Drake, Sir Francis, circumnavigator of the globe, and the most famous seaman of his age. His parentage is not certain, but he was probably a son of Robert Drake of Otterton, by his wife Agnes Kelloway. The date and place of his birth are equally uncertain, but he was probably born at Crowndale, near Tavistock, Devonshire, in 1539, and was named for his godfather, Francis Russell, afterwards second earl of Bedford. his father suffered persecution and was forced to fly from his home at Tavistock, and inhabit in the hull of a ship, where most of his younger sons were born; he had twelve in all. Francis was at an early age apprenticed to the master of a small coasting vessel, who dying without heirs, left the bark to him. He seems to have followed this petty trade for a short time, but in 1565 he was engaged in one or two voyages to Guinea, the Spanish Main, and South America. Influenced by the accounts he heard of the exploits of Hawkins, who was his kinsman, he commanded the Judith in the fleet fitted out by that great commander, which sailed from Plymouth, October 2, 1667, and which, with the exception of the Minion and the Judith conveying Hawkins and Drake, were destroyed in the harbor of San Juan d'Ulloa by a treacherous attack of the Spaniards. In 1570 he went on his own account to the West Indies and in 1571 went again, the chief fruit of which voyages was the intelligence he gained of men and places which were useful for his future movements. In 1572 he sailed with two small ships, having on board the parts of three "dainty pinnaces," and being reinforced on the way by another English ship arrived at the Isle of Pines in Cuba, where they captured, two Spanish vessels. This adventure was followed by numberless others which involved the surrender of Nombre de Dios, the burning of Porto Bello, the sacking of Vera Cruz, the destruction of many Spanish ships, and the capture of a caravan of mules loaded with thirty tons of silver. On this voyage, in one of his journeys into the country of Panama, Drake, from a tree on the ridge, had a view of both oceans, and, transported at the sight, prayed fervently that he might live to sail the one he now first saw but had never visited. At length returning homeward, he arrived in Plymouth, Sunday, August 9, 1587, when, at the news, leaving the preacher in the midst of his sermon, everybody ran out of church to see the famous seaman.
This was the most famous voyage ever made by an Englishman, but Drake contemplated greater things. After some service in Ireland, Drake got together a squadron of five vessels and sailed again to America. He determined to visit that great wide spreading sea of the west, which he had seen from the ridge of Panama. He left Falmouth, December 13, 1577, and sailed to Brazil, and thence coasting southward passed through the straits of Magellan. All of his ships but the Pelican, in which he sailed, were either abandoned, destroyed in the storm or returned to England. But Drake was undismayed. Changing the name of his vessel to Golden Hind, he swept up the western coast of South America, plundering towns and shipping as he went. He then coasted California and North America, as far as 48° north latitude. Returning again southward, he anchored in a little harbor near the Bay of San Francisco and took possession of the country in the name of Queen Elizabeth, calling it New Albion. Having overhauled and reprovisioned his ship, he struck boldly across the Pacific and after an absence of nearly three years at least reached Plymouth, England, on Sunday, September 26, 1580 — being the first Englishman and the next person after Magellan to circumnavigate the globe. He arrived very richly freighted with gold, silver, silk, pearls and precious stones, amounting in value to one million and a half sterling, represented perhaps in modern values about $40,000,000. Queen Elizabeth visited Drake's ship at Deptford, and knighted him and bestowed upon him a coat of arms and a crest. And the King of Spain issued a proclamation offering 20,000 ducats for Drake's head. Soon after these events he served as mayor of Plymouth and as member of Parliament.
Queen Elizabeth having come to an open breach with the King of Spain, Drake was ent in 1585 with a fleet of twenty-six sail to attack the Spanish settlements in the West Indies. He took St. Jago in Cuba, St. Domingo, Carthegena and St. Augustine, and carried away booty to the amount of £60,000 sterling. Sailing northward he visited Lane's colony at Roanoke, and finding them disheartened took them all on board and carried them back to Portsmouth, England, which he reached July 28, 1586.
Drake was not long left idle. In 1581 he was sent with a strong fleet against the Spanish coast and created much havoc in sinking and burning 100 Spanish vessels, and destroying four castles on the shore; and off the Azores captured a Portugese East-Indiaman loaded with wealth estimated at £10,000. this was what Drake called "singing the King's beard." He liberally employed some of the wealth he had acquired in bringing water from a distant spring to the town of Plymouth. Drake was active in preparing England against the attack of the Spanish Armada. It was his urgent advice to the Queen not to wait the attack, but to carry the war to the Spanish coast and thereby break up the proposed movement. In the battle with the Armada he was vice-admiral under Lord Charles Howard, and his squadron had the principal share in the discomfiture of the Spanish fleet as it fled before the storms and foe.
The next year Drake was sent with a body of land forces under Sir John Norris for the purpose of restoring Don Antonio to the throne of Portugal, but the expedition was attended with a large loss of life and was not successful in its primary objects, though Drake had the good fortune to capture a large fleet laden with naval shores, thus putting an end to all proposals of an invasion from Spain. For the next few years Drake was actively but peacefully employed on shore, and in 1593 said in parliament for Plymouth. In 1594 he was admiral of a fleet to make another attack on the West Indies, and Sir John Hawkins was vice-admiral. The expedition seems to have been unfortunate from the beginning. the enemy were forewarned, and everywhere they met with determined opposition. Various towns, including Nombre de Dios, were burned and sacked, but they obtained no booty. Hawkins died when off Porto Rico, and Drake fell sick of dysentery. His disease was aggravated by his disappointment and exertions, and it finally took a bad turn. On the return he also died off Porto Rico, the date being January 28, 1595-96. His body, encased in a leaden coffin, was committed to the deep next day. he was twice married; first to Mary Newman, and secondly to Elizabeth, daughter of Sir George Sydenham, who survived him and afterwards married Sir William Courtenay, of Powderham, in Devonshire. he left no children nor did any of his eleven brothers, except one Captain Thomas Drake, who left a daughter Elizabeth, wife of John Bamfield, Esq.; and a son Francis, who was created baronet August 2, 1622.