The Curse of Oak Island: Who is Sir Francis Drake?

Sir Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake made some remarkable journeys, but did he have a connection with Oak Island?

The sneak peek at the end of this week’s episode of The Curse of Oak Island suggested Sir Francis Drake could be behind an “engineering marvel” on the island — but who is he and how could he have been relevant to the Oak Island story?

Sir Francis Drake was born around 1540 in the southern part of England and had 12 brothers. His father was a vicar ministering to sailors in the navy, and early on in Drake’s life placed him as an apprentice with a neighbor who traded a small ship up and down the coast.

The neighbor was so taken with the young Drake that when he died he left the ship to him in his will.

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This early sea life put Drake in good stead for the adventures to come, and in 1563, when Drake was just 23 years old, he made his first crossing to the Americas. His relative Sir John Hawkins and his family owned a whole fleet of ships and the young Drake made three trips with them.

During these trips they would often raid Portuguese towns on the coast of Africa and Hawkins was involved in the slave trade. In 1568 these adventures ended abruptly when the Spanish defeated the English ships at the Battle of San Juan de Ulú.

After this Drake vowed revenge on the Spanish and after a few trips to the West Indies he decided to take some action against them. In 1572 he led an attack on the Spanish Main, where silver and gold from Peru was being moved by the Spanish across land to the Caribbean Sea.

The raid was successful and they captured over 20 tonnes of silver and gold, but by the time they dragged it back to the shore their boats were gone. This forced them to bury the treasure whilst they searched for the flagship, but the enterprise was profitable and they eventually returned to England laden with treasure.

This trip also marked the first time that Drake had seen the Pacific Ocean and it would eventually lead to his greatest adventure, a circumnavigation of the world.

circumnavigation of the world
Drake’s amazing circumnavigation of the world

His ship set off in 1577 and travelled across the Atlantic and down the east coast of South America, where Drake and his crew wintered at the southern tip.

Their journey then took them all the way up the coasts of South and North America, before they headed further east across the Pacific Ocean to Indonesia and then across the Indian Ocean to the most southern tip of Africa. From there they traveled up the west coast of Africa before arriving home in 1580 on his ship the Golden Hind.

Drake returned with a large cargo of spices and Spanish treasures, amounting to so much that the half given to the Queen was larger than the rest of her entire annual income!

The next year he was given a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth and in 1585 he led a successful campaign against the Spanish in the New World. Drake managed to raid Santiago in Cape Verde, take the port of Santo Domingo and raid a fort in Spanish Florida on the way home.

He also took the fight against Spain to their homeland with raids on Cadiz and Corunna, where he destroyed many of their ships. At this time the Spanish were planning an invasion of England and Drake was involved in the defeat of the Spanish Armada, where the attacking force was dispersed and parts of it wrecked.

A replica of his ship the Golden Hind
A replica of Drake’s ship the Golden Hind

During his time back in England Drake also pursued a political career, becoming the Member of Parliament for Plymouth in 1593.

However, he also continued his adventures in later life with several campaigns against the Spanish in the Americas. These were less successful than his early ones and finally in 1596 he contracted dysentery and died. He was placed in full armour and and then buried at sea in a lead-lined coffin. People are still searching for his final resting place to this day.

There is no official record of Drake having ever been to Nova Scotia, although there has been previous speculation about a possible connection to Oak Island.

It is not yet known what the link is that is uncovered on next week’s episode. However, the presence of an expert suggests some research comes to light that points at him possibly having been on the island at some point. Could he have stopped off there during one of his voyages and hidden something, possibly in the Money Pit?

The Curse of Oak Island airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on History.

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