armada after war broke out between England and Spain. Drake’s capture of the Spanish fort San Augustin in what is now Florida was considered to be one of the main reasons the Spanish began planning to invade England. In 1588, he captured the Rosario, a key Spanish ship, throwing the Spanish fleet into chaos. Drake died in January 1596 of dysentery after a failed attack on San Juan, Puerto Rico.

New Albion, or Nova Albion as Drake called it, was the name of the region Drake explored and claimed in North America in 1579. It also refers to the settlement he established on the coast. The exact location of his landing and the real extent of Nova Albion had been debated for centuries, but the accepted theory is that he landed on the northern coast of California. It’s believed Drake landed on the coast somewhere near Marin Country, north of San Francisco, or in Santa Barbara. It’s hard to determine exactly because there’s very little archeological evidence to suggest where the landing occurred. The fact that Drake’s maps and logs were confiscated, and his claim on Nova Albion was kept secret from the Spanish, also adds to the confusion. Some scholars even insist that Drake actually landed on the other side of the coast, nearer New York, although most discount these claims.