John Hawkins A Famous Pirate

John Hawkins Newquay Cornwall

John Hawkins was a pirate surrounded by controversy. He made his name as one of the Elizabethan Privateers; captains that carried letters of marque allowing them to engage in ‘legal piracy’ during wartime.

Born in Plymouth in 1532, Hawkins was the second son of William Hawkins, Lord Mayor of Plymouth, and Joan Trelawny. Despite his wealthy parents, it is thought that Hawkins wasn’t particularly well educated until the age of twenty, having several encounters with the authorities in his youth.

His career began in 1562 when he sailed from the Barbican in Plymouth to the Caribbean via West Africa to smuggle slaves across the Atlantic. This proved to be extremely profitable as smugglers who sold directly to the Spanish colonies could avoid registering their cargo with the Spanish authorities who would take a hefty portion of the proceeds.

Several expeditions followed, many with Hawkins’ cousin, Francis Drake. This was a time when Spain was incredibly powerful; controlling most of the ocean and with a monopoly on trade. After Hawkins hijacked a Portuguese slave ship, the Spanish banned all English ships from their colonies in the West Indies.

In 1588 Hawkins and Drake commanded the English fleet against the Spanish Armada, successfully defeating the enemy, and earning themselves knighthoods. Hawkins fell ill and died during a 1595 expedition to the West Indies.