John Hawkins

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Sir John Hawkins (1532 – 1595) was an English seaman, trader and later, admiral, who is credited with the first development of the English "Triangular trade" (borrowed from the Portuguese), in which English goods were traded in West Africa for slaves, which were traded in the Spanish Main (see below) and the West Indies for produce for sale back in England. Thus, a single voyage could make fantastic profits. Although he immediately annoyed the Portuguese; and also Spain – the produce of whose colonies he was “hijacking” – it was to remain an increasingly major source of English trade income into nineteenth century. Queen Elizabeth I herself supplied ships for, and invested in, the trade which would later expand to include the North American colonies.

He is also notable as the driving force behind the Elizabethan Navy’s reformation into the force capable of matching the Spanish Armada (against which he commanded a ship, and during which he was knighted). He worked for better pay and conditions for seamen; and was behind the design of a superior fighting ship - faster, more sea-worthy, better armed, with a lower hull and enhanced up-wind capability...the first galleon.

In 1595 he and Sir Francis Drake were given joint command of an expedition to the West Indies. Hawkins, whose age should have barred him from such ventures, died of dysentery off Puerto Rico. He was buried at sea. Less than three months later Drake was to meet the same fate.

A practical and God-fearing man, he is known to have ordered: “Serve God daily, love one another, preserve your victuals, beware of fire and keep good company”.

Hawkins' son, Richard Hawkins is another notable mariner of the Age. Both of them are remembered as “Sea Dogs”.

Reference: "Africa and the West - A Documentary History. Volume 1: 1441 -1905" (Pages 27-30) contains extracts from Hawkins' own Journals of his slave trading voyages 1584/5 and during 1568.

  • The “Spanish Main” referred to those parts of the mainland of South, Central and even North America held and colonised by the Spaniards; as apart from the West Indies, which referred to the Caribbean islands only. During the seventeenth century the term began to refer to the whole region and this is how it is usually perceived today.
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