Host Bill Heid talks to historian Susan Jackson, who tells listeners about an English sea captain who, three decades before the Pilgrims, essentially prevented America from becoming a Spanish settlement. The man is Sir Francis Drake, and he actually owned the Mayflower before it even sailed for the New World.
It’s the Thanksgiving story we’ve never heard. Of course, we know about the Pilgrims, and how they sailed across the ocean looking for religious freedom, settled in what we now know as Massachusetts, and were assisted by a group of Native Americans who knew the land like no one else.
Jackson, though, says without Drake, Americans today would be speaking Spanish, and there would have been no Pilgrims. Most school children know Drake as the man who led what became the second fleet to sail around the world. But his connection to American history is one that often goes untold, Jackson says on this week’s edition of Off The Grid Radio.
Off The Grid Radio
Released: November 14, 2013
Bill: Susan, thanks so much for being with us. What was the period of time?
Susan: The period of time was the second half of the 16th century. Drake was born into a time of tumult. It was before Elizabeth had come to the throne. He was born in 1540 on Crown Day in Tavistock, a farming community. Parts of it are still there. The remains of the cottage where he was born has been excavated and the 16th century well is still there. He grew up as an Elizabethan country child, a life governed by the progress of the turn of the seasons until he was about eight years old through the religious (inaudible 01:58) between Catholicism and Protestantism in the British Isles. His father and mother were forced to flee from Tavistock, because they were Protestant and the Catholics of the West Country had risen. They went first to Plymouth, but Plymouth was non too safe, so they went on to Kent and went then into a life of absolute poverty, from having a reasonably comfortable life by Elizabethan standards, this little boy was certainly projected into poverty so bad that his parents were forced to apprentice him as a cabin boy at the age of 10.
Bill: Do you think he remembered that for a long time? I think that probably stuck with him, didn’t it?
Susan: He remembered it for the rest of his life because it provided two of his great motivations. Drake was accused of being greedy, but he had known what it was like to go to bed hungry, to go to the dockyards without any shoes and he had no intention of returning to that sort of life. You see, money spelled security and tutoring then. He intended to get a secure financial life. We assume that all Drake’s money came from the Spanish galleons. Believe me, it didn’t. He was a very clever businessman. He was a citizen of Plymouth and judged as a merchant of Plymouth as early as 1572. A lot of his financial security came from clever investments in property.
Bill: So, he bought and sold property in that area…
Susan: He bought and sold…
Bill: …and again, that’s something not very many people know seeing him more of a trader… I know he became mayor later, but as a merchant, as a businessman.
Susan: He was a very clever merchant and a clever businessman. He had a trading fleet of his own. It was actually throughout the Anglo-Spanish War, Drake’s fleet was trading along the ports of Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal. They were trading in Devonshire wool and bringing back Spanish wines, and also probably collecting information.
Bill: Yes, I’m sure there was a lot of collecting of information.
Susan: There certainly was. Drake seemed to know exactly what was going on where the Spanish Navy was concerned.
Bill: I think that’s a brilliant point, Susan, because one of the things that I like about Drake as well is just that he was a clever fellow. He was someone… and this is why I think this guy can be emulated by young aspiring business people, as well as others just because he always had an eye for figuring something out. He saw something and he always saw it differently than other people saw it. He saw opportunity where others saw nothing.
Susan: Well, certainly, and not only did he see the opportunity, Bill, he would also work out a way of grasping it. He was, as he said himself, “My upbringing has not been any learning.” Although he was a very good speaker, his handwriting was awful. He was a very clever, very intelligent, very astute man, absolutely to use a modern phraseology, he was absolutely on the ball. Certainly, he was creative. In his business dealings, he was relatively honest. As far as we can see, he didn’t do anybody down. He was an entrepreneur, but an entrepreneur with a layer of decency.
Bill: I think that probably happened as a result of how his dad brought him up. You want to talk just a little bit about just what his dad believed and maybe a little bit about… he was the oldest of 12. What was his father teaching these kids?
Susan: As far as we know, the only education he had was from his father. He learned to read. He learned to write. He learned basic figuring and he learned the basic tenets of the Protestant faith. He learned a belief in God. He learned a personal creed. He learned how to read the Bible and to read the Psalms. Their reading book for the Drake boys would have been the Bible.
Bill: So, that’s how he was reared as a reformation guy as a Protestant who was a product of this, there was this sense… and I think this probably came from Geneva imported through John Knox, but there was this emphasis, Susan, on covenant, so I think when you do a business deal with somebody, you are expected to carry out your part and they are expected to carry out their part. What I’m saying is this was a theological concept, this idea, this emphasis of covenantalism. There’s a practical aspect of it as well and I think you just talked about how that comes in handy when you’re a businessman. If you have to pay somebody, you pay them; if you’re to be paid, you expect to be paid, and a deal is a deal.
Susan: Certainly. There have been numerous books written on the subject. For example, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism”. Certainly Drake’s… how can we say… religious ethics, his own personal faith and creed was for him so much a part of his life that it came into his business dealings. I think we would have known from people like Francis Bacon, who was an incorrigible old gossip, and would probably have written for the newspapers had he lived in our century. We would have certainly known if Drake was guilty of any unfair business dealings. He rented or sold a building to limit corporation so that Plymouth were able to have a poor house and implement the Elizabethan poor laws. He made sure that Plymouth had a castle for its defense. He made sure that Plymouth had its water supply, which Plymouth still commemorates in a toast to him every year. You can still follow the route of his water supply over Dartmoor almost to the actually edge of Plymouth.
Bill: So he had this idea of society. He had this idea of community. So, his idea of covenant wasn’t just with his business transactions, but he viewed the city, the commonwealth as something that he was responsible for. In other words, he was willing to partake in being a citizen and he wanted to make sure certain things were in place, another idea of this gritty reformation Christianity that you were talking about.
Susan: Well, certainly. The Elizabethans believed in what the Victorians would have called “noblesse oblige”. They believed that God had put you in a certain level of society. The fact that Drake rose out of his own level of society to another level of society, but they had a firm belief that it was the will of God, that if you were in a level of society, then you had responsibilities to the people below you and to the people above you. It was a sort of paternalism. They believed it was their job to magistrate, to serve as justices of peace, to serve their crown, because in a way, it was them repaying God for the position had had given them on Earth.
Bill: Wow, I see.
Susan: So, Drake served as Deputy Lord Lieutenant for the County of Devon, and as Senior Magistrate. His religious beliefs would have been in a way, he was repaying what God had given him by giving service to the Crown and to Plymouth. Certainly, records kept of what he did as a Lord Lieutenant, he carried out the duties with humanity, compassion and a great sense of humor. Drake had a wonderful sense of humor.
Bill: And we’ll talk about that in a little bit, but I think one of the things I was thinking about as you said that, is this concept of someone willing to work their way up and you talked about in a feudal system, it may be hard to work your way out of the situation that you’re in if you have a very top down situation, if your dad was a shrubber, you were going to be a shrubber, and your kids were going to work on shrubbery as well. Here’s Drake with this amazing… we could use the phrase “capitalistic” or “free enterprise” thing where he was born into a certain class and he literally worked himself out of that class, but he’s kept the same work ethic that he had when he was at the very lowest level.
Susan: Certainly. Drake really hit the door open and showed that it could be done. The poor boy got to knighthood, the only Elizabethan to do it. When you think of men like Walsingham and Hatton, Lester, they came from the upper middle classes. Drake didn’t. He came from the lower classes and that was why he was such a hero to the ordinary people. They felt he was one of them. Although he talked with the Queen and although he was friends with the nobility, he never lost the common touch. He knew his seamen, he treated them with courtesy and respect, and they treated him the same. He never ever lost his links with his roots.
Bill: That’s an amazing thing. It seems like no matter what the culture, if you give someone a little money, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re a tutor or a Stuart, or whether you’re someone who lives in our culture over here, or over there now, you give someone a little money, Susan, and then it’s not long before that money seems to corrupt whatever moral structure they had. Drake was somebody that had the moral structure given from this father. We talked about this sort of reverence gritty reformation Christianity, and he kept it his whole life, which I think is rare. Most people when they get money, they lose it.
Susan: Certainly, with Drake, and I’ve spent a long time studying him, I don’t think the money in a way corrupted him. For example, he had the money to build a huge mansion, and most Elizabethans with any money had themselves a country mansion. Drake’s country mansion was an unpretentious, but very, very beautiful, manor house. He knew his limitations. He knew that the sort of mansion lifestyle was not for him. It seems as though yes, he enjoyed the fine clothes; he enjoyed the fine trappings of wealth, the food, the security, but he never forgot his originations. He took care of the poor of the city. He left them 40 pounds in his will, which was a lot of money in Elizabethan terms, or in his will, all his servants were looked after. He made sure that they had pensions from the highest to the lowest. Again and again, through the records, you see retired sailors renting property from him. The pretenders of the throne of Portugal actual said he was a very great gentleman. What I think is the most important are that many of the tributes come from the enemy, the Spaniards themselves said he wasn’t cruel. What an accolade for somebody form the 16th century for the enemy to actually say in writing. They feared him. They called him El Draco, “The Dragon”. They believed he was the devil, but they respected him for his humanity.
Bill: That’s a remarkable thing. As you said, to get accolades from your enemies, the very people that have sworn your departure, saying that you’re a decent person, that you’ve treated people fairly. I know there are accounts of Drake where he actually treated the Spanish prisoners not only well, but maybe some would say above and beyond the call of duty.
Susan: He gave them gifts; he made sure they got enough food and water to get to port, that they got enough money to get to their destination, or one he gave some presents to take home for his wife. One black servant who was a stray freed, or the black slaves as he came across them, he had to go back to his master because his master was elderly and Drake gave him money to go. When a Spanish general’s wife was ill, when the English were occupying Santo Domingo, Drake allowed him to go to his wife, and when his wife died, Drake and his men attended the funeral.
Bill: Wow, tell us more about that. This was the governor that you’re saying?
Susan: Yes, his wife was very, very ill. She was in a sort of the equivalent to a hospital out of the city’s boundaries. He asked permission from Drake to go to her and Drake gave it gladly and gave him an escort. When she died, Drake saw that she was buried with honors and he and his men attended the funeral.
Bill: That is most astounding. To people who he really was in tremendous conflict with to go… I mean, once in a while we’ll hear accounts here in this country of at Christmas time, the Confederates and the northern armies cross borders and maybe shared a meal with each other, but that is a remarkable story, and so early in history. It seems like he was a staunch Christian in so many way, but he has this concept of treating others, not only the way you would like to be treated, but almost above and beyond that.
Susan: What I particularly like about Drake is his, the way he translates in a way his Christian concepts into actions. For example, the 16th century was an age of extreme religious intolerance. If you were a Protestant caught by the Catholics, you faced torture and death. In many counties, if you were Catholic taken by the Protestants, it was the same. There were faults on either side. Drake allowed his captives to say their prayers, their Catholic prayers aboard the Golden Hind as long as they did them on the poop deck, and as long as they didn’t interrupt the English service. That is tolerance beyond, ahead of its time.
Bill: That was tolerance ahead of its time. Let’s talk a little bit about his history because I think one of the amazing things about Drake was here is someone that had this humble beginning and I think his motto on his crest even has reference to “From small things, big things can come with God’s help”. I think that’s kind of a rough… or maybe “With God’s help, small things become big things.” I think that’s his motto.
Susan: Also, it’s “sic parvis magna”, which means, “From small beginnings come great things.” On the top of his crest, he has “With God’s aid.”
Bill: Yes, so here’s the formula. What I’m getting at is here’s the formula, Susan. He says, “Look, one of our famous generals from the Confederate troops, Stonewall Jackson, had this concept… He said, “Duty is ours, consequences are God’s.” You try as hard as you can. You do everything you can, but you know what? Some things are outside your pay grade. As humans, we don’t always get to decide the outcomes. I think this guy viewed very much the same. Of course, he was hundreds or years ahead of Stonewall Jackson, but this guy had that wonderful way of looking at life that I think helped him. In other words, “I work hard and then it’s up to God to reward me, to do this or that,” and then he looked at the whole world through that, with God’s help, from small things, they could become big things through hard effort. That’s that prac… Again, you’re talking about this concept of practical Christianity here.
Susan: I fully agree with you. His faith was not mystical. He wasn’t one of these who prayed for a miracle and then sat back and expected it to happen. He prayed for God’s aid in a venture and then he did his upmost to ensure that that venture was a success. His was the type of practical grassroots faith, the sort of faith that took the Pilgrim Fathers to America. I always feel that had Drake been alive when the Pilgrim Fathers came to America, had he lived, he’d have only been in his late 70’s. He’d have given them all the support and help that he could.
Bill: I think the same thing the more research I do. Let’s talk a little bit about that. We can go a lot of different directions, but let’s talk about the conflict that existed with Drake against the Spanish and later you have these swirling conditions in England at the time, and these political conditions, these religious conditions that were constantly moving and changing. As well, you have this little boat called the “Mayflower”. People think… Researchers maybe think that the Mayflower was actually used during Drake’s period or when…?
Susan: Well, have done some research into this quite a lot, and there were two ships privately owned, but attached to the ships of Drake’s squadron. One was called the “Mayflower” and one was called the “Speedwell.”
Bill: This is really a huge deal for me to hear this because we’ve been working on this project with Sir Francis Drake under Drake’s flag where we did the anti-book, and you were part of that.
Susan: I was.
Bill: You were. Part of our interview and you were wonderful talking about Drake, but then you’re connecting Drake, Susan, with some of my other favorite people in the world, our Pilgrim forefathers and I’ve been in England, and I’ve worked with Sue Allen up there and have been to Scrupie and the whole thing. You’re talking about two… You’re connecting the dots on two of my favorite groups of people with Drake on one side and our Pilgrim forefathers on another side. It’s amazing.
Susan: It’s my contention, Bill, that the Mayflower was very similar in appearance to the Golden Hind, and was probably an early follower of the race-built galleon. Possibly, if you put the Mayflower and the Golden Hind side-by-side, they would be very, very similar. On the ports along the south coast, the west coast, sent ships to fight in squadrons and ships of the Drake squadron or Howard squadron, and the Mayflower is listed in the muster list, along with a ship called the “Speedwell”. It seems to be rather a coincidence that a few years later, a ship called the “Mayflower” sails to America. I think they’re one in the same.
Bill: Yes, and a ship called the “Speedwell” was one of those ships that was supposed to make the trip, right?
Susan: Yes. I’ve been doing some investigating into this.
Bill: Yes, that’s quite a connection. I think it’s interesting this time of year especially as we celebrate Thanksgiving, Americans aren’t necessarily fully… I think we buy into the Pilgrims and what their beliefs were less and less every year. Not myself, I’m a little bit of a fan of the colonial founders there, but I think Americans, once a year beginning in November, Susan, we start thinking about the Pilgrims a little bit more in this country.
Susan: They were incredibly brave, an incredibly brave group of men and women who faced unknown seas to go for the right to practice their religion in peace, in comfort, in harmony, and without the religious persecution that was going on, and a religious persecution that would have disgusted the Elizabethans, who on the whole, were fairly tolerant.
Bill: Yes, yes. Let’s also make the case if we can… and this is one of my little conclusions that I’ve come to after studying Drake… I really don’t think there would be…. In other words, here’s this country that you can have English colony settling in like we had in Roanoke, like we had in Jamestown and then further north, we had this colony at Plymouth, but would there be a United States recognizable as it was if it wasn’t for Drake’s cutting off of that Spanish artery, that flow of ships. This was their country, Susan. The Pope had given… Alexander VI had given North and South America to Spain and Portugal.
Susan: Absolutely not, no, on two accounts: Firstly, the fact that Drake took over Albion in the name of the Queen, even though they didn’t have the resources to follow it up. As far as England was concerned, they were told on the North American mainland. It gave the impetus… Drake really gave the impetus to Raleigh and Grenville to carry on where he left off. The Queen certainly wasn’t going to have Drake over the Americas with the specter of Spain growing. What he couldn’t do personally, he invested in other voyages. He invested in the Roanoke voyage, and it was he who went to Roanoke’s help on his way back from his West Indian voyage. Firstly, Drake gave others the impetus, really, the self-confidence to believe that England could do it, because when Elizabeth came to the throne, England was a poverty-stricken religiously divided offshore island that nobody in Europe took any notice of. At the end of the Elizabethan reign, England was well on its way to becoming a European power. It was Drake and Elizabeth who gave England the confidence to believe in itself. Secondly, it was a defeat of the Armada. If England had not defeated the Armada, then the history of the world would have been very, very different. The Untied States world not have developed as it was. It would have more developed as South America did. There would have been no British Empire. There would probably have been no industrial revolution because the foundations for those were developed in the Elizabethan Age. So, without the taking of Nova Albion and without the defeat of the Spanish Armada, no, I don’t believe North America would have developed in the way it had, because it was in a way, the English Protestant ethic, rather than the Spanish Catholic ethic, with its inquisition that gave it its development.
Bill: Yes, and you were mentioning this idea conceptually. It’s almost the third wild card thing where if someone’s going to run a four-minute mile, it’s important that somebody break a record that was previously run, so if Jim Thorpe or somebody breaks this mile, then it lets people know that, “Hey breaking the four-minute mile, you can do it. It’s something that you can do.” Drake did that, so there’s the psychology of this. You don’t get Jamestown. You don’t get the Puritans without the psychology of “can do”. That psychology of “can do” is where we’re getting to the core of this things, Susan, that psychology of “can do” rally is this ethos, this work ethic, this plucky, practical can to Christianity is an idea and ideas have consequences in this case, they have enormous consequences, because you do not have a North America anything resembling what it looks like today.
Susan: No, absolutely not. It’s the Elizabethan “can do” ethic changed the course of European history. They believed in themselves and they believed in their right to live in freedom. Life in Elizabethan England was no Utopia, but it was certainly one of the better countries of Europe to live in, but it was going to keep its independence. It wasn’t going to go down under the heel of Span. It was really the sort of blitz attitude, “Okay, we have backs against the wall, but we’re going to fight. If we’ve got to take on a world power to do it, we’ll do it.” They showed the rest of Europe, “Okay, if we can do it, you can do it.” That stems from Drake, the impetus of the voyage around the world. From the Queen downward, England was absolutely thrilled, even the Pope was complementary. When you send one ship and she was tiny, goes up the Pacific seaboard of South America, wreaking absolute havoc, the whole Spanish Pacific can’t do anything about it, because they can’t catch her. Some of the things they did such as taking gold from a Spaniard while he’s fast asleep, re-diverting the llama trade… Some of the things they did were funny, and it goes resounding around the country. Being told at fireside tales in pubs, it goes resounding around Europe. It makes a power, but in a way, Spain was feared in the same way that Russia was feared during the cold war. Here is this tiny offshore island making a mark of this world power, really causing Europe to feel that “if they can do it, we can do it”. It saw not the end of the Spanish Empire, but the beginning of the end.
Bill: I think it’s a function of “who’s got the better idea?” Whose conceptual framework for existing, working, living, whatever is superior” and I think superior ideas win out in the long run and I think Drake’s idea is still winning out today. It’s unfortunate that very few people know this part of Drake. They see him as a pirate. In this country, we talk about Drake as a pirate when he clearly wasn’t a pirate. He was a privateer. Susan, in our country, we had privateering against the English during the Revolutionary War, which was blessed by our founding fathers, Adams, Jefferson and Washington. We used privateering as a means of financing the way, so privateering is something very, very common, is it not?
Susan: Privateering was technically legal until the 19th century. Everybody did it. It was really part of an act of war. What really annoys me about our modern 21st century world is that many historians judge Drake by our 20th Century concepts. It’s something we mustn’t’ do. We can only judge the Elizabethans by their own standards. Political correctness passed the Elizabethans by; therefore, we cannot judge them by our own politically correct standards. Otherwise, we are blaming them for something they can’t help being Elizabethans. For them, privateering was perfectly legal – to pray on the ships of an enemy country. It is totally unfair to call Drake a pirate because he never was. He treated his prisoners of war well. He only attacked Spanish ships. A pirate will attack the ships of any country, including his own, usually, torturing and killing his prisoners. That wasn’t how Drake fought. He fought in his private voyages up until the end of his circumnavigation, in support as a privateer, licensed by his own government. After the circumnavigation, he fought as an admiral of the Queen’s navy. You can’t call a man of that caliber a pirate.
Bill: No, it’s pretty tough. Another thing that we get over here, again, by modernist biographers, people that are willing to take a shot, is what’s the reference to him? He was a slaver, and that describes the totality of his life. Do you want to talk a little bit about Drake’s slaving mission with cousin, John Hawkins, as well as… at some point he got to the place where he said, “I really can’t do this anymore”, did he not?
Susan: Well, what you’ve got to really is that slavery, the concept of slavery, is as old a time itself. Early man, early tribesmen fought each other and their captives, the prisoners of war, became slaves. It was an automatic thing. Right away through the Roman Empire to almost modern times. If you were a prisoner of war, you became a slave. Look at the allied soldiers who were enslaved on the Burma railroad. It was not specifically developed at the colored person, a black man. There were no racial prejudice in it. Anybody who was a prisoner of war became a slave. English sailors captured by the Spaniards became slaves of the Spanish galleons. The Spaniards have got a lucrative trade going. The African chieftains were selling their prisoners of war to the Spanish and the Portuguese. John Hawkins muscled in on this trade. Now Hawkins only made three slave voyages in ships very small, so the amount of slaves that he took to the Americas would not have been great. Drake only went on two of these voyages. One voyage headed by John Lovell where he went as his junior officer, and the Hawkins voyage that ended in San Juan that caused Drake to hate Spain so much. Drake sailed first as a junior officer aboard the flagship, and then he was promoted to his own ship. He was very low on the chain of command. As soon as he was a commander in his own right, he had nothing whatsoever to do with the slave trade, and neither did John Hawkins after those two voyages, the two voyages he made and the one he financed. He turned his attention to the creation of the navy. I’m not condoning England’s 16th century participation in the slave trade, but it was three voyages set against hundreds that the Spaniards made. England only dabbled a toe in the water and found that it wasn’t a success.
Bill: And, Drake, as you said, wasn’t in a position of authority on the two voyages that he was in at all was, as you say.
Susan: No, on the one voyage, he was a very junior officer really learning his trade. He’d planned to learn the art of navigation as opposed to ensure pilotage. Ultimately, on the San Juan Lovell voyage, he started off as an officer of the flagship an halfway through the voyage, he was promoted to a captain in his own right, but the Judith, a very small ship, who by the time you got the crew aboard, there wouldn’t have had room for any slaves. When you think the average size of the Elizabethan galleon, the amount of slaves you get on them were not very great. Really, England is forced to jump through the hoop over three 16th century slaving voyages. Nothing is said about the numerous voyages, slaving voyages, done by Spain and Portugal in the same period. If England is going to be held accountable for three Elizabethan slaving voyages, then Japan should be held equally accountable for the Burma railroad. I feel very strongly about that.
Bill: Certainly, Susan, and that’s the perceived negative side. As we examine it, it’s not really much of a negative side itself. He gets blamed for these things, but then he goes on to… Really, I think the man was hundreds of years ahead of his time with respect to his tolerance and his perception of other races. The people that don’t like Drake from the people on the left in this country, really should like him a lot because he really didn’t participate out of his own volition in the trade business, but he really had an amazing heart and affinity for blacks, for Indians and for people of color. He really set a pace. Okay, we’re going to take a short break. We’ll be right back right after this.
Susan: Well, certainly, and one of Spain’s greatest fears was that Drake would unite the Cimarrone people of Panama and caused a rebellion against Spain. What hadn’t occurred to Spain was that England hadn’t got the resources to do it, but certainly, Drake’s interactions with the Cimarrones were harmonious. They obeyed him. The leader of the Cimarrone group, Petro, worked in complete harmony with Drake assisting him to take the mule train. Petro’s brother, Diego, when it came to departing didn’t want to leave Drake, and he traveled to England as Drake’s indentured servant. He is the only person, as far as we know, who ever told Drake what to do. He certainly had an excellent relationship and when he died in the voyage around the world, Drake was absolutely devastated. Two of Drake’s other black servants… they were servants, paid a wage, not indentured slaves… when they died, he had them buried in St. Andrews Church.
Bill: Wow, St. Andrews in Plymouth?
Susan: Yes, because they followed him to England. Diego even went and served in Ireland with him.
Bill: Well, you talked a lot about… Again, you make a profound point about the difference in how he’s perceived and talked about and I think this kind of thing needs to be brought up and discussed. Talk a little bit about his sense of humor. There’s another side of this guy that people tend to wonder… This is the same way that folks paint the Pilgrims with his big broad brush as being there stoic folks that never smiled. They would do the same thing to Drake, “Here’s this guy who was a slaver and a mean-spirited fellow”. He was anything but that.
Susan: There was nothing mean-spirited about him. He wasn’t perfect. He had a temper. He could be arrogant. He could be very, very forceful, but Drake is redeemed by his sense of humor. That’s one reason why he got on so well with the Queen. He could say things to her nobody else could get away with because he made her laugh. The Spaniards, a lot of Spanish documents comment about his sense of humor. He said to one Spaniard, “I suppose that you think I’m odd, a man who has captured your ship now going to lead my crew in prayer?” He had jokes with his crew. He would joke with them. He would share the anecdotes of the voyage with them. He would do silly… well, not silly things, things that would make them laugh like just robbing the Spaniard and leaving him fast asleep. He would come out with funny little quips to the Spaniards that he captured.
Bill: What do they say? He left them… They took his gold, but they left him with his sleep, or something.
Susan: They left him fast asleep. All through the accounts of the voyage, the little quips, they’re funny. They did this thing (inaudible 42:37) after Drake’s autobiography, “Sir Francis Drake V5” . It’s full of funny little things that he said, that he barely remembered afterwards. For example, when he took Cadiz, he said he was singeing the King of Spain’s beard.
Susan: And one of the other things he said to Walsingham was, “I’ll bring you a golden hair from Phillip’s beard, if I can find one I haven’t already turned gray”.
Bill: So this whole thing, I think, too, this sense of humor that he had was the same sort of perspective that he had. He always, Susan, kept himself in perspective, whether he was willing to do the work of a ship’s mate, or willing to pitch in and do the lowest level work as a leader. He was willing to make fun of situations, including himself in some cases. That keeps you in perspective, doesn’t it?
Susan: It certainly does. Drake’s been admired for the fact that he’d go (inaudible 43:40) with them. He’d hold on a rope with them. When they would take a (inaudible 43:45) castle, he wasn’t with the other commanders, he was out in front with the men piling up all the wounded against the gate and burn the gates down. He never did anything that his… His men were never asked to do anything that he wasn’t prepared to do himself. You see Bill, he’d come from the bottom. There wasn’t a job on the ship he hadn’t done. He started off a cabin boy, then he was an ordinary sailor, then a purser, then a junior officer. Unlike Hawkins, Frobisher, Raleigh and Grenville, he didn’t go straight in as a senior officer or captain. He’d come from the bottom. He’d done all the jobs. He knew what it was to climb up the ropes in the middle of a storm. He knew what it was to have to furl a great whopping big soaking wet sail. He knew what the men went through because he’d gone through it himself. They knew that. That was why they gave him a respect that almost bordered on love.
Bill: Also, I think in addition to what you’re saying, it’s pretty well known that during a time when maybe you could be pressed into service on a ship, he always had a couple hundred people wanting to sail with him. In other words, it wasn’t a common thing – “What’s your favorite think in the world to do?” “Well, I think I’d like to go serve on a ship.” This was not an easy thing, but he had, because of his reputation for being faithful, honest and so forth, he had people…Susan, you can clarify this for me, but he had people signed up ahead of time that wanted to join him.
Susan: Well, certainly, but the fact of press scandal is a bit of fantasy where Elizabethan England was concerned. There’s no record of them having to press men into service. The press began really more belongs to Nelson’s navy than to Drake’s. But certainly, Drake had men more than willing to sail with him, and again, and again, when the crew list exists, and they don’t exist for every voyage, unfortunately, but you do see the same names. Tom Moon followed him, for example, on every voyage and died at Santa Domingo, and again Drake had him buried with full ceremonial honors. Many of his officers, like Christopher Carhill, always said that he would serve with him again. So did John Norris. The Pretenders of the Throne of Portugal said that he would always sail with Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norris, because they were very great gentlemen.
Bill: Well, another remarkable thing is if you’ve got a team that wants to keep getting back together again, and you’ve got the respect as you say to enable that, that’s a remarkable thing in and of itself.
Susan: Yes, he did command devotion. He did command respect. When you think of it in that era, there were three men who commanded devotion from their fellows. One was Henry of Navarre, who was a monarch, one was the Earl of Essex, who was a nobleman, and the other was Drake.
Bill: Let’s talk about life on the ship for a second. He read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, did he not to his crew? He prayed with them. Talk a little bit about that.
Susan: Drake had held regular services twice a day, morning and evening, aboard his ship. Each of his ships had a chaplain, a pastor, but sometimes Drake would preach the sermon himself. At the services, there would be a Bible reading, there would be psalms and prayers, and there would be the opportunity for the men to take communion. The Spaniards actually wrote down the order of service because they were very intrigued as to what the service was, and they came and watched. Drake also is on record of setting aside each day a little bit of time for some private prayer, but always aboard his ship, there would be daily prayers. The men would attend the prayers if they were not on watch. Drake read to his men from the Bible. He sang the psalms with them. He loved music, so he probably had a good singing voice. He read from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, and he wrote an account of each voyage to John Harps, who he called his “father in God”.
Bill: That’s more remarkable. What I get from Foxe is he wanted to make sure that the people around him knew this history of what happened. What happened during Luther’s time? What happened under John Wicklow’s time? What happened during the Inquisition? That’s pretty important stuff.
Susan: What he mainly wanted to do was to let people know what happened to England during the persecutions of Queen Mary. He did mention the Inquisition, and what’s we’ve got to remember is after the Wyatt Rebellion, a lot of men of Kent were hung. These men would have been men… many sailors joined Wyatt’s Rebellion; men that Drake had known on the dockyard, who perhaps helped him learn how to splice a rope as a little boy. He might have seen their body dangling from a jibbed. He traded as a boy with the Netherlands, with parts of Spain under the domination of the Inquisition. He probably witnessed burning at the stake. He knew that his own parents had had to go into hiding because his father was a Protestant. He had seen the harbors after San Juan Diolla. His own cousin, Robert Barrett, the man who probably taught him his navigation skills, was captured by the Spaniards and burned at the stake. The stories of the Marian Persecution, and the stories of the persecution of the Inquisition, weren’t just things in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs; they were very, very real to Drake. It was something he had seen or witnessed, something that had touched his own personal life. We tend to forget that, that underneath all this rotten humor, he had seen some pretty horrific stuff.
Bill: Pretty horrific stuff indeed. Susan, as we get ready to close down a little bit, it’s just been a pleasure to hear you talk about. Sir Francis Drake.
Susan: It’s been a pleasure to talk about him.
Bill: Is there anything else that you’d like to share, or any way that you’d like to close this conversation out?
Susan: Well, I think what we forget about Drake is that first and foremost, he was a sailor. He loved the sea. He loved being on the sea and even if he didn’t regard it as his mission to hit Spain hard, hit Spain fast, hit Spain first, and thereby strike a blow for both his queen and his faith, he would have still gone to sea. He was a sailor. He was a ship’s officer. He was an adventurer. We tend to forget under all that he loved the salt water. It was in his blood.
Bill: It was in his blood. It was that, Susan. Thank you so much. Susan Jackson from the Drake Exploration Society. We really appreciate you being on the show today. Thanks so much.
Susan: Thank you, and God’s blessing and Drake’s love to you as they said in 16th century Devon.
Bill: Thank you so much. God bless.
Susan: Thank you. Goodbye.
Bill: Bye now.