Under the rule of Queen Elizabeth England became noted for her bold and daring seamen. These seamen were really pirates, or sea robbers; but their occupation in those days was looked upon as a lawful one by all except the people whom they plundered.
Queen Elizabeth encouraged the seafaring men to make voyages to the New World, and also to attack the Spanish ships, because she was displeased at the way the Spaniards were behaving.
The Spaniards had grown very rich and powerful by means of the wealth they had obtained in America, and in their pride they did not treat the other nations properly. They had no idea of fairness. They were selfish and wanted everything for Spain.
The English people thought that the best place to attack the Spaniards was in the New World. They well knew that if they could cut off the supply of gold and silver which the Spanish nation was receiving from South America and the Indies, that nation would suffer.
Sir Francis Drake, a brave young knight of Elizabeth's court, formed a plan to teach the Spaniards a lesson. This plan was approved by the queen, and Drake was promised glory and riches if he should succeed in carrying it out.
In November, 1577, Drake sailed from Plymouth, England, with a fleet of five vessels and one hundred and sixty-four men. He told every one that he was going to make a voyage to Alexandria, as he did not wish the Spaniards to know that he intended to cross the Atlantic.
After a voyage of about five months, as they were sailing quietly along one evening, the crew saw strange fires in the distance. At first the sailors were alarmed; but on sailing nearer they saw that the fires were on the shore of a strange country, which Drake knew to be South America.
The natives had built these immense bonfires near the water and were preparing for some religious rites.
These natives were friendly, and Drake, after procuring some fresh supplies, sailed on, as he was in haste to reach Peru. The fleet soon entered the Strait of Magellan, and sailed through without any mishap.
On an island in the strait they found a great number of fowl of the size of geese, which could not fly. The crew shot about three thousand of these birds, and now, having plenty of provisions, they began the journey up the west coast of South America.
The Spaniards, never dreaming that any one would have the courage to try to reach their lands by way of the Strait of Magellan, had made no attempt to defend themselves from attack from the south. They feared that their enemies might come down upon them by way of the isthmus, and strong forces had been placed there to prevent any one from crossing; but all the southern ports were defenseless.
So Drake and his men sailed up the coast, dropping in at different harbors, boldly taking everything of value that they saw, and then gayly sailing away, laughing at the surprise they left behind them.
At one place Drake found a Spanish ship laden with spoils, ready to sail to Spain. The English quickly took possession of her, set her crew ashore, and carried her out to sea. There they found that she had on board pure gold amounting to thirty-seven thousand Spanish ducats, stores of good wine, and other treasure.
At one place where they landed Drake himself found a Spaniard lying asleep near the shore, with thirteen bars of silver by his side. The Englishmen took the silver and went quietly away, leaving the man to finish his nap.
Farther on they met a Spaniard and an Indian boy driving eight llamas, as the sheep of that country are called, toward Peru. Each llama had on its back two bags of leather, and in each bag was fifty pounds of silver. This silver Drake ordered to be placed on his ship, and then he sailed away.
Many other places were visited in this manner, and much treasure was collected; but it was not until Drake reached Lima that the English understood the great wealth of that country. About twelve ships were in the harbor, some fully laden, and all unprotected, as the Spaniards never dreamed of attack. These ships Drake proceeded to lighten of their cargo by removing it to his own ships.
He then gave chase to another vessel, which he heard was laden with still greater treasure. This vessel he soon found, and the cargo proved to be very valuable. Thirteen chests of plate, many tons of gold and silver, jewels, precious stones, and quantities of silk and linen were taken.
As you may suppose, after continuing this work for some time Drake's ships were very well loaded, and he and his companions began to think about returning to England. Drake felt that it would not be safe for him to return through the Strait of Magellan, as he knew the Spaniards would be expecting him. So he decided to sail across the Pacific Ocean to the Molucca Islands, and complete his journey by circumnavigating the globe.
He was at this time becalmed in the tropics, and therefore headed his ships north, hoping to find the trade wind, which would carry him across the Pacific. After proceeding north along a strange coast for nearly a month, during which time the weather gradually became colder and colder, Drake decided to enter a harbor and anchor his vessels.
The people of the country were friendly, and as the English treated them well, they remained so. They admired the brave Sir Francis Drake so much that they begged him to stay with them and be their king.
But Drake had no desire to be king over an Indian tribe. He wanted to get back to his own good Queen Elizabeth and tell her of all the wonderful things that had happened to him. So he took possession of this country for England, and called it New Albion.
New Albion was the land which is at present known as California, and the bay in which Drake anchored is just north of San Francisco Bay.
Then Drake prepared his ships for the voyage home, hoisted anchor, and was soon sailing away in the direction of the Moluccas. These islands he reached after a long voyage, and after visiting several of the Indies he proceeded across the Indian Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope and thence northward to England. He reached home in September, 1580, after an absence of three years.
How glad Queen Elizabeth was to see him! She granted him the honor of knighthood, and in other ways showed her pride in her brave subject.
Drake's ship, the Golden Hind, was placed in a dock at Deptford, where it stood for many years. People used to take their children to see it, and they would tell them about the Golden Hind, the good ship in which sailed the brave general, Sir Francis Drake, when he taught the Spaniards a lesson.
When the timber of the ship began to decay, a chair was made of some of it and given to Oxford University, where it may be seen to this day.