John Hawkins
Admiral Sir John Hawkins (also spelled as Hawkyns) (Plymouth
Plymouth is a city and unitary authority area on the coast of Devon, England, about south-west of London. It is built between the mouths of the rivers Plym to the east and Tamar to the west, where they join Plymouth Sound...

 1532 – 12 November 1595) was an English
English people
The English are a nation and ethnic group native to England, who speak English. The English identity is of early mediaeval origin, when they were known in Old English as the Anglecynn. England is now a country of the United Kingdom, and the majority of English people in England are British Citizens...

 shipbuilder, naval administrator and commander, merchant
A merchant is a businessperson who trades in commodities that were produced by others, in order to earn a profit.Merchants can be one of two types:# A wholesale merchant operates in the chain between producer and retail merchant...

, navigator
A navigator is the person on board a ship or aircraft responsible for its navigation. The navigator's primary responsibility is to be aware of ship or aircraft position at all times. Responsibilities include planning the journey, advising the Captain or aircraft Commander of estimated timing to...

, and slave trader. As treasurer (1577) and controller (1589) of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

, he rebuilt older ships and helped design the faster ships that withstood the Spanish Armada
Spanish Armada
This article refers to the Battle of Gravelines, for the modern navy of Spain, see Spanish NavyThe Spanish Armada was the Spanish fleet that sailed against England under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1588, with the intention of overthrowing Elizabeth I of England to stop English...

 in 1588. He later devised the naval blockade to intercept Spanish
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 treasure ships. One of the foremost seamen of 16th-century England, he was the chief architect of the Elizabethan navy. In the battle in which the Spanish Armada was defeated in 1588, Hawkins served as a vice admiral and was knighted for his role.

William, John's father, was a confidant of Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

 and one of England's principal sea captains. Sir Francis Drake
Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake, Vice Admiral was an English sea captain, privateer, navigator, slaver, and politician of the Elizabethan era. Elizabeth I of England awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581. He was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. He also carried out the...

, John's second cousin, helped him in his second voyage.

The first Englishman recorded to have taken slaves from Africa was John Lok, a London trader who, in 1555, brought five slaves from Guinea
Guinea (region)
Guinea is a traditional name for the region of Africa that lies along the Gulf of Guinea. It stretches north through the forested tropical regions and ends at the Sahel.-History:...

. A second London trader taking slaves at that time was William Towerson whose fleet sailed into Plymouth following his 1556 voyage to Africa and from Plymouth on his 1557 voyage. Despite the exploits of Lok and Towerson, John Hawkins of Plymouth is often considered to be the pioneer of the British slave trade, because he was the first to run the Triangular trade
Triangular trade
Triangular trade, or triangle trade, is a historical term indicating among three ports or regions. Triangular trade usually evolves when a region has export commodities that are not required in the region from which its major imports come...

, making a profit at every stop.


John Hawkins was the son of William Hawkins and Joan Trelawney. No exact date of when he was born has been found. William Trelawney was the son of John Trelawney and Florence Courtenay, daughter of Hugh Courtenay. Hugh Courtenay was the son of Hughie Courtenay, Sr. and Matilda "Maud' Beaumont. Maud's mother was Eleanor Plantagenet, herself the great grand daughter of King Henry III
Henry III of England
Henry III was the son and successor of John as King of England, reigning for 56 years from 1216 until his death. His contemporaries knew him as Henry of Winchester. He was the first child king in England since the reign of Æthelred the Unready...

, making John Hawkins the 7th great-grandson of King Henry III. John was also the second cousin of Sir Francis Drake.

First voyage (1555–1563)

John Hawkins formed a syndicate of wealthy merchants to invest in the slave trade. In 1555, he set sail with three ships for the Caribbean via Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone
Sierra Leone , officially the Republic of Sierra Leone, is a country in West Africa. It is bordered by Guinea to the north and east, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west and southwest. Sierra Leone covers a total area of and has an estimated population between 5.4 and 6.4...

. They hijacked a Portuguese
Portugal , officially the Portuguese Republic is a country situated in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Portugal is the westernmost country of Europe, and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the West and South and by Spain to the North and East. The Atlantic archipelagos of the...

 slave ship and traded the 301 slaves in the Caribbean. Despite having two ships seized by the Spanish authorities, he sold the slaves in Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo
Santo Domingo, known officially as Santo Domingo de Guzmán, is the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic. Its metropolitan population was 2,084,852 in 2003, and estimated at 3,294,385 in 2010. The city is located on the Caribbean Sea, at the mouth of the Ozama River...

 and thus made a profit for his London investors. His voyage caused the Spanish to ban all English ships from trading in their West Indies colonies. In 1563, John Hawkins brought the first slaves from Africa to both the Caribbean Isles and Lower Americas.

Second voyage (1564–1565)

Hawkins' second voyage was even more successful. In 1564, Queen Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

 partnered with him by renting him the huge old 700-ton ship Jesus of Lubeck, on which he set forth on a more extensive voyage, along with three small ships. Hawkins sailed to Borburata
Borburata is a small coastal town in Carabobo state, Venezuela.Founded in 1548, known for its numerous pirates raids in the 16th and 17th century. Today it is best known for its religious festivities, and the San Esteban National Park located just minutes outside the town, which is home to a great...

, privateering along the way. By the time he reached Borburata, he had captured around 400 Africans. After Borburata, Hawkins sailed to Rio de la Hacha
Riohacha, Rio Hacha or Rio de la Hacha , is a city in the Riohacha Municipality in the northern Caribbean Region of Colombia by the mouth of the Ranchería River and the Caribbean sea, capital city of the La Guajira Department. Founded by conquistador Nikolaus Federmann in 1535, Riohacha was named...

. The Spanish officials tried to prevent Hawkins from selling the slaves by imposing taxes. Captain Hawkins refused to pay the taxes and threatened to burn the towns. After selling his slaves, Captain Hawkins sailed to a French colony in Florida for a respite. Captain Hawkins returned to England in September 1566, his expedition a total success as his financiers made a 60% profit.

Third voyage (1567–1569)

His third voyage began in 1567. Hawkins obtained many more slaves, and also augmented his cargo by capturing the Portuguese slave ship
Slave ship
Slave ships were large cargo ships specially converted for the purpose of transporting slaves, especially newly purchased African slaves to Americas....

 Madre de Deus (Mother of God) and its human cargo. He took about 400 slaves across the Atlantic on the third trip. At San Juan de Ulúa
San Juan de Ulúa
San Juan de Ulúa, also known as Castle of San Juan de Ulúa is a large complex of fortresses, prisons and one former palace on an island overlooking the seaport of Veracruz, Mexico.-History:...

 (in modern Vera Cruz
Veracruz, Veracruz
Veracruz, officially known as Heroica Veracruz, is a major port city and municipality on the Gulf of Mexico in the Mexican state of Veracruz. The city is located in the central part of the state. It is located along Federal Highway 140 from the state capital Xalapa, and is the state's most...

) he was chanced upon by a strong Spanish force that was bringing, by a royal edict issued on 16 June 1567 by king Philip II of Spain
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

, an investigative commission consisting of Licenciado Gaspar de Jarava, Licenciado Alonso Muñoz
Alonso Muñoz
Alonso Muñoz was a high-ranking administrator in Spain and, from November 1567 to about July 1568, royal commissioner with Luis Carrillo for the inspection of the government of New Spain for King Philip II.-Origins and early career:A descendant of successful ranchers involved in the production...

, and Doctor Luis Carrillo
Luis Carrillo
Luis Carrillo was, from November 1567 to about July 1568, royal commissioner with Alonso Muñoz for the inspection of the viceregal government of New Spain for King Philip II.-The Conspiracy of 1565:...

 to find out about the insistent rumours alleging some sort of move towards Mexican independence from the Spanish Crown by the Spanish Viceroy of Mexico Gaston de Peralta, 3rd Marquis of Falces, and his half-brothers Martin Cortes I "El Mestizo", Martin Cortés y Zúñiga (also known as Martin Cortés II and Martín Cortés, 2nd Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca) and Luis Cortés y Hermosillo. De Jarava and Muñoz were from the Council of the Indies, while Carrillo was an official at the Court. The General Commander of the Fleet was the newly appointed governor of Cuba Pedro Menéndez de Avilés
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés
Pedro Menéndez de Avilés was a Spanish admiral and explorer, best remembered for founding St. Augustine, Florida in 1565. This was the first successful Spanish foothold in La Florida and remained the most significant city in the region for several hundred years. St...

 (founder of the City of San Agustin
San Agustin
San Agustin is a free improvising trio from Atlanta, Georgia, United States, with David Daniell and Andrew Burnes on guitar and Bryan Fielden on drums....

, Florida
Florida is a state in the southeastern United States, located on the nation's Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Mexico, to the north by Alabama and Georgia and to the east by the Atlantic Ocean. With a population of 18,801,310 as measured by the 2010 census, it...

), assisted by the capable seafarer Sancho Pardo Donlebún
Sancho Pardo Donlebún
Sancho Pardo Donlebún, Sancho Pardo Osorio, , was a notorious seafarer.-Interventions against the Caribbean Pirates:...

, who was later to be a powerful adversary of both Hawkins and Drake.

In the ensuing Battle of San Juan de Ulúa
Battle of San Juan de Ulúa (1568)
The Battle of San Juan de Ulúa was a battle between English privateers and Spanish forces at San Juan de Ulúa . It marked the end of the campaign carried out by an English flotilla of 6 ships that had systematically conducted illegal trade in the Caribbean Sea, including the slave trade, imposing...

 only two of the English ships escaped destruction, and Hawkins' voyage home was a miserable one. That of Hawkins' gunner, Job Hartop
Job Hartop
Job Hartop was an English adventurer who enlisted as chief gunner on John Hawkins' third voyage to the Caribbean. He became stranded, was captured by the Spanish authorities and was used as a galley slave...

 was equally so and took many years.

Although his first three voyages were semi-piratical enterprises, Queen Elizabeth I was in need of money and saw pirates as fighting her battles at their own cost and risk.

Hawkins would write about the details of his third voyage in An Alliance to Raid for Slaves. Specifically he comments on how trading and raiding were closely related in the English slave trade, and how European success in the slave trade directly depended on African allies who were willing to cooperate. He also comments on the level of violence he and his men used and encouraged in order to secure his captives. The title makes clear the basis of his methodology.


As part of the English government's web of counter-espionage, Hawkins pretended to be part of the Ridolfi plot
Ridolfi plot
The Ridolfi plot was a plot in 1570 to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I of England and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. The plot was hatched and planned by Roberto di Ridolfi, an international banker who was able to travel between Brussels, Rome and Madrid to gather support without attracting...

 to betray Queen Elizabeth in 1571. By gaining the confidence of Spain's ambassador to England, he learned the details of the conspiracy, and notified the government so to arrest the plotters. He offered his services to the Spanish, in order to obtain the release of prisoners of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

, and to discover plans for the proposed Spanish invasion of England.

His help in foiling the plot was rewarded, and in 1571 Hawkins entered Parliament
Parliament of England
The Parliament of England was the legislature of the Kingdom of England. In 1066, William of Normandy introduced a feudal system, by which he sought the advice of a council of tenants-in-chief and ecclesiastics before making laws...

 as MP for Plymouth
Plymouth (UK Parliament constituency)
Plymouth was a parliamentary borough in Devon, which elected two Members of Parliament to the House of Commons in 1298 and again from 1442 until 1918, when the borough was merged with the neighbouring Devonport and the combined area divided into three single-member constituencies.-In the...

. He became Treasurer
Treasurer of the Navy
The Treasurer of the Navy was an office in the British government between the mid-16th and early 19th century. The office-holder was responsible for the financial maintenance of the Royal Navy. The office was a political appointment, and frequently was held by up-and-coming young politicians who...

 of the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 on 1 January 1578, following the death of his predecessor Benjamin Gonson (who was also his father-in-law, Hawkins having married Katherine Gonson in 1567).

Hawkins' financial reforms of the Navy upset many who had vested interests, and in 1582 his rival Sir William Wynter accused him of administrative malfeasance, instigating a royal commission
Royal Commission
In Commonwealth realms and other monarchies a Royal Commission is a major ad-hoc formal public inquiry into a defined issue. They have been held in various countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Saudi Arabia...

 on fraud against him. The commission, under William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley
William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley
William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley , KG was an English statesman, the chief advisor of Queen Elizabeth I for most of her reign, twice Secretary of State and Lord High Treasurer from 1572...

, Francis Walsingham
Francis Walsingham
Sir Francis Walsingham was Principal Secretary to Elizabeth I of England from 1573 until 1590, and is popularly remembered as her "spymaster". Walsingham is frequently cited as one of the earliest practitioners of modern intelligence methods both for espionage and for domestic security...

, and Drake, concluded that there was no undue corruption, and that the Queen's Navy was in first-rate condition.

Hawkins was determined that his navy, as well as having the best fleet of ships in the world, would also have the best quality of seamen, and so petitioned and won a pay increase for sailors, arguing that a smaller number of well-motivated and better-paid men would be more effective than a larger group of uninterested men.

Hawkins made important improvements in ship construction and rigging
Rigging is the apparatus through which the force of the wind is used to propel sailboats and sailing ships forward. This includes masts, yards, sails, and cordage.-Terms and classifications:...

; he is less well known for his inventiveness as a shipwright, but it was his idea to add to the caulker's work by the finishing touch of sheathing the underside of his ships with a skin of nailed elm
Elms are deciduous and semi-deciduous trees comprising the genus Ulmus in the plant family Ulmaceae. The dozens of species are found in temperate and tropical-montane regions of North America and Eurasia, ranging southward into Indonesia. Elms are components of many kinds of natural forests...

 planks sealed with a combination of pitch
Pitch (resin)
Pitch is the name for any of a number of viscoelastic, solid polymers. Pitch can be made from petroleum products or plants. Petroleum-derived pitch is also called bitumen. Pitch produced from plants is also known as resin. Products made from plant resin are also known as rosin.Pitch was...

 and hair smeared over the bottom timbers, as a protection against the worms which would attack a ship in tropical seas. Hawkins also introduced detachable topmasts that could be hoisted and used in good weather and stowed in heavy seas. Masts were stepped further forward, and sails were cut flatter. His ships were "race-built", being longer and with forecastle
Forecastle refers to the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast, or the forward part of a ship with the sailors' living quarters...

 and aftcastle (or poop
Poop deck
In naval architecture, a poop deck is a deck that forms the roof of a cabin built in the rear, or "aft", part of the superstructure of a ship.The name originates from the French word for stern, la poupe, from Latin puppis...

) greatly reduced in size.

The Spanish Armada

John Hawkins' innovative measures made the new English ships fast and highly manoeuvrable. In 1588 they were tested against the Spanish Armada
Spanish Armada
This article refers to the Battle of Gravelines, for the modern navy of Spain, see Spanish NavyThe Spanish Armada was the Spanish fleet that sailed against England under the command of the Duke of Medina Sidonia in 1588, with the intention of overthrowing Elizabeth I of England to stop English...

. Hawkins was the Rear Admiral
Rear Admiral
Rear admiral is a naval commissioned officer rank above that of a commodore and captain, and below that of a vice admiral. It is generally regarded as the lowest of the "admiral" ranks, which are also sometimes referred to as "flag officers" or "flag ranks"...

, one of three main commanders of the English fleet against the Armada, alongside Francis Drake
Francis Drake
Sir Francis Drake, Vice Admiral was an English sea captain, privateer, navigator, slaver, and politician of the Elizabethan era. Elizabeth I of England awarded Drake a knighthood in 1581. He was second-in-command of the English fleet against the Spanish Armada in 1588. He also carried out the...

 and Martin Frobisher
Martin Frobisher
Sir Martin Frobisher was an English seaman who made three voyages to the New World to look for the Northwest Passage...

. Hawkins’ flagship was Victory. It is possible that Hawkins organised the fire-ship attacks at Calais
Calais is a town in Northern France in the department of Pas-de-Calais, of which it is a sub-prefecture. Although Calais is by far the largest city in Pas-de-Calais, the department's capital is its third-largest city of Arras....

. For his role in the great sea battle, Hawkins was knighted.

After the defeat of the Armada, Hawkins urged the seizure of Philip II
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

's colonial treasure, in order to stop Spain re-arming. In 1589, Hawkins sailed with former apprentice Francis Drake in a massive military operation (the Drake–Norris Expedition
English Armada
The English Armada, also known as the Counter Armada or the Drake-Norris Expedition, was a fleet of warships sent to the Iberian Coast by Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1589, during the Anglo-Spanish War...

) with one of its goals being to try to intercept the Spanish treasure fleet. The voyage failed, but the idea led many other English pirates to make similar attempts.

In 1590 Drake and Hawkins founded a charity for the relief of sick and elderly mariners
A sailor, mariner, or seaman is a person who navigates water-borne vessels or assists in their operation, maintenance, or service. The term can apply to professional mariners, military personnel, and recreational sailors as well as a plethora of other uses...

. This was followed by a hospital in 1592 and another in 1594, the Sir John Hawkins’ Hospital. The charity continues today.

Potatoes, tobacco and sharks

The potato is a starchy, tuberous crop from the perennial Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae family . The word potato may refer to the plant itself as well as the edible tuber. In the region of the Andes, there are some other closely related cultivated potato species...

es were first imported to the British Isles
British Isles
The British Isles are a group of islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe that include the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and over six thousand smaller isles. There are two sovereign states located on the islands: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and...

 (probably to Ireland) in either 1563 or 1565 (sources differ) by Hawkins.

Some scholars suggest that it was John Hawkins who introduced tobacco
Tobacco is an agricultural product processed from the leaves of plants in the genus Nicotiana. It can be consumed, used as a pesticide and, in the form of nicotine tartrate, used in some medicines...

 into Britain. Some accounts say this was in 1569, others in 1564. The latter is more likely, since he mentions "Ltobaccoj" (meaning tobacco) in his journals of the second voyage.

The Oxford English Dictionary
Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...

 notes that the word shark
Sharks are a type of fish with a full cartilaginous skeleton and a highly streamlined body. The earliest known sharks date from more than 420 million years ago....

 appears to have been introduced by Hawkins' sailors, who brought one back and exhibited it in London in 1569. It has recently been suggested that the derivation is from xoc, the word for "fish" in a Mayan
Mayan languages
The Mayan languages form a language family spoken in Mesoamerica and northern Central America. Mayan languages are spoken by at least 6 million indigenous Maya, primarily in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize and Honduras...

 language spoken in Yucatán
Yucatán officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Yucatán is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 106 municipalities and its capital city is Mérida....



In 1595 he accompanied his second cousin Sir Francis Drake, on a treasure
Treasure is a concentration of riches, often one which is considered lost or forgotten until being rediscovered...

-hunting voyage to the West Indies, involving two unsuccessful attacks on San Juan in Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico , officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.Puerto Rico comprises an...

. During the voyage they both fell sick. Hawkins died at sea off Puerto Rico. Drake succumbed to disease, most likely dysentery, on January 27, and was buried at sea somewhere off the coast of Porto Belo. Hawkins was succeeded by his son Sir Richard Hawkins
Richard Hawkins
thumb|250px|right|Sir Richard HawkinsAdmiral Sir Richard Hawkins was a 17th century English seaman, explorer and Elizabethan "Sea Dog", and was the son of Admiral Sir John Hawkins....


Hawkins came to the public's attention again in June 2006, almost four and a half centuries after his death, when his descendant Andrew Hawkins publicly apologized for his ancestor's actions in the slave trade.

Further reading

  • Hazlewood, Nick. The Queen's Slave Trader: John Hawkyns, Elizabeth I, and the Trafficking in Human Souls. HarperCollins Books, New York, 2004. ISBN 0-06-621089-5.

  • Walling, R.A.J. A Sea-Dog of Devon
    Devon is a large county in southwestern England. The county is sometimes referred to as Devonshire, although the term is rarely used inside the county itself as the county has never been officially "shired", it often indicates a traditional or historical context.The county shares borders with...

    : a Life of Sir John Hawkins. 1907.

  • WILLIAMSON, James. Hawkins of Plymouth: a new History of Sir John Hawkins. 1969.

  • DAVIS, Bertram. Proof of Eminence : The Life of Sir John Hawkins. Indiana University Press. 1973

  • UNWIN, Rayner. The Defeat of John Hawkins: A Biography of His Third Slaving Voyage. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1960; New York: Macmillan, 1960.

  • Harry KELSEY. Sir John Hawkins, Queen Elizabeth´s Slave Trader, Yale University Press, 384 pages, (April 2003), ISBN 9780300096637

  • The African slave trade and its suppression: a classified and annotated bibliography of Books, Pamphlets and Periodical Articles, annotated by Peter C. HOGG, Frank Cass and Co. Ltd. Abingdon, Oxon, England and Frank Cass and Co. Ltd. New York (1973), ISBN 0 7146 2775 5 . Transferred to Digital Printing 2006, 409 pages:

External links

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