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John Hawkins

English Explorer

Born: 1532

Died: 1595

Captain Hawkins spent the years 1562 through 1568 making four voyages. It was during these voyages that he became the first English slaver and the first Englishman to invade the Caribbean which was largely of Spanish possession.

Captain Hawkins started his career as smuggler while visiting the Canary islands with his father in 1562. He smuggled slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean. Slave smuggling was extremely profitable at the time as Spain required all slavers to register their cargo at Seville and Spain would take a portion of the proceeds thereby inflating the price. A smuggler could sell directly to the Spanish colonies as the colonists were eager to get a good price, so there was a ready market for those willing to take the risks. During these times, most pirates got their start smuggling slaves.

In October 1562, Captain Hawkins took three small ships to Sierra Leone. His purpose was to raid native villages (collecting slaves), and loot Portuguese ships. Captain Hawkins had worked out an agreement between local officials whereby he could sell his cargo on the northern coast of Hispaniola. Hawkins next went to England in one of his ships and sent the two others to Seville. At Seville the Spaniards seized the cargoes. Although Captain Hawkins lost the two ship's cargoes, he nevertheless made a substantial profit. Pirates realizing the profits made from slaving increased their elicit trade and tensions between England and Spain increased. Spain suspended trade with England and arrested English ships. Spain was immensely powerful at the time, controlling the seas and most of the colonies of the Americas. As such Spain was the enemy of many European nations. It was because of her control that England and France had planned a joint assault on Florida, but the plan wasn't to come to fruition and Queen Elizabeth I, having heard of Captain Hawkins' success in the Caribbean, decided to support him. The queen wanted Captain Hawkins to go on another slaving expedition and the plan was financed by courtiers and merchants. The queen gave Captain Hawkins the 700-ton Jesus of Lubeck and Captain Hawkins set sail with her plus three other smaller ships in October 1564. Captain Hawkins sailed to Borburata, Venezuela pirating along the way. By the time he reached Borburata, he had gathered around 400 slaves. After Borburata, Captain Hawkins sailed to Rio de la Hacha. The Spanish officials tried to prevent Captain Hawkins' sale of the slaves by imposing taxes. Captain Hawkins refused the taxes and threatened to burn the towns. The Spanish were no match for Captain Hawkins' crew and backed down. After selling his cargo, Captain Hawkins sailed to a French colony in Florida for a respite. Captain Hawkins returned to England in September 1655, his expedition a total success as his financiers made a 60% profit.

The Spanish government, outraged at Captain Hawkins' activities, persuaded the English government to forbid Captain Hawkins' next expedition. Captain Hawkins ignored the order from his government, financing John Lovell with a contribution of three ships. Lovell's expedition, which included Sir Francis Drake, left for Africa in October 1566. Lovell's voyage proved a financial disaster as Lovell's force was too small to force Spanish trade. After the disastrous Lovell expedition, Captain Hawkins once again gained support from the crown, and Captain Hawkins left England in October 1567. This time, Captain Hawkins was in command of two royal warships and four smaller ships.

Captain Hawkins course was the same as his last expedition, but this time Sir Francis Drake (who had joined the expedition) received command of a captured Portuguese ship, and Captain Hawkins was forced to take hostages at Rio de la Hacha as well as burning part of the town to make the Spanish permit trade. On the return voyage, Captain Hawkins ran into a severe storm which forced Captain Hawkins to a nearby port. The closest port was San Juan de Ula in Mexico, and Captain Hawkins anchored off an island in the harbor on September 15, 1568. At the island, Captain Hawkins took several hostages. The next day a Spanish treasure fleet commanded by the viceroy of Mexico arrived at the port. The viceroy, seeing the occupation by the English, ordered the Spanish forts and ships to attack on September 23. Captain Hawkins' force lost four of the 6 ships as well as three-fourths of the crew along with large sums of money. The remainder of Captain Hawkins' force arrived in England several months later. Hawkins' days as a slaver were over and he settled into the title of Treasurer of the Navy in 1577. In 1588 he became Naval comptroller as well as treasurer. While serving these positions, Captain Hawkins rebuilt older galleons as well as helped design faster, more heavily armed ships. He also improved the sailor's lot, providing better working conditions and more pay.

In 1588, Captain Hawkins commanded a squadron against the Spanish armada which was trying to invade England. Captain Hawkins was knighted for his performance in the foray. Hawkins next tried, unsuccessfully, to intercept the Spanish treasure fleet off Portugal with the aid of Martin Frobisher in early 1590. Captain Hawkins next joined Sir Francis Drake in an expedition to the West Indies in 1595.

During the voyage, Hawkins became ill and died shortly before the fleet was able to reach San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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