Francis Drake´s Disaster in Veracruz
The Spanish Sank English Ships in Veracruz

(Some Survivors Walked From Tampico to Canada)

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Fort San Juan de Ulua
A Story from Long Ago Veracruz
As part of the folklore of Veracruz, I had heard that pirates Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins had attacked the fort of San Juan de Ulua.

Later as a tour guide in the area, I found little tidbits of information about their voyage here. Since it happened so long ago, there isn´t much information available now.

Growing up in America, I learned in school that Drake and Hawkins were the "brave mariners", and, once in Mexico came to learn they were considered "bloodthirsty pirates" out to pillage and steal like any other pirates.

The details were hard to find because the event happened so long ago.

When I had a little time on my hands, I began to do some research on Sir Francis Drake and his voyage to Veracruz, and found a fascinating story.
Fort San Juan de Ulua
In his book, "The Secret Voyage of Francis Drake", Samuel Bawlf gives a good description of how Drake got to Veracruz. Interestingly enough, it really wasn´t Drake´s intention to come to Veracruz.

He just wanted to go home.

Later I contacted Michael Turner, President of the Sir Francis Drake Society in England.

He is an expert and provided me with some additonal information about Drake in Veracruz. His research, retracing the Drake´s routes, has taken him to many parts of the world.
San Juan de Ulua
Where the Attack Happened
Where It Happened
I spent several months looking for the exact place where Drake and Hawkins lost their ships, and think I found it.

Many people when they visit San Juan de Ulua don´t realize they are looking at the location of where the ships sank.

Here is the fascinating story of how Francis Drake got to Veracruz, and how some of his men actually walked from Tampico to Canada.

Fort San Juan de Ulua
Good News For Sir Francis Drake Fans
In March 2005, Michael Turner, President of the Sir Francis Drake Society, wrote me that he has just published his a book, "In Drake's Wake: The Early Voyages", Paul Mould Publishing £18.

Michael has a new web site with a lot more information. It's called Sir Francis Drake: In Drake's Wake

For more information about where you can buy his book, you can send him an email at Michael@indrakeswake.com .

He´d enjoy hearing from you.

The Fort of San Juan de Ulua
New Information: "Spanish Sea"
Recently, Geoff Winningham, a photography professor from Rice University came through Veracruz.

He has an ambitious project to photograph the Gulf Coast from the urbanized Sabine Pass in Texas to pristine jungles that come right down to the beach at Catemaco and Montepío.

He asked me if I´d ever heard of the book, "Spanish Seas, The Gulf of Mexico in North American Discovery, 1500-1685" by Robert S. Weddle.
Tourists in the Former Gold Rooms
I thought I´d read just about everything, but I´d never heard of the book.

"I didn´t think you did. "

"Although it´s been around for a number of years, it hasn´t been widely promoted. But, it is probably the best research of those years, especially the bibiliography."

"If you live on the Gulf Coast of Mexico, you have to get this book," he said.

In fact, I´ll bring it to you when I come back to Veracruz in a couple of weeks.

Several weeks later, he came back with the book.

Geoff was right! It is the most complete work on this period I have ever read. In the early 1980´s, Weddle did extensive research in the States, England, France, and at the Archives in Seville, Spain as well what looks like a quick trip to Veracruz and the coast area around here.
The Observatory
Professor Weddle knew what he was looking for, found it, took some good photos, and left.

It´s not often that I recommend books, but if you are a serious student of the origens of present day Mexico, you really need to get this book for your reference library.

A lot of what I have written below has been verified with Professor Weddle´s book "Spanish Sea".

August 2005

The Galveston-Veracruz Yacht Race
The Buccaneers
Living in Veracruz we are close to the sea, and our port is a window to the world.

In 2004, Veracruz celebrated its 485th birthday. There are many stories of the old and the new, and most of them are about life near the sea.

The second week in June of each even year, the Galveston-Veracruz sailboat race is held without much fanfare.

It is a sometimes gruelling 5 or 6 day trip punctuated by squalls and "dead spots" without wind for as long as 8 hours.

The early buccaneers must have experienced the same thing, but without modern weather forecasting tools or two way radios, a trip across the Gulf was a dangerous undertaking.

The harbor in Veracruz is the scene of the ships of many flags for the last 485 years.

The Fort of San Juan Ulua Across the Bay
The Harbor in Veracruz
That is the fascination of walking along the Malecón looking at the yachts after the Galveston Veracruz Regata in June.

Most Americans are not aware this is where the American Invasion of Veracruz in 1914 occurred.

There were 17 battleships out in front and around behind the fort of San Juan de Ulua.

Uniformed sailors and marines docked in their new motor launches and before the astonished eyes of the townspeople watching as they scrambled up on the same malecón with rifles at the ready.

It´s right where I am standing now. I could imagine what the scene looked like back in 1914.

For John Hawkins, it was very different, too.

Hawkins Voyage to Veracruz
The ghosts of the past are still alive in my mind with visions of the English buccaneers Francis Drake and John Hawkins who lost 3 of their 5 ships right there in front over towards the fort of San Juan de Ulúa.

In the second week of August 1568, a fleet of eight older ships sailed through the Yucatán Channel, bound for the Straits of Florida and home to England. Aboard his flagship, John Hawkins and his crew aboard the "Jesus of Lubeck", were satisfied with the results of their voyage so far.

However there was reason for concern. The main ships in Hawkins's fleet were the two old men-of-war that Queen Elizabeth had loaned to the them in exchange for her share of the profits.

With her 700 ton carrying capacity, the "Jesus" was one of the largest ships in England of those days, but she was nearly thirty years old and was costly to maintain. Because of ship worms most of the Spanish ships had a useful life of only 5 or 6 roundtrips to America. The Minion, at 350 tons, was not in much better shape.

Nevertheless, they provided the heavy armament that Hawkins needed to back up his trading demands. With four smaller ships as escorts, and a company of a little over 400 men and boys, he had sailed from Plymouth in October 1567. On the coast of Africa he had captured a French privateer and a Portuguese caravel to his fleet before setting sail across the Atlantic heading for the Caribbean.

On this voyage he had brought 450 men, women, and children from the coast of West Africa. Most had survived the eight-week crossing, and he had obtained good prices for them. With 29,743 gold pesos plus quantities of silver and pearls in hand, he was anxious to sail clear of the Caribbean before the season of great storms set in.

Serving as a captain under Hawkins was Francis Drake.

Drake. In his mid twenties, had already spent half his life at sea. Drake had learned to read current, wind, and tide, and to handle a ship in all weather along the treacherous coasts of the North Sea and the English Channel.

His skill in directing men, and the manner with which he performed his duties, had marked him for advancement, and on the present voyage John Hawkins had given him command of the fifty-ton ship "Judith" when they left Africa.

A Powerful Storm
On August 12 Hawkins's fleet rounded the western cape of Cuba into the Straits of Florida.

Later in the morning the wind had picked up noticeably, and the men began to reduce sail. As the day wore on, the speed of the wind steadily grew, and by late afternoon they were engulfed in a violent storm.

As the hurricane grew in intensity, Hawkins signalled for his ships to turn and run ahead of the wind.

Soon afterward the bark "William and John" disappeared from sight. It later made it back home to England on its own.

Through the night and the next day Hawkins and his crew were pushed northward by the force of the storm until they found themselves off the west coast of Florida. In the pounding seas the "Jesus's" seams began to open up, and men were sent below to plug the leaks. Hawkins searched in vain for a sheltered anchorage.

A Second Storm
After four days the wind subsided, but the calm lasted for only a day: No sooner had Hawkins begun to assess the damage to his ships than another powerful storm struck, this time from the northeast. Over the next four days they were driven continually to the southwest. When this storm finally abated they were deep into the Gulf of Mexico, where no English ship had been before.

Tension with the Spanish
For a year prior to Hawkins's departure from England, the Spanish ambassador had demanded assurances from Queen Elizabeth that Hawkins would not be permitted to return to the Caribbean.

As if to enforce this, when Hawkins was fitting out the expedition at Plymouth, seven Spanish warships had sailed boldly into the harbor and had only turned away when he loosed his cannons on them. England and Spain were not at war, but there was considerable tension over Hawkins's efforts to break King Philip's trade embargo, and he fully understood the danger of taking his battered ships into San Juan de Ulúa.

Sighting the southern coast of the gulf, they followed it westward, but again there was no sheltered anchorage.

The Only Refuge is a Spanish Port
Limping along, they were found by a Spanish vessel.

Their captain told Hawkins the only refuge on the entire coast was the harbor of San Juan de Ulúa. Located in Veracruz, and 300 miles from Mexico City.

San Juan de Ulua
San Juan de Ulua in 1550

San Juan de Ulua and Veracruz in 1615
The Only Port was Spanish
San Juan de Ulúa was the only official port of Spain´s colony: Nueva España.

However great the risk, Hawkins resolved that there was no alternative. His ships were in need of repair, especially the "Jesus". And, in this case, the need was urgent.

There was no possibility of getting his company and profits home unless they replenished their water and provisions.

Temporary Shelter in San Juan de Ulúa
On September 16, more than a month after their ordeal began, they entered the harbor of Veracruz and the Spanish fort of San Juan de Ulúa.

As soon as they had anchored, Hawkins landed a party of men to dispatch a letter to the governor of Veracruz.

Hawkins assured him that he had come in peace, would pay the current price for water, provisions, and the materials needed for repairs to his ships. As soon as these repairs were completed, he would be gone.

Perhaps unknown to Hawkins, the people at the fort were waiting for the Annual Merchant Fleet from Spain which was expected to arrive any day. And the new Spanish Viceroy would be aboard.

San Juan de Ulua
"San Juan de Ulua in 1615"

San Juan de Ulua
"San Juan de Ulua in 1615"
A New Problem
The next morning, however, thirteen Spanish ships appeared on the horizon.

It was the merchant fleet from Seville escorted by two warships. Aboard one of the ships was the new Viceroy of New Spain, Don Martin Enriquez.

Now, Hawkins was stuck with a serious problem.

His cannons and those on the docks were enough to prevent the Spaniards from entering their own harbor! Yet, in doing so, it would be considered an act of war, and they would be immmediately attacked on all sides.

However, if he let them in and they later resorted to treachery, he risked being overwhelmed by the greater numbers of cannons and men. He was outnumbered by the Spaniard in men and guns.

After three days of negotiations, Enriquez agreed to let Hawkins to make his repairs and leave safely. In exchange Hawkins allowed the Spanish fleet into the crowded docking area.

The English ships were lined up side by side at one end of the dock at San Juan de Ulua. The Spaniards were lined up at the other end. There wasn´t much space between the two fleets. For the next three days they exchanged greetings.

San Juan de Ulua
Small Docking Area
Unknown to Hawkins, Viceroy Enriquez had secretly ordered soldiers brought down from Veracruz (now Antigua) and preparations made for an attack on the English. If I had been the Viceroy, I probably would have done the same thing.

Tension Grows
On the morning of September 23, Hawkins saw that the Spaniards had placed a big merchant ship in the gap between the fleets, right next to the "Minion".

New gun ports had been cut in her side, and large numbers of men from the other Spanish ships were coming aboard the new ship.

Alarmed, Hawkins sent Robert Barrett, the master of the Jesus to complain to Enriquez aboard the Spanish flagship. Barrett came back with the Viceroy's assurances that he would protect the Englishmen.

However, the Spanish offensive activities continued, and Hawkins sent Barrett back to Enriquez with a stronger protest.

San Juan de Ulua
Where the Attack Happened
Realizing that the element of surprise was quickly disappearing, Enriquez had Barrett placed in irons, and gave the order for the attack to begin.

The Attack Begins
Suddenly, a trumpet sounded, and the Spaniards poured over the side of the merchant ship onto the Minion.

Hawkins's men rushed to drive them back, then hundreds of Spanish soldiers came out of the fort of San Juan de Ulua onto the dock, slaughtering many of the English sailors.

San Juan de Ulua
The Attack
Then the Spaniards turned their guns on Hawkins's ships.

The English feverishly took in their stern moorings, freeing their ships from the docks, and a fearful cannonade began.

At point-blank range.

The Battle
The battle raged on all afternoon. After six hours of fighting, the Spanish fleet was badly damaged and two of its ships had been sunk.

Hawkins's ships weren´t in better condition. Three of them were in hopeless condition.

The foremast of the Jesus had been carried away while five shots had passed through her main mast.

The Jesus of Lubeck had sunk while tied to the dock. The Swallow and the Angel were also lost. Only the Minion and Francis Drake's Judith were sufficiently intact to be sailed.

To have any hope of seeing England again, they had to escape before they suffered any more damage.

With a Spanish ship set afire and drifting toward them, Hawkins and the crew of the Jesus transferred to the Minion. Drake led the way out of the harbor. However, during the night, the two ships became separated.

The Day After
The next morning Hawkins faced an appalling scene. Clinging to the Minion for survival with few provisions for the long trip home were 200 exhausted, and in many cases wounded men. With his fleet crippled, separated from his main supply ship, Hawkins and his men were forced to steer north towards Pánuco (now Tampico) in search of food and water.

For two weeks they followed the coast, foraging as best they could. Hawkins soon realized, however, that overcrowding aboard his remaining vessels and lack of supplies were threatening the survival of his entire crew. Conditions were so miserable aboard the ships that 100 men volunteered to take their chances ashore.

The Long Walk Home
So, on October 7, 1568, Hawkins ordered ashore those of his men "such as were willing to land" and sailed for England with those who "were moft desirous to goe homewardes."

Aiming to reach the French Huguenot colony in Florida, about thirty of those left behind banded together and set off on the 1,500-mile walk around the Gulf of Mexico. Five months later they reached Florida but were unable to find the French colonists because they had been massacred by the Spaniards three years earlier.

Turning North
The sailors turned north, following Indian trails from one tribal territory to another, invariably being greeted hospitably. As more of them elected to remain with their native hosts, the party steadily diminished. Those who chose not to stay in New Spain dispersed themselves in many directions. Many were never heard from again.

Those who chose to follow the lead of David Ingram, Richard Brown and Richard Twide, marched northward hoping to find passage home on English or French fishing vessels that frequented the coast of New England and New Brunswick.

An 11 Month Walk to Canada
For the next 11 months of 1568-69, Ingram, Brown and Twide stayed together and walked more than 3,000 miles up the east coast of America, passing through Maine, to their eventual destination in St. John, New Brunswick.

Once in St. John, Ingram persuaded a French fishing boat captain, Captain Champlaine, to give him passage to France aboard the ship Gargarine. Sailing from St. John, the Gargarine made France in only twenty days, and Ingram found himself back in England near the end of September in 1569.

Other Less Fortunate Survivors
About seventy-five of the men who were put ashore decided to march westward into New Spain under the leadership of Anthony Godard, Miles Philips and Job Hortop and place themselves in the hands of the Spanish. Of those men, sixty-eight suffered torture and imprisonment in Spanish galleys and three were burned to death. Miles Phillips survived to reach England in 1582, but only after spending more than a decade as a slave in New Spàin. Job Hortop survived to reach England in 1590, after enslavement in New Spain and more than 12 years in a Spanish prison in Seville.

However, most of the men who were left in New Spain were rounded up by the Spanish and suffered hideous cruelties at the hands of the Inquisition. Robert Barrett and three others were taken to Seville to be burned at the stake as heretics. Others were hanged or died of the tortures inflicted on them. Those who were not put to death either rotted in prison or were sentenced to spend the remainder of their lives working the oars of Spanish galleys. Only the boys were spared, and were sent to monasteries.

Including the crew of the William and John, which had continued her voyage homeward after the storm, fewer than 100 of the men who had embarked on the expedition ever saw England again. Hawkins finally reached England four months after the battle. The voyage home was a horrendous ordeal. Reduced to eating boiled cowhides and vermin, the men on the Minion weakened and died by the dozen.

Only fifteen survived the voyage.

Francis Drake and what remained of the crew of the Judith arrived at Plymouth. After listening to Drake's report, Hawkins's brother William wrote to Secretary of State William Cecil and the Privy Council, informing them of the disaster, and dispatched Drake to London with the letters so that the council could hear a firsthand account of the affair.

San Juan de Ulua
The Plank Beckons
Now I Walk the Malecón
When I stroll the malecón after the Galveston to Veracruz Yacht Race I enjoy looking at the yachts with the latest technology and listen to the Americans excitedly talking about their experiences on the 4 or 5 day trip.

Most of them have heard of Francis Drake and John Hawkins, but aren´t aware of the visit of the famous buccaneers to Veracruz more than 400 years ago.

When I visit the fort of San Juan de Ulua, I look down at the water next to the docks, then gaze off to the horizon, remembering those days long ago when Sir Francis Drake and John Hawkins came to Veracruz.

And how his sailors had to walk home from Mexico to Canada.

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