Sir Francis Drake, an English navigator, born near Tavistock, Devonshire, according to some authorities in 1539, and to others in 1545 or 1546, died near Puerto Bello, Dec. 27, 1595. He received a scanty education through the liberality of a kinsman, and was apprenticed to the master of a bark, who bequeathed him his vessel. Being thus at the age of 18 years a good sailor and the proprietor of a ship, he made commercial voyages to the bay of Biscay and the coast of Guinea. He then sold his vessel and invested the proceeds with all his savings in the expedition of Capt. Hawkins to Mexico in 1567, receiving the command of the Judith. The fleet was attacked by the Spaniards at San Juan de Ulua, and only two of the six ships escaped. Drake returned to England with a loss of his entire property, and fruitlessly petitioned the court of Spain for indemnity. Enraged by his treatment, he began to sail with the avowed object of pillaging the Spaniards. In 1570 he obtained a commission from Queen Elizabeth. In 1572 he armed two ships at Plymouth, with which, joined by a third at Port Pheasant, on the coast of South America, he made a descent upon New Granada, captured and plundered various Spanish settlements, and made at the expense of his enemies a fortune vastly larger than that they had taken from him.
He returned to England in 1573, and was welcomed as a hero. While at Darien he had seen from a mountain top the waves of the Pacific, and had there conceived the purpose of an expedition into those waters. Under the patronage of Elizabeth, he set sail from Plymouth, Dec. 13, 1577, with five vessels and 164 gentlemen and sailors, to follow the route which had been traced by Magellan. Drake pillaged the Spanish settlements of Peru and Chili, captured a royal galleon richly laden with plate, and took possession of California in the name of the queen of England; and then, fearing to meet the Spaniards in superior force if he returned, he sought to find a N. E. passage to the Atlantic. Repelled by the severe cold, he determined to make the circuit of the globe. He traversed the Pacific ocean, the archipelago of the Spice islands, and the Indian ocean, doubled the cape of Good Hope, and arrived at Plymouth in November, 1580. Elizabeth received him with favor, and soon afterward knighted him and partook of a banquet on board of his ship.
The rupture which followed between Elizabeth and Philip II. gave Drake a new opportunity, and within one year he captured and plundered Cartagena and several other towns, burned the forts of San Antonio and Saint Augustine, and visited and brought away the remains of the colony which Raleigh had planted in Virginia. In 1587 he was placed in command of a fleet of about 30 sail designed to attack the Spanish ports. He destroyed 100 ships in the harbor of Cadiz, and captured an immense carrack, from papers in which the English first learned the value of the East India traffic, and the mode of carrying it on. In 1588, as vice admiral, he commanded one squadron of the fleet by which, with the assistance of the elements, the "invincible armada" was annihilated. In 1589 he ravaged the coasts of the Spanish peninsula, and in 1592-3 was a member of parliament for Plymouth. In 1594, a report having reached England that Spain was preparing a fleet more numerous and powerful than the armada, he again entered the service. Convinced that the West Indies was the point where Spain could be best attacked, he sailed for America in 1595 with 26 vessels, in company with Admiral Hawkins. A divided command produced its usual bad results, and their first attempts were inharmonious and fruitless.
At Porto Rico Hawkins died, either of a wound or of chagrin, and Drake then gained new triumphs. He burned Santa Marta, Rancheria, Nombre de Dios, and Rio Hacha; but a fatal malady broke out among his sailors, and as he heard of the defeat of a division of his forces which he had sent to operate by land, he fell sick and died from the combined effects of fever and of mental agitation on account of the reverses of the expedition, and was buried at sea.