History Timeline 1500s

Above: Painting, entitled Discovery of the Mississippi, by William H. Powell, 1847, is located in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Right: Giovanni de Verrazzano, 1889, engraving by F. Allcarini, Tocchi, courtesy Wikipedia Commons.

Giovanni da Verrazzano

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1500s


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  • Detail - 1580

    September 26, 1580 - Sir Francis Drake returns home to Plymouth, England, becoming the second expedition to circumnavigate the globe. He returns with fifty-nine men, a cargo of spices, and Spanish treasure.

    Sir Francis Drake and the Golden Hind

    It had been nearly three years since Sir Francis Drake and his expedition of six ships and one hundred and sixty-four men had left Plymouth, England on November 15, 1577 on his exploration for the Queen. He had found California on June 17, 1579, and claimed it for England. That did not last. Before that, he had battled the Spanish along the west coast of South America, and after it, the expedition explored the Pacific islands of Indonesia and other lands. Through each, Drake gathered treasure from the natives and the Spanish. What had begun with those six ships was now down to one. The Golden Hind, renamed from its former name Pelican, was the only ship left after the thirty-six thousand mile journey.

    They had left the Indonesian archipelago in January 1580, making their path across the Indian Ocean with an advantageous wind before rounding the tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope. They continued to sail along the western coast of Africa before stopping in Sierra Leone on July 22 after nine thousand seven hundred miles of continuous sailing. After resupplying and repairing the ship for two days, they sailed north in the Atlantic toward Europe.

    Excerpt from original account by Drake's Chaplain Francis Fletcher

    The 8. of Februarie following, wee fell with the fruitful Island of Barateue, having in the meantime suffered many dangers by windes and shoalds. The people of this Island are comely in body and stature, and of a ciuill behaviour, iust in dealing, and courteous to strangers, whereof we had the experience sundry wayes, they being most glad of our presence, and very ready to releeue our wants in those things which their country did yeelde. The men goe naked, sauing their heads and priuities; euery man having some-thing or other hanging at their, eares. Their women are couered from the middle downe to the foote, wearing a great number of bracelets vpon their amies, for some had 8. upon each arme, being made some of bone, some of horne, and some of brasse, the lightest thereof to our estimation waied two ounces apiece.

    With this people linnen-cloth is good merchandize, and of good request, whereof they make rols for their heads, and girdles to weare about them.

    Their Island is both rich and fruitfull; rich in golde, siluer, copper, and sulphur, wherein they seeme skilfull and expert, not onely to trie the same, but in working it also artificially into any forme and fashion that pleaseth them.

    Their fruits be diuers and plentiful: as nutmegs, ginger, long pepper, lemmons, cucumbers, cocos, figu, sagu, with diuers other sorts; and among all the rest, we had one fruite, in bignesse, forme, and huske, like a bay berry, hard of substance and pleasant of taste, which being sodden becommeth soft, and is a most good and wholsome victuall, whereof we tooke reasonable store, as we did also of the other fruits and spiccs, so that to confesse a trueth, since the time that we first set out of our owne countrey of England, we happened upon no place [Ternate onely excepted) wherein we found more comforts and better meanes of refreshing.

    At our departure from Barateue, we set our course for Jaua maior, when arriving, we found great courtesie and entertainment. This Island is governed by 5. Kings, whom they call Raiah: as Raiah Donaw, and Raiah Mang Bange, and Raiah Cabuccapollo, which liue as hauing one spirite and one minde.

    Of these five we had foure a shipboard at once, and two or three often. They are wonderfully delighted in coloured clothes, as red and greene; their upper parts of their bodies are naked, save their heads, whereupon they weare a Turkish roll, as do the Maluccians. From the middle downward they weare a pintado of silke, trailing upon the ground, in colour as they best like.

    The Maluccians hate that their women should bee seene of strangers; but these offer them of high courtisie, yea the kings themselves.

    The people are of goodly stature, and warlike, well prouided of swords and targets, with daggers, all being of their owne worke, and most artificially done, both in tempering their mettall, as also in the forme, whereof we bought reasonable store.

    They haue an house in euery village for their common assembly: euery day they meete twise, men, women, and children bringing with them such victuals as they thinke good, some fruites, some rice boiled, some hennes roasted, some sagu, hauing a table made three foote from the ground, whereon they set their meate, that euery person sitting at the table may eate, one reioycing in the company of another.

    They boile their rice in an earthen pot, made in forme of a sugar loafe, being ful of holes, as our pots which we water our gardens withall, and it is open at the great ende, wherein they put their rice drie, without any moisture. In the meane time they haue ready another great earthen pot, set fast in a fornace, boiling full of water, whereinto they put their pot with rice, by such measure, that they swelling become soft at the first, and by their swelling stopping the holes of the pot, admit no more water to enter, but the more they are boiled, the harder and more firme substance they become; so that in the end they are a firme and good bread, of the which with oyle, butter, sugar, and other spices, they make diuers sorts of meates very pleasant of taste and nourishing to nature.

    Not long before our departure, they tolde us, that not farre off were such great ships as ours, wishing us to beware : upon this our captaine would stay no longer.

    From Jaua Maior we sailed for the cape of Good Hope, which was the first land we fell withall: neither did we touch with it, or any other land, untill we came to Sierra Leona, upon the coast of Guinea: notwithstanding we ranne hard aboord the Cape, finding the report of the Portugals to be most false, who affirme, that it is the most dangerous Cape of the world, neuer without intolerable stormes and present danger to trauailers, which come neere the same.

    This Cape is a most stately thing, and the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth, and we passed by it the 18. of June.

    From thence we continued our course to Sierra Leona, on the coast of Guinea, where we arriued 22. of July, and found necessarie prouisions, great store of elephants, oisters upon trees of one kinde, spawning and increasing infinitely, the oistcr suffering no budde to grow. We departed thence the 24. day.

    We arriued in England the third of Nouember 1580. being the third yeere of our departure." Excerpt from "The World Encompassed," based on the notes of Francis Drake's Chaplain, Francis Fletcher, 1628.

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    Drake's Return

    As you can note from the date in the excerpt above from the Appendix in the book "The World Encompassed," written from notes and near the time of the expedition, there may be a debate to the actual date of their arrival. Many note September 26, 1580, which disagrees with the above. We do not know which is more accurate. There were fifty-nine men aboard the Golden Hind when it arrived in Plymouth. The treasure on the ship was so large that the Queen's half share surpassed her entire income for the year. For that alone, knighthood seemed appropriate. The expedition had returned a 4600% return on their investment, 47L for every L1 spend. The Queen's portion of the venture was enough to pay off the national debt and left here with L42,000, which was invested in the Levant Company, a firm involved in the development of British foreign trade. In 1581, Drake was honored with that knighthood by Queen Elizabeth I on the Golden Hind in Deptford. That was not his only honor. He became the mayor of Plymouth, as well as second in command of the British navy.

    His exploits were guarded as national secrets so that his expedition and its findings could be kept from their enemies, i.e. the Spanish.

    Drake would continue in the employ of the Queen for the next fifteen years after his arrival back in England. These exploits were often attacks against the Spanish in the American colonies, including the razing of St. Augustine in 1586. As vice admiral of the English fleet, Drake commanded victory against the Spanish Armada in 1588. That success, however, would be followed in the next decade by defeats, including his attack against the Spanish in the Battle of San Juan on November 22, 1595.

    Much of what is known about the expedition is from the accounts of other men, including Chaplain Francis Fletcher, than Drake. Drake did write a journal, which included a narrative and paintings, however, it seems that Queen Elizabeth I somehow lost it.

    Image above: Montage (background) photo of the replica of the Golden Hind in London, 2007, Josef L. Marin. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons CC3.0; (inset) portrait of Francis Drake, circa 1590, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. Courtesy Buckland Abbey via Wikipedia Commons. Below: Indians greeting Francis Drake in California, 1599, Theodr De Bry's Historia Americas. Courtesy Library of Congress. Source info: Library of Congress; drake.mcn.org, "Francis Drake and the California Indians, 1579," 1947, Robert F. Heizer; "The World Encompassed" based on the notes of Francis Drake's Chaplain, Francis Fletcher, 1628; Archive.org; Wikipedia.

    Sir Francis Drake

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