American History Told by Contemporaries

Author: John Hawkins  | Date: 1878

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U.S. History

An English Free-Booter’s Adventures (1568)


THE shippes departed from Plymmouth, the second day of October, Anno 1567. and had reasonable weather, vntil the seuenth day, at which time fortie leagues North from Cape Finister, there arose an extreme storme, which continued foure daies, in such sorte, that the fleete was dispersed, and all our great boates lost, and the Iesus our chiefe shippe, in such case, as not thought able to serue the voyage: . . . but the elevent day of the same moneth, the winde changed with faire weather, whereby we were animated to followe our enterprise, and so did, directing our course with the Islands of Grand Canaries, where according to an order before prescribed, all our shippes before dispersed, mette in one of those Islands, called Gomera, where we tooke water, and departed from thence the fourth day of Nouember, towards the coast of Guinea, and arrived at Cape Verde, the eighteenth of Nouember: where we landed 150. men, hoping to obtaine some Negroes, where we gatte but fewe, and those with great hurte and damage to our men, which chiefly proceeded from their enuenomed arrows; and although in the beginning, they seemed to be but small hurtes, yet there hardely escaped any, that had blood drawen of them, but died in strange sort, with their mouths shutte, some ten dayes before he died, and after their woundes were whole, where I my selfe had one of the greatest wounds, yet thanks be to God, escaped. From thence we passed the time upon the coast of Guinea, searching with all diligence, the Rivers from Rio grande, vnto Sierra Leona, till the twelfth of Januarie, in which time wee had not gotten together a hundreth and fiftie Negroes: yet notwithstanding the sickness of our men, and the late time of the yeere commanded vs away, and thus hauing nothing wherewith to seeke the coast of the West Indies, I was with the rest of our Companie in consultation to goe to the coast of the Myne, hoping therto haue obtained some golde for our wares, and thereby to have defraied our charge. But even in that present instant, there came to vs a Negroe, sent from a King, oppressed by other Kings his neighbours, desiring our aide, with promise, that as many Negroes as by these wares might be obtained, as well of his part, as of ours, should be at our pleasure: whereupon we concluded to give aide, and sent 120. of our men, which the fifteenth of Januarie, assaulted a towne of the Negroes of our Allies aduersaries, which had in it 8000. Inhabitants, and very strongly impaled and fenced, after their manner, but it was so well defended, that our men prevailed not but lost sixe men and 40. hurt, so that our men sent forthwith to me for more helpe: whereupon considering that the good successe of this enterprise might highly further the commodotie of our voyage, I went myselfe, and with the helpe of the King of our side, assaulted the towne both by land and sea, and very hardly with fire, (their houses being covered with dry Palme leaues), obtained the towne, and put the Inhabitants to flight, where we took 250. persons, men, women, and children, and by our friend the King of our side, there was taken 600. prisoners, whereof we hoped to haue had our choice: but the Negro (in which nation is seldome or never found truth) meant nothing lesse: for that night he remoued his campe, and prisoners, so that we were faine to content vs with those fewe which we had gotten our selues. Now had we obtained between 4. and 500. Negroes, wherewith we thought it somewhat reasonable to seeke the coast of the West Indies, and there, for our Negroes, and other our merchandize, we hoped to obtaine, whereof to counteruaile our charges with some gaines, whereunto we proceeded with all diligence, furnished our watring, took fuell, and departed the coast of Guinea the third of Februarie, continuing at the sea with a passage more harde, then before hath beene accustomed, till the 27th day of March, which day we had sight of an Island, called Dominica, vpon the coast of the west Indies, in 14. degrees: from thence we coasted from place to place, making our trafficke with the Spaniards, as we might, somewhat hardly, because the King had straightly commanded all his Gouernours in those partes, by no means to suffer any trade to be made with vs: notwithstanding we had reasonable trade, and courteous entertainment, from the Isle of Margarita vnto Cartagena, without anything greatly worth the noting, sauing at Capo de la Vela, in a towne called Rio de la Hache, from whence came all the pearles: the treasurer who had the charge there, would by no means agree to any trade, or suffer vs to take water, he had fortified his towne with diuers bulwarks in all places, where it might be entred, and furnished himselfe with 100. Hargabusiers, so that he thought by famine to have enforced vs to have put a land our Negroes: of which purpose he had not greatly failed vnles we had by force entred the towne: which (after we could by no means obtaine his favour) we were enforced to do, and so with 200. men broke in vpon their bulwarkes, and entred the towne with the losse only of ii. men of our partes, and no hurte done to the Spanyards because after their volye of shott discharged they all fled.

Thus hauing the town, with some circumstance, as partly by the Spanyards desire of Negroes and partly by friendship of the Treasorer, we obtained a secrete trade: whereupon the Spanyards resorted to vs by night, and bought of vs to the number of 200. Negroes: in all other places where we traded the Spanyard inhabitants were glad of vs and traded willingly. . . .

. . . Shortly after the xvi. of September we entered the Port of St. John de Vllua and in our entrie the Spanyardes thinking vs to be the fleete of Spaine, the chief officers of the Countrey came aborde vs, which being deceived of their expectation were greatly dismayed: but immediately when they saw our demaund was nothing but victuals, were recomforted. I found also in the same Port xii. ships which had in them by the report 200000 li. in golde and siluer all which (being in my possession, with the Kinges Island, as also the passengers before in my way thitherwarde stayde) I set at libertie, without the taking from them the wayght of a grote: onely because I woulde not bee delayed of my dispatch, I stayed two men of estimation and sent post immediately to Mexico, which was 200. miles from vs, to the Presidentes and Counsell there, shewing them of our arriuall there by the force of weather, and the necessitie of the repaire of our shippes and victualls, which wantes wee required as friends to king Philip to be furnished of for our money: and that the Presidentes and Counselle there should with all conuenient speede take order, that at the arriuall of the Spanishe fleete which was daily looked for, there might be no cause of quarrel rise between vs and them, but for the better maintenance of amitie, their commaundment might be had in that behalfe.

This message being sent away the sixteenth day of September at night, being the very day of our arriual, in the next morning which was the sixteenth day of the same moneth, we saw open of the Hauen xiii. great shippes, and vnderstanding them to be the fleete of Spaine, I sent immediately to aduertise the General of the fleete of my being there, doing him to vnderstand, that before I would suffer them to enter the Port, there should some other order of conditions passe betweene vs for our safe being there, . . . and here I began to bewaile that which after folowed, for now said I, I am in two dangers, and forced to receaue the one of them. That was, either I must haue kept out the fleete from entring the Port, that which with Gods helpe I was very well able to do, or els suffer them to enter in with their accustomed treason, which they never faile to execute, where they may haue opportunitie, or circumuent it by any meanes: if I had kept them out, then had there bin present shipwarke of al the fleete which amounted in value to sixe millions, which was in value of our money 1800000. li. [£] which I considered I was not able to aunswere, fearing the Queens Maiesties indignation in so weighty a matter. Thus with my selfe reuoluing the doubts, thought rather better to abide the Jutt [impulse] of the vncerteinty, than the certeinty. The vncerteine doubt I accompt was their treasure which by good policy I hoped might be preuented, and therefore as chusing the least mischief I proceeded to conditions. . . .

. . . these conditions at the first, he somewhat misliked, chiefly the gard of the Island to be in our owne keeping, which if they had had, we had soon knowen our fare: for with the first North wind they had cut our cables and our ships had gone ashore: but in the ende he concluded to our request. . . . Thus at the end of 3 daies all was concluded, and the fleete entred the Port, saluting one another as the maner of the sea doth require. Thus, as I said before, thursday we entred the Port, friday we sawe the fleete, and on monday at night they entred the Port: then we laboured ii. daies placing the English ships by themselues, and the Spanish ships by themselues, the captaines of each port and inferiour men of theyr partes promissing great amity of all sides: which euen with all fidelity was ment of our part, so the Spanyardes ment no thing lesse of their partes, but from the maine land had furnished themselues with a supplie of men to the nomber of 1000, and ment the next thursday, being the 23 of September, at dinner time, to set vpon vs of all sides, the same thursday, in the morning, . . . the vice Roy . . . blewe the trumpet, and of all sides set vpon vs; our men which warded ashore being stricken with soden feare, gaue place, fled, and sought to recouer succour of the shippes, the Spanyardes being before prouided for the purpose landed in all places in multitudes from their shippes, which they might easely doe without boates, and slewe all our men a shore without mercy, a fewe of them escaped aborde the Jesus. The great shippe which had by the estimation 300 men placed in her secretly, immediately fell aborde the Minion which by Gods apointment in the time of the suspition we had, which was only one halfe houre, the Minion was made ready to auoide and so leesing hir hedfastes, and hayling away by the stearne fastes shee was gotten out; thus with Gods helpe she defended the violence of the first brunt of these CCC. men. The Minion being paste out they came aborde the Jesus, which also with very much adoe and the losse of many of our men weare defended and kept out. There were also two other shippes that assaulted the Jesus at the same instant, so that she had hard getting loose, but yet with some time we had cut our hedfastes, and gotten out by the steam fastes. Now when the Jesus and the Minion were gotten abroad two shippes length from the Spanish fleete, the fight beganne hot of all sides, that within one houre the Admirall of the Spanyardes was supposed to be suncke their vice Admirall burned and one other of there principall ships supposed to be sunke, so that the ships were little to annoy us.

Then it is to be vnderstood that all the ordinance vpon the Islande was in the Spanyardes handes, which did vs so great annoyance, that it cutt all the Mastes and yardes of the Jesus in such sort there was no hope to carry her away; also it sunke our small shippes, whereupon wee determined to place the Jesus on that side of the Minion that shee myght abide all the batterie from the lande, and so be a defence for the Minion till night, and then to take such reliefe of victuall and other necessaries from the Jesus as the time would suffer vs, and to leaue her. As wee were thus determining, and had placed the Minion from the shott of the lande, suddenly the Spanyardes had fired two great shippes which were comming directly with vs, and having no meanes to auoide the fire, it bread among our men a marueilous feare, so that some said, let vs depart with the Minion, other sayd, let vs see where the winde will carrie the fyre from vs.

But to be short, the Minion men which had alwayes there sayles in a readinesse, thought to make sure worke, and so without eyther consent of the Captaine or Master cutte their sayle, so that verie hardly I was receaued into the Minion.

The most part of the men that were left a lyue in the Jesus made shift and followed the Minion in a small boat, the rest, which the little boate was not able to receaue, were inforced to abide the mercy of the Span-yards (which I doubt was very little); so with the Minion onely and the Judith (a small barke of fiftie tunne) wee escaped, which barke the same night forsooke vs in our great myserie: wee were nowe remooued with the Minion from the Spanyshe shippes two bowe shootes and there roade all that nyght: the next morning wee recoouered an Ilande a myle from the Spanyardes, where there tooke vs a north winde, and being left onely with two Ankers and two cables (for in this conflicte wee loste three Cables and two Ankers) wee thought alwayes vpon death which euer was present, but God preserued vs to a longer tyme.

The weather waxed seasonable, and the Satturday we set sayle, and having a great nomber of men and lyttle victuals our hope of life waxed lesse and lesse: some desired to yelde to the Spanyardes, some rather desired to obtayne a place where they might giue themselues to the Infidels, and some had rather abide with a little pittance the mercie of God at Sea: so thus with manie sorrowfull hearts wee wandred in an unknowen Sea by the space of fourteene dayes, tyll hunger inforced vs to seeke the lande, for birdes were thought very good meate, rattes, cattes, mise, and dogges, none escaped that might be gotten, parrates and monkeys that were had in great prise, were thought then very profitable if they serued the tourne one dinner: thus in the ende the eyght day of October wee came to the lande in the botome of the same bay of Mexico. . . .

And such as were willing to land I put them apart, and such as were desirous to goe homewards, I put apart, so that they were indifferently parted a hundred of one side and a hundred of the other side: these hundred men we set a land with all diligence in this little place before said, which being landed, we determined there to refresh our water, and so with our little remains of victuals to take the Sea. . . .

But yet God againe had mercie on vs, sent faire weather, had aborde our water, and departed the sixteene day of October, after which day wee had faire and prosperous weather till the sixteene day of Nouember, which day God be praysed wee were cleere from the coast of the Indians, and out of the Channell and Goulfe of Bahama, which is betweene the Cape of Florida and the Islandes of Cuba. After this growing neere to the colde Countrie, our men being oppressed with Famine, died continually, and they that were left, grewe into such weaknes that wee were scantly able to . . . [manœuvre] our ship, and the wind being alwaies yll for vs to recouer England, determined to go with Galicia in Spaiae, with intent there to releeue our company and other extreame wants. And being arriued the last day of December in a place near vnto Vigo called Ponte vedra, our men with excess of freshe meate grew into miserable diseases, and died a great part of them. This matter was borne out as long as it might be, but in the end although there was none of our men suffered to goe a lande, yet by accesse of the Spanyardes, our feblenes was knowen to them. Whereupon they ceased not to seeke by all meanes to betraie vs, but with all speede possible we departed to Vigo, where we had some helpe of certaine English ships and xii. fresh men wherewith we repaired our wants as we might, and departing the xx. day of Januarie 1568, arriued in Mounts bay in Cornewale the xxv. of the same moneth, praised be God therefore.

If all the miseries and troublesome affaires of this sorrowfull voyage should be perfectly and thoroughly written, there should neede a paynfull man with his penne, and as great a time as hee had that wrote the liues and deathes of the martirs.

The Hawkins Voyages, in Hakluyt Society, Works issued, 1878 (London, 1878), pp. 70–81 passim.


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Chicago: John Hawkins, "An English Free-Booter’s Adventures (1568)," American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Hakluyt Society in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. Albert Bushnell Hart (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1897), 74–81. Original Sources, accessed January 27, 2023,

MLA: Hawkins, John. "An English Free-Booter’s Adventures (1568)." American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Hakluyt Society, in American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Albert Bushnell Hart, Vol. 1, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1897, pp. 74–81. Original Sources. 27 Jan. 2023.

Harvard: Hawkins, J, 'An English Free-Booter’s Adventures (1568)' in American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. . cited in 1897, American History Told by Contemporaries, ed. , The Macmillan Company, New York, pp.74–81. Original Sources, retrieved 27 January 2023, from