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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  • Timeline

  • Detail - 1586

    June 6, 1586 - The city of St. Augustine, Florida, is razed by Francis Drake.

    Attack by Drake against St. Augustine


    Since 1565, the Spanish at St. Augustine were in constant danger of attack from indigenous sources, plus the English and French who wanted to establish themselves as the dominant power in Florida. The first fort, a wooden structure, was certainly going to be rendered insufficient if a major attack occurred. Meanwhile, Sir Francis Drake was being lauded for his adventure for the English crown on his, the second navigation around the world after Magellen, in 1579-1580, claiming lands, California, and bringing home riches.

    Queen Elizabeth I would knight Drake in 1581, by proxy through a French diplomat. This signalled more than a handing off at a ceremony, but that the French were implicitly agreeing with Drake and his past and future adventures. He had purchased Buckland Abbey, an estate in 1580, and was living as the Queen's adventurous hero. He pushed his way into politics in the early part of the decade; Mayor of Plymouth, member of Parliament, but when war seemed imminent with the Spanish in the middle of the decade, Drake resigned those political positions and became a servant of the Queen in a different capacity.


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    Drake's Return To Service


    War had been declared by the Spanish, Phillip II, after the Treaty of Nonsuch, which pushed England toward Spain's enemy, the rebels of what would become the Dutch Republic. So in the attempt to make a preemptive strike, Queen Elizabeth I sent Drake in command of twenty-one ships with one thousand eight hundred men onboard. They would be commanded by Christopher Carleill. They left Plymouth, England in September 1585, and attacked the Spanish first at Vigo (Spain), then Santiago (Cape Verde Islands. These actions were swift and effective. The Anglo-Spanish war was in full blast by the time Sir Francis Drake reached the Caribbean.

    On January 1, 1586, they ramsacked the city of Santo Domingo in Hispaniola. On February 9-11, 1586, Drake and Carleill did the same to Cartegena on the northern coast of Columbia, and released one hundred Turkish slaves from their imprisonment.

    On June 6, 1586, on his way back to England, Drake had one more task to settle. He would attack the only permanent settlement that the Spanish had been successful at maintaining on the North American (eventual USA territory) mainland. Drake had noticed the small fort and inlet on May 27, and knew of the Spanish treatment of the French colonists who had attempted to settle just north of St. Augustine. To avenge their deaths, fellow Protestants, Drake attacked the small fort with ferocity. The few French soldiers manning the fort in the dunes shot back, but retreated quickly toward the town.

    Guided by a French citizen captive in that fort, the English troops approached a small stockade; the Spanish governor, Pedro Menéndez de Márquez, only had one hundred men at his disposal and retreated into the swamps. When Drake and Carleill approached the small stockade fort at San Juan with two hundred men, the few Spanish soldiers who remained, shot back, but could not stop the onslaught.

    "Upon this intelligence the Generall, the Lietenant generall, with some of the Captaines in our skiffe, and the Vice-Admirall with some others in his Skiffe, and two or three Pinnaces furnished of soldiers with them, put presently toward the fort, giving order for the rest of the Pinnaces to follow. And in our approach, some of the enemy bolder than the rest, having stayed behind their company, shot off two pieces of ordinance at us; but on shore we went, and entered the place without finding any man there," A Summarie and True Discourse of Sir Francis Drake's West Indian Voyage, 1652.

    Drake plundered the fort, gaining the garrison's pay and fourteen bronze artillery pieces, then burned the fort to the ground. Upon reaching the main settlement of St. Augustine, it had been completely deserted. The men who had fled into the swamp attacked Drake with a skirmishing fire, causing some loss among the English, but the English counterattack forced the Spanish soldiers deeper into the brush, leaving Drake in control of the settlement. The following day, they razed the settlement just as they had done the fort.

    The Great Expedition in the Anglo-Spanish war had been another notch in Drake's arsenel of accomplishment for the Queen, returning to Plymouth on July 28, 1586. It was a setback to the Spanish in colonial America, but not the end, in any way, of conflict there between the two nations. The Spanish pulled back efforts to create settlements further north to the Carolinas. Fort San Juan was replaced with another wooden fort. It would not be until 1672 that construction on Castillo de San Marcos was started to build a substantial fort that could defend the city from further attacks.

    The expedition was not without its consequences to the men of Drake's voyage. An estimated four hundred and fifty men were killed of the one thousand eight hundred who had started the expedition.

    Image above: Engraving/drawing of Attack by Drake on St. Augustine in 1586, Baptista Boazio. Courtesy Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History via Library of Congress. Below: Engraving of Sir Francis Drake, Date Unknown, W. Hall. Courtesy Library of Congress. Source info: Library of Congress; https://www.citystaug.com; https://ap.gilderlehrman.org; "A Summarie and True Discourse of Sir Francis Drake's West Indian Voyage, 1652, Walter Bigges; Wikipedia.


    Sir Francis Drake



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