Sir Francis Drake

“Sir Francis Drake,” 1586, Engraving by J. Houbraken, The Mariners’ Museum.

Sir Francis Drake

1540 CE - 1596 CE


Primary Goal:

To break Spain’s rule of the oceans.


Circumnavigated the globe, determined that Tierra del Fuego was an archipelago, claimed part of the west coast of North America for England, rescued the Roanoke settlers.

Sir Francis Drake is not mainly known for his explorations in the region of the Chesapeake Bay. He is most well known for his circumnavigation of the globe, his participation in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and his adventurous privateering. However, Sir Francis played the unusual role of rescuer to some intrepid explorers and colonists who were interested in the Chesapeake area.

One of the early attempts at settling the area just south of the Chesapeake was made at Roanoke Island in present-day North Carolina. Sir Walter Raleigh was the main source of funding and energy towards the formation of this English colony. He had already sent expedition members to explore along the Outer Banks, and determined that Roanoke would be a good site for a colony.

The second expedition was an attempt at colonization. This colony was mostly made up of soldiers. They made contact with the local natives, but when Ralph Lane was left in charge of the colony, relations between the English settlers and the natives deteriorated. The colony was falling apart, both because of a lack of supplies and a failure to maintain peace with the natives.

The colonists were suffering when Sir Francis Drake made a surprise visit. He had extra supplies that he was willing to give them. However, they were so miserable that they decided to return to England with Drake rather than take the supplies. Because Drake got these colonists safely home, they were able to give more detailed information about life in the colony.


“Franciscus Draeck Nobilissimus Eques Angliae Ano Aet SVE43,” Sir Francis Drake, 1577, by Henry Hondius, The Mariners’ Museum.

Although the first group of colonists had had a rough time of it, Sir Walter Raleigh managed to drum up enough support to send one last group to Roanoke. These were the colonists fated to become the famous “lost colony.” Francis Drake continued working as a privateer for England until he died in 1596. If you would like to read more about Francis Drake’s exploration of the globe, visit the main web page about Francis Drake.