A Raid on Spanish Treasure in America

April 14, 2020

Sir Francis Drake

Captain Walter Bigges, Drake's Great Armada
Vol. 33, pp. 229-242 of The Harvard Classics

Spanish towns in the New World were rich in treasure and tempting booty for English soldiers of fortune, who were venturesome and merciless. "Ho! for the Spanish Main!" was the rallying cry for all freebooters and buccaneers.


A Summary and True Discourse of SIR FRANCIS DRAKE’S West Indian Voyage, begun in the year 1585. Wherein were taken the cities of SANTIAGO, SANTO DOMINGO,CARTHAGENA, and the town of ST. AUGUSTINE, in FLORIDA. Published by MASTERTHOMAS CATES.

  THIS worthy knight, for the service of his prince and country, having prepared his whole fleet, and gotten them down to Plymouth, in Devonshire, to the number of five and twenty sail of ships and pinnaces, and having assembled of soldiers and mariners to the number of 2,300 in the whole, embarked them and himself at Plymouth aforesaid, the 12. day of September, 1585, being accompanied with these men of name and charge which hereafter follow: Master Christopher Carlile, Lieutenant-General, a man of long experience in the wars as well by sea as land, who had formerly carried high offices in both kinds in many fights, which he discharged always very happily, and with great good reputation; Anthony Powell, Sergeant-Major; Captain Matthew Morgan, and Captain John Sampson, Corporals of the Field. These officers had commandment over the rest of the land-captains, whose names hereafter follow: Captain Anthony Platt, Captain Edward Winter, Captain John Goring, Captain Robert Pew, Captain George Barton, Captain John Merchant, CaptainWilliam Cecil, Captain Walter Bigges, 1 Captain John Hannam, Captain Richard Stanton.Captain Martin Frobisher, Vice-Admiral, a man of great experience in seafaring actions, who had carried the chief charge of many ships himself, in sundry voyages before, being now shipped in the Primrose; Captain Francis Knolles, Rear-Admiral in the galleonLeicester; Master Thomas Venner, captain in the Elizabeth Bonadventure, under the General; Master Edward Winter, captain in the Aid; Master Christopher Carlile, the Lieutenant-General, captain of the Tiger; Henry White, captain of the Sea-Dragon; Thomas Drake, 2 captain of the Thomas; Thomas Seeley, captain of the Minion; Baily,captain of the Talbot; Robert Cross, captain of the bark Bond; George Fortescue, captain of the bark Bonner; Edward Careless, captain of the Hope; James Erizo, captain of theWhite Lion; Thomas Moon, captain of the Francis; John Rivers, captain of the Vantage; John Vaughan, captain of the Drake; John Varney, captain of the George; John Martin,captain of the Benjamin; Edward Gilman, captain of the Scout; Richard Hawkins, captain of the galliot called the Duck; Bitfield, captain of the Swallow.

  After our going hence, which was the 14. of September, in the year of our Lord 1585, and taking our course towards Spain, we had the wind for a few days somewhat scant, and sometimes calm. And being arrived near that part of Spain which is called the Moors, 3 we happened to espy divers sails, which kept their course close by the shore, the weather being fair and calm. The General caused the Vice-Admiral to go with the pinnaces well manned to see what they were; who upon sight of the said pinnaces approaching near unto them, abandoned for the most part all their ships, being Frenchmen, laden all with salt, and bound homewards into France. Amongst which ships, being all of small burthen, there was one so well liked, which also had no man in her, as being brought unto the General, he thought good to make stay of her for the service, meaning to pay for her, as also accordingly he performed at our return; which bark was called the Drake. The rest of these ships, being eight or nine, were dismissed without anything at all taken from them. Who being afterwards put somewhat farther off from the shore, by the contrariety of the wind, we happened to meet with some other French ships, full laden with Newland fish, being upon their return homeward from the said Newfoundland; whom the General after some speech had with them, and seeing plainly that they were Frenchmen, dismissed, without once suffering any man to go abroad of them.

  The day following, standing in with the shore again, we decried another tall ship of twelve score tons or thereabouts, upon whom Master Carlile, the Lieutenant-General, being in the Tiger, undertook the chase; whom also anon after the Admiral followed. And the Tiger having caused the said strange ship to strike her sails, kept her there without suffering anybody to go aboard until the Admiral was come up; who forthwith sending for the master, and divers others of their principal men, and causing them to be severally examined, found the ship and goods to be belonging to the inhabitants of St. Sebastian, inSpain, but the mariners to be for the most part belonging to St. John de Luz, and thePassage. 4 In this ship was great store of dry Newland fish, commonly called with us Poor John; whereof afterwards, being thus found a lawful prize, there was distribution made into all the ships of the fleet, the same being so new and good, as it did very greatly bestead us in the whole course of our voyage. A day or two after the taking of this ship we put in within the Isles of Bayon, 5 for lack of favourable wind. Where we had no sooner anchored some part of the fleet, but the General commanded all the pinnaces with the shipboats to be manned, and every man to be furnished with such arms as were needful for that present service; which being done, the General put himself into his galley, which was also well furnished, and rowing towards the city of Bayon, with intent, and the favour of the Almighty, to surprise it. Before we had advanced one half-league of our way there came a messenger, being an English merchant, from the governor, to see what strange fleet we were; who came to our General, conferred a while with him, and after a small time spent, our General called for Captain Sampson, and willed him to go to the governor of the city, to resolve him of two points. The first to know if there were any wars between Spain and England; the second, why our merchants with their goods were embarged or arrested? Thus departed Captain Sampson with the said messenger to the city, where he found the governor and people much amazed of such a sudden accident. The General, with the advice and counsel of Master Carlile, his Lieutenant-General, who was in the galley with him, thought not good to make any stand, till such time as they were within the shot of the city, where they might be ready upon the return of Captain Sampson, to make a sudden attempt, if cause did require, before it were dark.

  Captain Sampson returned with his message in this sort:—First, touching peace or wars, the governor said he knew of no wars and that it lay not in him to make any, he being so mean a subject as he was. And as for the stay of the merchants with their goods, it was the king’s pleasure, but not with intent to endamage any man. And that the king’s counter-commandment was (which had been received in that place some seven-night before) that English merchants with their goods should be discharged. For the more verifying whereof, he sent such merchants as were in the town of our nation, who trafficked those parts; which being at large declared to our General by them, counsel was taken what might best be done. And for that the night approached, it was thought needful to land our forces, which was done in the shutting up of the day; and having quartered ourselves to our most advantage, with sufficient guard upon every strait, we thought to rest ourselves for that night there. The Governor sent us some refreshing, as bread, wine, oil, apples, grapes, marmalade and such like. About midnight the weather began to overcast, insomuch that it was thought meeter to repair aboard, than to make any longer abode on land. And before we could recover the fleet a great tempest arose, which caused many of our ships to drive from their anchorhold, and some were forced to sea in great peril, as the bark Talbot, the bark Hawkins, and the Speedwell; which Speedwell only was driven into England, the others recovered us again. The extremity of the storm lasted three days; which no sooner began to assuage, but Master Carlile, our Lieutenant-General, was sent with his own ship and three others, as also with the galley and with divers pinnaces, to see what he might do above Vigo, where he took many boats and some carvels, diversely laden with things of small value, but chiefly with household stuff, running into the high country. And amongst the rest he found one boat laden with the principal church stuff of the high church of Vigo,where also was their great cross of silver, of very fair embossed work and double-gilt all over, having cost them a great mass of money. They complained to have lost in all kinds of goods above thirty thousand ducats in this place.

  The next day the General with his whole fleet went from up the Isles of Bayon to a very good harbour above Vigo, where Master Carlile stayed his coming, as well for the more quiet riding of his ships, as also for the good commodity of fresh watering which the place there did afford full well. In the meantime the governor of Galicia had reared such forces as he might (his numbers by estimate were some 2000 foot and 300 horse), and marched from Bayona to this part of the country, which lay in sight of our fleet; where, making a stand, he sent to parley with our General. Which was granted by our General, so it might be in boats upon the water; and for safety of their persons there were pledges delivered on both sides. Which done, the governor of Galicia put himself with two others into our Vice-Admiral’s skiff, the same having been sent to the shore for him, and in like sort our General went in his own skiff. Where by them it was agreed we should furnish ourselves with fresh water, to be taken by our own people quietly on the land, and have all other such necessaries, paying for the same, as the place would afford.

  When all our business was ended we departed, and took our way by the Islands ofCanaria, which are esteemed some 300 leagues from this part of Spain; and falling purposely with Palma, with intention to have taken our pleasure of that place, for the full digesting of many things into order, and the better furnishing our store with such several good things as it affordeth very abundantly, we were forced by the vile sea-gate, which at that present fell out, and by the naughtiness of the landing-place, being but one, and that under the favour of many platforms well furnished with great ordnance, to depart with the receipt of many of their cannon-shot, some into our ships and some besides, some of them being in very deed full cannon high. But the only or chief mischief was the dangerous sea-surge, which at shore all alongst plainly threatened the overthrow of as many pinnaces and boats as for that time should have attempted any landing at all.

  Now seeing the expectation of this attempt frustrated by the causes aforesaid, we thought it meeter to fall with the Isle Ferro, to see if we could find any better fortune; and coming to the island we landed a thousand men in a valley under a high mountain, where we stayed some two or three hours. In which time the inhabitants, accompanied with a young fellow born in England, who dwelt there with them, came unto us, shewing their state to be so poor that they were all ready to starve, which was not untrue; and therefore without anything gotten, we were all commanded presently to embark, so as that night we put off to sea south-south-east along towards the coast of Barbary.

  Upon Saturday in the morning, being the 13. of November, we fell with Cape Blank,which is a low land and shallow water, where we catched store of fish; and doubling the cape, we put into the bay, where we found certain French ships of war, whom we entertained with great courtesy, and there left them. This afternoon the whole fleet assembled, which was a little scattered about their fishing, and put from thence to the Isles of Cape Verde, sailing till the 16. of the same month in the morning; on which day we descried the Island of Santiago. And in the evening we anchored the fleet between the town called the Playa or Praya and Santiago; where we put on shore 1000 men or more, under the leading of Master Christopher Carlile, Lieutenant-General, who directed the service most like a wise commander. The place where we had first to march did afford no good order, for the ground was mountainous and full of dales, being a very stony and troublesome passage; but such was his industrious disposition, as he would never leave, until we had gotten up to a fair plain, where we made stand for the assembling of the army. And when we were all gathered together upon the plain, some two miles from the town, the Lieutenant-General thought good not to make attempt till daylight, because there was not one that could serve for guide or giving knowledge at all of the place. And therefore after having well rested, even half an hour before day, he commanded the army to be divided into three special parts, such as he appointed, whereas before we had marched by several companies, being thereunto forced by the badness of the way as is aforesaid. Now by the time we were thus ranged into a very brave order, daylight began to appear. And being advanced hard to the wall, we saw no enemy to resist. Where-upon the Lieutenant-General appointed Captain Sampson with thirty shot, 6 and Captain Barton with other thirty, to go down into the town, which stood in the valley under us, and might very plainly be viewed all over from that place where the whole army was now arrived; and presently after these captains was sent the great ensign, which had nothing in it but the plain English cross, to be placed towards the sea, that our fleet might see St. George’scross flourish in the enemy’s fortress. Order was given that all the ordnance throughout the town and upon all the platforms, which were about fifty pieces all ready charged, should be shot off in honour of the Queen’s Majesty’s coronation day, being the 17. of November, after the yearly custom of England, which was so answered again by the ordnance out of all the ships in the fleet, which now come near, as it was strange to hear such a thundering noise last so long together. In this mean while the Lieutenant-General held still the most part of his force on the hilltop, till such time as the town was quartered out for the lodging of the whole army. Which being done, every captain took his own quarter; and in the evening was placed such a sufficient guard upon every part of the town that we had no cause to fear any present enemy. Thus we continued in the city the space of fourteen days, taking such spoils as the place yielded, which were, for the most part, wine, oil, meal, and some other such like things for victual as vinegar, olives, and some other trash, as merchandise for their Indian trades. But there was not found any treasure at all, or anything else of worth besides.

  The situation of Santiago is somewhat strange; in form like a triangle, having on the east and west sides two mountains of rock and cliff, as it were hanging over it; upon the top of which two mountains were builded certain fortifications to preserve the town from any harm that might be offered, as in a plot is plainly shewed. From thence on the south side of the town is the main sea; and on the north side, the valley lying between the aforesaid mountains, wherein the town standeth. The said valley and town both do grow very narrow; insomuch that the space between the two cliffs of this end of the town is estimated not to be above ten or twelve score [yards] over. In the midst of the valley cometh down a riveret, rill, or brook of fresh water, which hard by the seaside maketh a pond or pool, whereout our ships were watered with very great ease and pleasure. Somewhat above the town on the north side, between the two mountains, the valley waxeth somewhat larger than at the town’s end; which valley is wholly converted into gardens and orchards, well replenished with divers sorts of fruits, herbs, and trees, as lemons, oranges, sugar-canes,cocars or cocos nuts, plantains, potato-roots, cucumbers, small and round onions, garlic, and some other things not now remembered. Amongst which the cocos nuts and plantains are very pleasant fruits; the said cocos hath a hard shell and a green husk over it as hath our walnut, but it far exceedeth in greatness, for this cocos in his green husk is bigger than any man’s two fists. Of the hard shell many drinking cups are made here in England, and set in silver as I have often seen. Next within this hard shell is a white rind resembling in show very much, even as any thing may do, to the white of an egg when it is hard boiled. And within this white of the nut lieth a water, which is whitish and very clear, to the quantity of half a pint or thereabouts; which water and white rind before spoken of are both of a very cool fresh taste, and as pleasing as anything may be. I have heard some hold opinion that it is very restorative. The plantain groweth in cods, somewhat like to beans, but is bigger and longer, and much more thick together on the stalk; and when it waxeth ripe, the meat which filleth the rind of the cod becometh yellow, and is exceeding sweet and pleasant.

  In this time of our being there happened to come a Portugal to the western fort, with a flag of truce. To whom Captain Sampson was sent with Captain Goring; who coming to the said messenger, he first asked them, What nation they were? they answeredEnglishmen. He then required to know if wars were between England and Spain; to which they answered, that they knew not, but if he would go to their General he could best resolve him of such particulars. And for his assurance of passage and repassage these captains made offer to engage their credits, which he refused for that he was not sent from his governor. Then they told him if his governor did desire to take a course for the common benefit of the people and country his best way were to come and present himself unto our noble and merciful governor, Sir Francis Drake, whereby he might be assured to find favour, both for himself and the inhabitants. Otherwise within three days we should march over the land, and consume with fire all inhabited places, and put to the sword all such living souls as we should chance upon. So thus much he took for the conclusion of his answer. And departing, he promised to return the next day; but we never heard more of him.

  Upon the 24. of November, the General, accompanied with the Lieutenant-General and 600 men, marched forth to a village twelve miles within the land, called Saint Domingo,where the governor and the bishop, with all the better sort, were lodged; and by eight of the clock we came to it, finding the place abandoned, and the people fled into the mountains. So we made stand a while to ease ourselves, and partly to see if any would come to speak to us. After we had well rested ourselves, the General commanded the troops to march away homewards. In which retreat the enemy shewed themselves, both horse and foot, though not such force as durst encounter us; and so in passing some time at the gaze with them, it waxed late and towards night before we could recover home toSantiago.

  On Monday, the 26. of November, the General commanded all the pinnaces with the boats to use all diligence to embark the army into such ships as every man belonged. The Lieutenant-General in like sort commanded Captain Goring and Lieutenant Tucker, with one hundred shot, to make a stand in the marketplace until our forces were wholly embarked; the Vice-Admiral making stay with his pinnace and certain boats in the harbour, to bring the said last company abroad the ships. Also the General willed forthwith the galley with two pinnaces to take into them the company of Captain Barton, and the company of Captain Bigges, under the leading of Captain Sampson, to seek out such munition as was hidden in the ground, at the town of Praya, or Playa, having been promised to be shewed it by a prisoner which was taken the day before.

  The captains aforesaid coming to the Playa, landed their men; and having placed the troop in their best strength, Captain Sampson took the prisoner, and willed him to show that he had promised. The which he could not, or at least would not; but they searching all suspected places, found two pieces of ordnance, one of iron, another of brass. In the afternoon the General anchored with the rest of the fleet before the Playa, coming himself ashore, willing us to burn the town and make all haste aboard; the which was done by six of the clock the same day, and ourselves embarked again the same night. And so we put off to sea south-west.

  But before our departure from the town of Santiago, we established orders for the better government of the army. Every man mustered to his captain, and oaths were ministered, to acknowledge her Majesty supreme Governor, as also every man to do his utter-most endeavour to advance the service of the action, and to yield due obedience unto the directions of the General and his officers. By this provident counsel, and laying down this good foundation beforehand, all things went forward in a due course, to the achieving of our happy enterprise.

  In all the time of our being here, neither the governor for the said King of Spain, which is a Portugal, neither the bishop, whose authority is great, neither the inhabitants of the town, or island, ever came at us; which we expected they should have done, to entreat us to leave them some part of their needful provisions, or at the least to spare the ruining of their town at our going away. The cause of this their unreasonable distrust, as I do take it, was the fresh remembrance of the great wrongs that they had done to old Master William Hawkins,of Plymouth, in the voyage he made four or five years before, whenas they did both break their promise, and murdered many of his men; whereof I judge you have understood, and therefore it is needless to be repeated. But since they came not at us, we left written in sundry places, as also in the Spital House (which building was only appointed to be spared), the great discontentment and scorn we took at this their refraining to come unto us, as also at the rude manner of killing, and savage kind of handling the dead body of one of our boys found by them straggling all alone, from whom they had taken his head and heart, and had straggled the other bowels about the place, in a most brutish and beastly manner. In revenge whereof at our departing we consumed with fire all the houses, as well in the country which we saw, as in the town of Santiago.

  From hence putting off to the West Indies, we were not many days at sea but there began among our people such mortality as in a few days there were dead above two or three hundred men. And until some seven or eight days after our coming from Santiago, there had not died any one man of sickness in all the fleet. The sickness showed not his infection, wherewith so many were strucken, until we were departed thence; and then seized our people with extreme hot burning and continual agues, whereof very few escaped with life, and yet those for the most part not without great alteration and decay of their wits and strength for a long time after. In some that died were plainly shown the small spots which are often found upon those that be infected with the plague. We were not above eighteen days in passage between the sight of Santiago aforesaid, and the island ofDominica, being the first island of the West Indies that we fell withal; the same being inhabited with savage people, which go all naked, their skin coloured with some painting of a reddish tawny, very personable and handsome strong men, who do admit little conversation with the Spaniards; for, as some of our people might understand them, they had a Spaniard or twain prisoners with them. Neither do I think that there is any safety for any of our nation, or any other, to be within the limits of their commandment; albeit they used us very kindly for those few hours of time which we spent with them, helping our folks to fill and carry on their bare shoulders fresh water from the river to our ships’ boats, and fetching from their houses great store of tobacco, as also a kind of bread which they fed on, called cassavi, very white and savoury, made of the roots of cassavi. In recompense whereof we bestowed liberal rewards of glass, coloured beads, and other things, which we had found at Santiago; wherewith, as it seemed, they rested very greatly satisfied, and shewed some sorrowful countenance when they perceived that we would depart.

  From hence we went to another island westward of it, called Saint Christopher’s Island; wherein we spent some days of Christmas, to refresh our sick people, and to cleanse and air our ships. In which island were not any people at all that we could hear of.

  In which time by the General it was advised and resolved, with the consent of the Lieutenant-General, the Vice-Admiral, and all the rest of the captains, to proceed to the great island of Hispaniola, as well for that we knew ourselves then to be in our best strength, as also the rather allured thereunto by the glorious fame of the city of St. Domingo, being the ancientest and chief inhabited place in all the tract of country thereabouts. And so proceeding in this determination, by the way we met a small frigate, bound for the same place, the which the Vice-Admiral took; and having duly examined the men that were in her, there was one found by whom we were advertised the haven to be a barred haven, and the shore or land thereof to be well fortified, having a castle thereupon furnished with great store of artillery, without the danger whereof was no convenient landing-place within ten English miles of the city, to which the said pilot took upon him to conduct us.

  All things being thus considered on, the whole forces were commanded in the evening to embark themselves in pinnaces, boats, and other small barks appointed for this service. Our soldiers being thus embarked, the General put himself into the bark Francis as Admiral; and all this night we lay on the sea, bearing small sail until our arrival to the landing-place, which was about the breaking of the day. And so we landed, being New Year’s Day, nine or ten miles to the westwards of that brave city of St. Domingo; for at that time nor yet is known to us any landing-place, where the sea-surge doth not threaten to overset a pinnace or boat. Our General having seen us all landed in safety, returned to his fleet, bequeathing us to God, and the good conduct of Master Carlile, our Lieutenant-General; at which time, being about eight of the clock, we began to march. And about noon-time, or towards one of the clock, we approached the town; where the gentleman and those of the better sort, being some hundred and fifty brave horses, or rather more, began to present themselves. But our small shot played upon them, which were so sustained with good proportion of pikes in all parts, as they finding no part of our troop unprepared to receive them (for you must understand they viewed all round about) they were thus driven to give us leave to proceed towards the two gates of the town which were the next to the seaward. They had mannned them both, and planted their ordnance for that present and sudden alarm without the gate, and also some troops of small shot in ambuscado upon the highway side. We divided our whole force, being some thousand or twelve hundred men, into two parts, to enterprise both the gates at one instant; the Lieutenant-General having openly vowed to Captain Powell, who led the troop that entered the other gate, that with God’s good favour he would not rest until our meeting in the market-place.

  Their ordnance had no sooner discharged upon our near approach, and made some execution amongst us, though not much, but the Lieutenant-General began forthwith to advance both his voice of encouragement and pace of marching; the first man that was slain with the ordnance being very near unto himself; and thereupon hasted all that he might, to keep them from the recharging of the ordnance. And notwithstanding theirambuscados, we marched or rather ran so roundly into them, as pell-mell we entered the gates, and gave them more care every man to save himself by flight, than reason to stand any longer to their broken fight. We forthwith repaired to the market-place, but to be more truly understood, a place of very spacious square ground; whither also came, as had been agreed, Captain Powell with the other troop. Which place with some part next unto it, we strengthened with barricados, and there as the most convenient place assured ourselves, the city being far too spacious for so small and weary a troop to undertake to guard. Somewhat after midnight, they who had the guard of the castle, hearing us busy about the gates of the said castle, abandoned the same; some being taken prisoners, and some fleeing away by the help of boats to the other side of the haven, and so into the country.

  The next day we quartered a little more at large, but not into the half part of the town; and so making substantial trenches, and planting all the ordnance, that each part was correspondent to other, we held this town the space of one month.

  In the which time happened some accidents, more than are well remembered for the present. But amongst other things, it chanced that the General sent on his message to the Spaniards a negro boy with a flag of white, signifying truce, as is the Spanish ordinary manner to do there, when they approach to speak to us; which boy unhappily was first met withal by some of those who had been belonging as officers for the king in the Spanish galley, which with the town was lately fallen into our hands. Who, without all order or reason, and contrary to that good usage wherewith we had entertained their messengers, furiously struck the poor boy through the body with one of their horsemen’s staves; with which wound the boy returned to the General, and after he had declared the manner of this wrongful cruelty, died forthwith in his presence. Wherewith the General being greatly passioned, commanded the provost-marshal to cause a couple of friars, then prisoners, to be carried to the same place where the boy was strucken, accompanied with sufficient guard of our soldiers, and there presently to be hanged, despatching at the same instant another poor prisoner, with this reason wherefore this execution was done, and with this message further, that until the party who had thus murdered the General’s messenger were delivered into our hands to receive condign punishment, there should no day pass wherein there should not two prisoners be hanged, until they were all consumed which were in our hands. Whereupon the day following, he that had been captain of the king’s galley brought the offender to the town’s end, offering to deliver him into our hands. But it was thought to be a more honourable revenge to make them there, in our sight, to perform the execution themselves; which was done accordingly.

Note 1. The writer of the first part of the narrative.
Note 2. Francis Drake’s brother.
Note 3. Muros, S. of Cape Finisterre.
Note 4. Passages, E. of San Sebastian.
Note 5. The Cies Islets, at the mouth of the Vigo River.
Note 6. Musketeers.

You Might Also Like


Like us on Facebook