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11: The Unfortunate Voyage Made with the Jesus, the Minion, and Four Other Ships...

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The Unfortunate Voyage Made with the Jesus, the Minion, and Four Other Ships, to the parts of Guinea and the West Indies, in the Years 1567 and 1568. by Master John Hawkins.

The ships departed from Plymouth the 2nd day of October, anno 1567, and had reasonable weather until the seventh day, at which time, forty leagues north from Cape Finisterre, there arose an extreme storm which continued four days, in such sort that the fleet was dispersed and all our great boats lost, and the Jesus, our chief ship, in such case as not thought able to serve the voyage. Whereupon in the same storm we set our course homeward, determining to give over the voyage; but the 11th day of the same month the wind changed, with fair weather, whereby we were animated to follow our enterprise, and so did, directing our course to the islands of Grand Canaries, where, according to an order before prescribed, all our ships, before dispersed, met in one of those islands, called Gomera, where we took water, and departed from thence the 4th day of November towards the coast of Guinea, and arrived at Cape Verde the 18th of November, where we landed one hundred and fifty men, hoping to obtain some negroes; where we got but few, and those with great hurt and damage to our men, which chiefly proceeded from their envenomed arrows; although in the beginning they seemed to be but small hurts, yet there hardly escaped any that had blood drawn of them but died in strange sort, with their mouths shut, some ten days before they died, and after their wounds were whole; where I myself had one of the greatest wounds, yet, thanks be to God, escaped. From thence we passed the time upon the coast of Guinea, searching with all diligence the rivers from Rio Grande unto Sierra Leone till the 12th of January, in which time we had not gotten together a hundred and fifty negroes: yet, notwithstanding the sickness of our men and the late time of the year commanded us away: and thus having nothing wherewith to seek the coast of the West Indies, I was with the rest of our company in consultation to go to the coast of the Myne, hoping there to have obtained some gold for our wares, and thereby to have defrayed our charge. But even in that present instant there came to us a negro sent from a king oppressed by other kings, his neighbours, desiring our aid, with promise that as many negroes as by these wars might be obtained, as well of his part as of ours, should be at our pleasure. Whereupon we concluded to give aid, and sent one hundred and twenty of our men, which the 15th of January assaulted a town of the negroes of our allies' adversaries which had in it 8,000 inhabitants, and very strongly impaled and fenced after their manner, but it was so well defended that our men prevailed not, but lost six men, and forty hurt, so that our men sent forthwith to me for more help; whereupon, considering that the good success of this enterprise might highly further the commodity of our voyage, I went myself, and with the help of the king of our side assaulted the town, both by land and sea, and very hardly with fire (their houses being covered with dry palm leaves) obtained the town, and put the inhabitants to flight, where we took 250 persons, men, women, and children, and by our friend the king of our side there were taken 600 prisoners, whereof we hoped to have our choice, but the negro (in which nation is seldom or never found truth) meant nothing less; for that night he removed his camp and prisoners, so that we were fain to content us with those few which we had gotten ourselves.

Now had we obtained between four and five hundred negroes, wherewith we thought it somewhat reasonable to seek the coast of the West Indies, and there, for our negroes, and other our merchandise, we hoped to obtain whereof to countervail our charges with some gains, whereunto we proceeded with all diligence, furnished our watering, took fuel, and departed the coast of Guinea, the third of February, continuing at the sea with a passage more hard than before hath been accustomed, till the 27th day of March, which day we had sight of an island, called Dominique, upon the coast of the West Indies, in fourteen degrees: from thence we coasted from place to place, making our traffic with the Spaniards as we might, somewhat hardly, because the king had straitly commanded all his governors in those parts by no means to suffer any trade to be made with us; notwithstanding we had reasonable trade, and courteous entertainment, from the Isle of Marguerite and Cartagena, without anything greatly worth the noting, saving at Cape de la Vela, in a town called Rio de la Hacha, from whence come all the pearls. The treasurer who had the charge there would by no means agree to any trade, or suffer us to take water. He had fortified his town with divers bulwarks in all places where it might be entered, and furnished himself with a hundred harquebusiers, so that he thought by famine to have enforced us to have put on land our negroes, of which purpose he had not greatly failed unless we had by force entered the town; which (after we could by no means obtain his favour) we were enforced to do, and so with two hundred men brake in upon their bulwarks, and entered the town with the loss only of eleven men of our parts, and no hurt done to the Spaniards, because after their volley of shot discharged, they all fled.

Thus having the town, with some circumstance, as partly by the Spaniards' desire of negroes, and partly by friendship of the treasurer, we obtained a secret trade; whereupon the Spaniards resorted to us by night, and bought of us to the number of two hundred negroes: in all other places where we traded the Spaniards inhabitants were glad of us, and traded willingly.

At Cartagena, the last town we thought to have seen on the coast, we could by no means obtain to deal with any Spaniard, the governor was so strait, and because our trade was so near finished, we thought not good either to adventure any landing or to detract further time, but in peace departed from thence the 24th of July, hoping to have escaped the time of their storms, which then soon after began to reign, the which they call Furicanos; but passing by the west end of Cuba, towards the coast of Florida, there happened to us, the twelfth day of August, an extreme storm, which continued by the space of four days, which so beat the Jesus, that we cut down all her higher buildings; her rudder also was sore shaken, and, withal, was in so extreme a leak, that we were rather upon the point to leave her than to keep her any longer; yet, hoping to bring all to good pass, sought the coast of Florida, where we found no place nor haven for our ships, because of the shallowness of the coast. Thus, being in greater despair, and taken with a new storm, which continued other three days, we were enforced to take for our succour the port which serveth the city of Mexico, called St. John de Ullua, which standeth in nineteen degrees, in seeking of which port we took in our way three ships, which carried passengers to the number of one hundred, which passengers we hoped should be a means to us the better to obtain victuals for our money and a quiet place for the repairing of our fleet. Shortly after this, the sixteenth of September, we entered the port of St. John de Ullua, and in our entry, the Spaniards thinking us to be the fleet of Spain, the chief officers of the country came aboard us, which, being deceived of their expectation, were greatly dismayed, but immediately, when they saw our demand was nothing but victuals, were recomforted. I found also in the same port twelve ships, which had in them, by the report, 200,000 livres in gold and silver, all which (being in my possession with the King's island, as also the passengers before in my way thitherward stayed) I set at liberty, without the taking from them the weight of a groat; only, because I would not be delayed of my despatch, I stayed two men of estimation, and sent post immediately to Mexico, which was two hundred miles from us, to the presidents and Council there, showing them of our arrival there by the force of weather, and the necessity of the repair of our ship and victuals, which wants we required, as friends to King Philip, to be furnished of for our money, and that the presidents in council there should, with all convenient speed, take order that at the arrival of the Spanish fleet, which was daily looked for, there might no cause of quarrel rise between us and them, but, for the better maintenance of amity, their commandment might be had in that behalf. This message being sent away the 16th day of September, at night, being the very day of our arrival, in the next morning, which was the sixteenth day of the same month, we saw open of the haven thirteen great ships, and understanding them to be the fleet of Spain, I sent immediately to advertise the general of the fleet of my being there, doing him to understand that, before I would suffer them to enter the port, there should be some order of conditions pass between us for our safe being there and maintenance of peace. Now, it is to be understood that this port is a little island of stones, not three feet above the water in the highest place, and but a bow-shot of length any way. This island standeth from the mainland two bow-shots or more. Also it is to be understood that there is not in all this coast any other place for ships to arrive in safety, because the north wind hath there such violence, that, unless the ships be very safely moored, with their anchors fastened upon this island, there is no remedy for these north winds but death; also, the place of the haven was so little, that of necessity the ships must ride one aboard the other, so that we could not give place to them nor they to us; and here I began to bewail the which after followed: "For now," said I, "I am in two dangers, and forced to receive the one of them." That was, either I must have kept out the fleet from entering the port (the which, with God's help, I was very well able to do), or else suffer them to enter in with their accustomed treason, which they never fail to execute where they may have opportunity, or circumvent it by any means. If I had kept them out, then had there been present shipwreck of all the fleet, which amounted in value to six millions, which was in value of our money 1,800,000 livres, which I considered I was not able to answer, fearing the Queen's Majesty's indignation in so weighty a matter. Thus with myself revolving the doubts, I thought rather better to abide the jutt of the uncertainty than the certainty. The uncertain doubt was their treason, which by good policy I hoped might be prevented; and therefore, as choosing the least mischief, I proceeded to conditions. Now was our first messenger come and returned from the fleet with report of the arrival of a Viceroy, so that he had authority, both in all this province of Mexico (otherwise called Nova Hispania) and in the sea, who sent us word that we should send our conditions, which of his part should (for the better maintenance of amity between the princes) be both favourably granted and faithfully performed, with many fair words how, passing the coast of the Indies, he had understood of our honest behaviour towards the inhabitants, where we had to do as well elsewhere as in the same port, the which I let pass, thus following our demand. We required victual for our money, and licence to sell as much ware as might furnish our wants, and that there might be of either part twelve gentlemen as hostage for the maintenance of peace, and that the island, for our better safety, might be in our own possession during our abode there, and such ordnance as was planted in the same island, which was eleven pieces of brass, and that no Spaniard might land in the island with any kind of weapon.

These conditions at the first he somewhat misliked—chiefly the guard of the island to be in our own keeping; which, if they had had, we had soon known our fate; for with the first north wind they had cut our cables, and our ships had gone ashore; but in the end he concluded to our request, bringing the twelve hostages to ten, which with all speed on either part were received, with a writing from the Viceroy, signed with his hand and sealed with his seal, of all the conditions concluded, and forthwith a trumpet blown, with commandment that none of either part should inviolate the peace upon pain of death; and, further, it was concluded that the two generals of the fleet should meet, and give faith each to other for the performance of the promises, which was so done.

Thus, at the end of three days, all was concluded, and the fleet entered the port, saluting one another as the manner of the sea doth require. Thus, as I said before, Thursday we entered the port, Friday we saw the fleet, and on Monday, at night, they entered the port; then we laboured two days, placing the English ships by themselves, and the Spanish ships by themselves, the captains of each part, and inferior men of their parts, promising great amity of all sides; which, even as with all fidelity was meant of our part, though the Spanish meant nothing less of their parts, but from the mainland had furnished themselves with a supply of men to the number of one thousand, and meant the next Thursday, being the 23rd of September, at dinner-time, to set upon us of all sides. The same Thursday, the treason being at hand, some appearance showed, as shifting of weapons from ship to ship, planting and bending of ordnance from the ship to the island where our men were, passing to and fro of companies of men more than required for their necessary business, and many other ill likelihoods, which caused us to have a vehement suspicion, and therewithal sent to the Viceroy to inquire what was meant by it, which sent immediately straight commandment to unplant all things suspicious, and also sent word that he, in the faith of a Viceroy, would be our defence from all villainies. Yet we, not being satisfied with this answer, because we suspected a great number of men to be hid in a great ship of nine hundred tons, which was moored next unto the Minion, sent again unto the Viceroy the master of the Jesus, which had the Spanish tongue, and required to be satisfied if any such thing were or not; on which the Viceroy, seeing that the treason must be discovered, forthwith stayed our master, blew the trumpet, and of all sides set upon us. Our men which were on guard ashore, being stricken with sudden fear, gave place, fled, and sought to recover succour of the ships; the Spaniards, being before provided for the purpose, landed in all places in multitudes from their ships, which they could easily do without boats, and slew all our men ashore without mercy, a few of them escaping aboard the Jesus. The great ship which had, by the estimation, three hundred men placed in her secretly, immediately fell aboard the Minion, which, by God's appointment, in the time of the suspicion we had, which was only one half-hour, the Minion was made ready to avoid, and so, loosing her headfasts, and hailing away by the sternfasts, she was gotten out; thus, with God's help, she defended the violence of the first brunt of these three hundred men. The Minion being passed out, they came aboard the Jesus, which also, with very much ado and the loss of many of our men, were defended and kept out. Then were there also two other ships that assaulted the Jesus at the same instant, so that she had hard work getting loose; but yet, with some time, we had cut our headfasts, and gotten out by the sternfasts. Now, when the Jesus and the Minion were gotten two ship-lengths from the Spanish fleet, the fight began hot on all sides, so that within one hour the admiral of the Spaniards was supposed to be sunk, their vice-admiral burned, and one other of their principal ships supposed to be sunk, so that the ships were little to annoy us.

Then is it to be understood that all the ordnance upon the island was in the Spaniards' hands, which did us so great annoyance that it cut all the masts and yards of the Jesus in such sort, that there was no hope to carry her away; also it sank our small ships, whereupon we determined to place the Jesus on that side of the Minion, that she might abide all the battery from the land, and so be a defence for the Minion till night, and then to take such relief of victual and other necessaries from the Jesus as the time would suffer us, and to leave her. As we were thus determining, and had placed the Minion from the shot of the land, suddenly the Spaniards had fired two great ships which were coming directly to us, and having no means to avoid the fire, it bred among our men a marvellous fear, so that some said, "Let us depart with the Minion," others said, "Let us see whether the wind will carry the fire from us." But to be short, the Minion's men, which had always their sails in a readiness, thought to make sure work, and so without either consent of the captain or master, cut their sail, so that very hardly I was received into the Minion.

The most part of the men that were left alive in the Jesus made shift and followed the Minion in a small boat, the rest, which the little boat was not able to receive, were enforced to abide the mercy of the Spaniards (which I doubt was very little); so with the Minion only, and the Judith (a small barque of fifty tons) we escaped, which barque the same night forsook us in our great misery. We were now removed with the Minion from the Spanish ships two bow-shots, and there rode all that night. The next morning we recovered an island a mile from the Spaniards, where there took us a north wind, and being left only with two anchors and two cables (for in this conflict we lost three cables and two anchors), we thought always upon death, which ever was present, but God preserved us to a longer time.

The weather waxed reasonable, and the Saturday we set sail, and having a great number of men and little victual, our hope of life waxed less and less. Some desired to yield to the Spaniards, some rather desired to obtain a place where they might give themselves to the infidels; and some had rather abide, with a little pittance, the mercy of God at sea. So thus, with many sorrowful hearts, we wandered in an unknown sea by the space of fourteen days, till hunger enforced us to seek the land; for hides were thought very good meat; rats, cats, mice, and dogs, none escaped that might be gotten; parrots and monkeys, that were had in great prize, were thought there very profitable if they served the turn of one dinner. Thus in the end, on the 8th day of October, we came to the land in the bottom of the same bay of Mexico, in twenty-three degrees and a half, where we hoped to have found habitations of the Spaniards, relief of victuals, and place for the repair of our ship, which was so sore beaten with shot from our enemies, and bruised with shooting of our own ordnance, that our weary and weak arms were scarce able to defend and keep out the water. But all things happened to the contrary, for we found neither people, victual, nor haven of relief, but a place where, having fair weather, with some peril we might land a boat. Our people, being forced with hunger, desired to be set aland, whereunto I concluded.

And such as were willing to land I put apart, and such as were desirous to go homewards I put apart, so that they were indifferently parted, a hundred of one side and a hundred of the other side. These hundred men we set on land with all diligence, in this little place aforesaid, which being landed, we determined there to refresh our water, and so with our little remain of victuals to take the sea.

The next day, having on land with me fifty of our hundred men that remained, for the speedier preparing of our water aboard, there arose an extreme storm, so that in three days we could by no means repair our ships. The ship also was in such peril that every hour we looked for shipwreck.

But yet God again had mercy on us, and sent fair weather. We got aboard our water, and departed the 16th day of October, after which day we had fair and prosperous weather till the 16th day of November, which day, God be praised, we were clear from the coast of the Indians and out of the channel and gulf of Bahama, which is between the cape of Florida and the islands of Cuba. After this, growing near to the cold country, our men, being oppressed with famine, died continually, and they that were left grew into such weakness that we were scarcely able to manoeuvre our ship, and the wind being always ill for us to recover England, determined to go to Galicia, in Spain, with intent there to relieve our company and other extreme wants. And being arrived the last day of December, in a place near unto Vigo, called Pontevedra, our men, with excess of fresh meat, grew into miserable diseases, and died a great part of them. This matter was borne out as long as it might be, but in the end, although there was none of our men suffered to go on land, yet by access of the Spaniards our feebleness was known to them. Whereupon they ceased not to seek by all means to betray us, but with all speed possible we departed to Vigo, where we had some help of certain English ships, and twelve fresh men, wherewith we repaired our wants as we might, and departing the 30th day of January, 1568, arrived in Mount's Bay in Cornwall the 25th of the same month, praised be God therefore.

If all the misery and troublesome affairs of this sorrowful voyage should be perfectly and thoroughly written, there should need a painful man with his pen, and as great time as he had that wrote the "Lives and Deaths of the Martyrs." John Hawkins

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