Francis Drake was born about 1540 in Devonshire, England. He grew up in poverty, living in the hull of a ship moored in the Thames River. At age 13, Drake became a seaman’s apprentice on a ship that traded among the North Sea ports.
At age 23, now skilled in seafaring, Drake joined an expedition to the West Indies. His bravery and superb seamanship were noticed by his superiors, including the English queen Elizabeth I.
At the time, Spain and England were competing for power in Europe, and the queen authorized Drake to attack and plunder Spanish shipping.The Spanish transported spices and cloths of the East Indies across the Pacific Ocean to Latin America. Spanish warehouses in Panama brimmed with the riches of trade and conquest. Gold and silver were collected and loaded onto galleons for the slow journey across the Atlantic Ocean to Spain.
Drawn by the tempting targets, Drake led five ships across the Atlantic and down the coast of South America in December 1577. Drake executed one man for conspiring to mutiny and was forced to scuttle two vessels.
In August 1578, the remaining ships entered the treacherous strait at the tip of South America, which had been named for Magellan. The English sailors shivered in the bitter cold as Drake carefully maneuvered the fleet through the channel.
Finally, in September, Drake and his men joyfully entered the Pacific Ocean. But a storm pounded the fleet soon afterward, and one ship vanished with all its sailors.
Just one week later, the remaining two ships were separated. Drake and his crew aboard the Golden Hind continued up the coast of Chile alone.