Drake’s Raid, A Detailed History

The following is a modern translation of an excerpt from:

A Summary and True Discourse of Sir Francis Drakes West-Indian Voyage, etc. [Begun by Walter Bigges, continued by Lieutenant Crofts and edited by Thomas Cates.]

On March 13th we again departed Cabo San Antonio, and on May 28th, sailing about Cabo de la Florida, we never put in to land until, always keeping Florida at our side at a distance and steering northwards, we spotted a lookout tower supported by four ships’ masts, to which one ascended by thirty steps. Landing with our pinnaces, we marched a while along a river bank, to see if we could come to places there in possession of the enemy. For we had no guide for our journey or anyone familiar with the places of that region. Our General ordered his Lieutenant to lead the van. Thus we had marched less than a whole mile when we caught site of a fort newly built by the Spanish on the other side of the river, hurriedly constructed of timbers and trees. Here we brought up our ordnance for destroying the fort, and before evening we placed one piece in this place. The first ball was shot by the Lieutenant General himself against the enemy’s standard, and passed clean through out, as we later learned from a certain Frenchmen they were detaining in prison. Then we aimed another cannon against the lower part of the fort, made of timbers. And the same night the Lieutenant General decided to cross the river with four companies of soldiers, and to entrench his men so close to the fort itself that that our musketeers would have it within easy range, and shoot any of the enemy who raised his head, and also to bring over his ordnance to play upon the enemy. But because the sailors were unavailable for digging trenches, the whole business was put off until the following night.

And presently on that very same night the Lieutenant General with six well-armed men, namely Captains Morgan and Sampson and four others, went on a skiff to see how well the enemy’s guards were posted, and how easily we could penetrate further into that country. And when they were observed from afar, albeit they managed themselves as quietly and secretly as possible on the way, the enemy, thinking a band of our men had come to make an attack, took up their arms, and after a few pieces of ordnance were discharged, took to their heels. And indeed the Lieutenant General returned to us, ignorant that the fort had been abandoned by them until a French piper was seen by our guards crossing to our side of the river, and playing a popular song in praise of the Prince of Orange on his flute. Challenged by them, before he got out of his rowboat, he told them who he himself was, and then how the Spanish had deserted their fort. As a proof of this thing he gave himself into our hands and said he was willing to return there in our company. Placing his trust in him, our General, in a pinnacle with the Lieutenant General and some Captains, and the Vice-Admiral with two or three boats full of soldiers, hastened upriver to the fort, with the other pinnacles ordered to follow. From the fort, as we drew closer, we were shot at with ordinance by some fellows who remained behind, braver than the rest. Of these we found nobody, when we landed and entered the fort. The walls of this fort were made of ship’s timbers and other pieces of wood after the fashion of a palisade (thus we call this manner of fortified place these days). But the ditches outside were not yet brought to completion. For in the space of four months they had been unable to complete these, as well as some portions of the fort itself. And therefore they were not able to hold it longer, or to defend it when we made our approach. And so one must not imagine they abandoned it rashly, because, besides the fact it could easily be taken by assault, it could also be set afire without difficulty. The pieces of ordnance there, fourteen in number, were placed on platforms of stacked pine-logs, joined together in the manner of a wheel with a bit of earth added in between here and there. A locked chest containing the royal money from which they used to give the soldiers their pay, which amounted to £2000 Sterling in our currency, was also discovered by us. With the so-called fort of San Juan occupied in this manner, we also attempted to approach the town, but we could not achieve this because of an interposing river. But, having quickly returned to the ships by another route, we headed back there up a larger river (which was called the St. Augustine River, after the town itself). When we had arrived there and were readied to land, some soldiers showed themselves to us at a distance, who fired their muskets at us and immediately fled. As soon as we landed, our Sergeant Major immediately mounted a horse which he had discovered, saddled and bridled, to see if perhaps he could chase down or capture somebody fleeing. When he was now alone, having left his comrades behind him, he was shot through the head by a man lying in ambush behind a clump of reeds and, before any of our men could come to his aid, he was stabbed all at once by three or four swords and daggers, and died, no little mourned by us. He was a man as excellent as the best, a veteran and a great-spirited soldier.

To debar all foreigners (such as Englishmen and Frenchmen), if perchance they might want to settle those places, the King of Spain kept 150 soldiers in a garrison, and the same number in another place twelve leagues to the north called San Helena. They were all commanded by Marquis Pedro Menendez, the nephew of that Admiral Menendez who fifteen or sixteen years previously had broken his word and attacked the fleet of our countryman John Hawkins in the harbor of Mexico. So he was in command of the garrison when we arrived, and was the first to desert it. There, in a conference of all the Captains it was decided that we should make an attempt to occupy the fort of Santa Helena as soon as possible, and then quickly seek out a certain district in that region occupied by our Englishman, and named La Virginia after our virgin Queen, which was distant about six degrees (in our contemporary parlance) to the north. But when we were not far distant from Santa Helena, we never put in because in many places the coast was full of shoals and sandbars, and hence very perilous, and especially because we had no sailor who knew the way, and so kept going for the sake of avoiding danger.

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