Francis Drake was born sometime around 1540 in Tavistock, England. His father was a farmer and preacher. At the young age of thirteen, he joined the crew of a cargo ship. He was a quick learner and had command of the ship by the age of twenty after the death of the ship's captain.
In 1563, Drake sailed to North America on a voyage financed by the Hawkins family. He then embarked on the first English slave-trading expedition with his cousin, John Hawkins. Soon after, they sailed West to the coast of Mexico, where he was involved in a fight with Spanish soldiers. The incident caused the Spanish to label him a pirate, although the English considered him a heroic privateer. A second voyage, he once again fought the Spanish, earning him the favor of Queen Elizabeth.
In March of 1573, Drake managed to capture the Spanish Silver Train at the city of Nombre de Dios. For the mission, he had enlisted the help of French privateers and escaped African slaves who despised the Spanish. After finding the train of treasure, he plundered all of the gold, but was forced to leave behind the silver since his ship could not handle the extra weight.
With his ship loaded with treasure, Drake returned to Plymouth, England where he was regarded as a hero. However, Queen Elizabeth had signed a truce with King Philip II of Spain and was unable to publicly acknowledge his accomplishments.
In 1577, he was hired by the Queen to attack Spanish forces along the western coast of South America. He set sail aboard the Pelican with a group of four ships and a total of 150 men. After some misfortune, two of the ships had to be abandoned when the fleet reached South America. He moved through the Magellan Strait, but was blown south to the island of Tierra del Fuego. This accident turned good when he discovered that the island was not part of the South American continent, as previous explorers had thought.
More storms plagued the expedition, destroying all but one ship, the Golden Hind. They sailed North along the Pacific Coast, attacking and plundering Spanish ports along the way. His ship passed by Mexico and sailed the entire western US coast before turning around and sailing south. On June 17, 1579, he landed ashore at Point Loma to restock and repair his ships. He named the port New Albion and departed shortly after.
Drake's ships moved west into the Pacific, finally reaching the Moluccas a few months later. The voyage continued to the southern tip of Africa, then turned north. On September 26, 1580, they landed at Plymouth, England with a large quantity of loot. He had become the first English sailor to circumnavigate the globe and was summarily knighted. He was also appointed as mayor of Plymouth and given a position in the Parliament.
In 1585, war once again erupted between England and Spain. Drake sailed immediately to the Caribbean, where he plundered the Spanish ports of Santo Domingo and Cartagena. He also stopped in Florida to seize the fort of San Agustin, making King Philip of Spain furious.
After returning to England, Drake led a fleet of ships into the port of Cadiz on the coast of Spain and ransacked the town. He was also able to destroy 31 ships and capture six others. For his efforts, he was promoted to Vice Admiral of the English Navy.
In 1588, the Spanish sent an armada to invade England, but Drake's fleet was there to meet them. After several battles, the armada was defeated and the attempted invasion of England was thwarted. In 1589, he sailed to Portugal, which was seized by Spain in 1580. The expedition was a failure, however, and the Spanish retained control of Portugal.
In 1595, he led a naval expedition to the Caribbean to attack Spanish ports. During an attack on San Juan, Puerto Rico, a cannonball struck his cabin and nearly killed him. A year later, on January 28, 1596, he died of dysentery while attacking San Juan and was buried at sea.