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A History of British Columbia
Chapter II - English Buccaneers


The trade route thus established possessed great advantages in the eyes of the Spaniards, as it was more or less immune from the attacks of freebooters, whose depredations in after years caused so much irritation and bitterness of feeling. For a period Spain was practically supreme on the Pacific, and her mariners plied their avocation of collecting tribute from defenseless peoples without fear of molestation at the hands of privateering adventurers. Firmly intrenched in their new sphere of influence as they believed themselves to be, and perhaps placing overmuch reliance in the efficacy of a papal bull, by which Pope Pius IX awarded to the Spanish King vast regions known and unknown, the news of the arrival of English buccaneers on the scene of their operations came as a rude shock to the Spaniards. The storm of the Reformation had not yet subsided and Protestant England refused to acknowledge the rights of Spain on the Pacific to the exclusion of other nations, and vigorously disputed with her the claims based on such authority.

John Oxenham, so far as we can ascertain at this late date, was the first Englishman to sail the Pacific. With the gallant Drake he had viewed the ocean from the Isthmus of Darien in 1572, when, it will be remembered, Sir Francis, on bended knee, prayed that God would bless him in his efforts to carry the English flag upon this great sea. Two years later, in 1574, Oxenham left his ship on the east coast of the Isthmus, and on foot, with his small band of adventurous followers, crossed over to some lonely and long-since forgotten spot on the Pacific shore where he built a rude pinnace, forty-five feet in length, on which he embarked on his hazardous enterprise. A few small treasure galleons were captured, but the foray was only partially successful. On the return journey across the Isthmus, the whole expedition fell into the hands of the Spaniards, and the reckless Oxenham paid the penalty of his temerity with his life. He was hanged at Lima in 1575. A few years later Sir Francis Drake planned and executed a daring raid on the Spanish settlements on the South American seaboard. Leaving England with five ships he steered for the Strait of Magellan, but storms dispersed his little squadron, and Drake's own vessel, the Golden Hinde of glorious memory, alone reached the Pacific Ocean. Nothing daunted by his misfortunes he boldly sailed up the coast, visiting and ravaging the settlements, and capturing many Spanish galleons laden with treasure. Devastation marked his triumphal progress, and we are told that up and down the coast the mere mention of Drake's name struck terror to the hearts of his enemies. At last, satisfied with the havoc he had wrought and wishing to depart in safety with his rich booty, Drake sailed northward, proposing to return to Europe by the northwest passage of which he had heard so much. In " The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake" we read that the courageous Englishman continued his voyage far up the northwest coast in his vain quest. He was at last forced to put about on account of the inclemency of the weather. He sailed south again, making land in the neighborhood of the thirty-eighth parallel of latitude on the coast of California. His exact landfall was for many years a matter of conjecture and dispute, but the available evidence seems to prove more or less conclusively that Drake's Bay, a little to the north of San Francisco, was the haven in which the Golden Hinde found refuge. Here Sir Francis had intercourse with the natives, by whom' he was well received, and obtained a supply of water and fresh provisions which were badly needed. Drake christened the whole land New Albion and took possession of it in the name of Queen Elizabeth. Then, rather than again approach the hornet's nest he had stirred up to the south, he sailed across the Pacific and followed the path of the Portuguese round the Cape of Good Hope to Europe, reaching England in 1580, after an absence of three years. Sir Francis was honored by Elizabeth and became the idol of the people, with whom his exploits on the Spanish Main were in high favor.

The voyage of Sir Francis Drake had a somewhat important bearing on future events, for upon his discoveries on the northwest coast the British partially based their claim to the territory of Oregon when, at a later date, the boundary dispute occupied the attention of the diplomatists of Great Britain and America. Unfortunately, we have no sure means of ascertaining the exact parallel of latitude attained by Drake as his notes are by no means as clear as they might be upon this subject. .It was advanced by the authorities favoring the British contention that the forty-eighth parallel was reached, but it is scarcely likely that the northern excursion of the noted buccaneer was prolonged so far..

The fancied impregnability of the Spanish position on the Pacific was thus rudely shaken. Their richly laden galleons served as a lure to the adventurous English, who delighted in humbling the power and pride of Spain. A few years only had elapsed after Drake's successful piratical incursion, when Thomas Cavendish, almost as celebrated as his great prototype, appeared off the west coast of South America with three small ships. Following the tactics of Sir Francis Drake he pillaged and burnt the settlements of the Spaniards and looted their treasure ships, leaving behind him a trail of blood and fire. Before returning he sailed as far north as Cape San Lucas, where he fell in with the galleon Santa Anna having on board an immensely valuable cargo of merchandise from Manila. Capturing this rich prize, he transferred the treasure to his own vessels, then burned the craft to the water's edge and with the wantonness characteristic of the age, landed her unfortunate crew on the desolate coast and abandoned them to their fate. Happily for the castaways, .the burned craft drifted ashore in their vicinity and they were able to roughly repair the damage and escape to a Mexican port. Vizcaino and Apostolos Valerianos (the latter better known as Juan de Fuca), who later played an important part in the exploration of the northwest coastline, were on board this ill-starred ship, and for this reason, if for no other, the incident just recited possesses more than ordinary interest.

In the latter quarter of the sixteenth century English freebooters were more or less actively engaged in harassing the Spaniards on the Pacific. However, as a general rule, those who endeavored to emulate the deeds of Drake and Cavendish met with but indifferent success. The inaccessibility of the Manila trade route, and the lack of bases for the conduct of offensive operations proved the salvation of the Spaniards.

Belief in the existence of the Strait of Anian, or the Northwest Passage as it is known to us, seemed inborn in the mariners of the sixteenth century. The Spanish, the Portuguese, the Dutch and the English held this faith in common and to their zealous, but futile, endeavors to find the Pacific inlet to this fabled Strait we are indebted for many of the early voyages of discovery and eventually the exploration and settlement of the Northwest Coast.

To this belief we also owe a rich literature of adventure, the materials of which are contained in the records of many voyages and expeditions. The Spaniards after repeated attempts despaired of its existence, at least within the sphere of their influence. But the belief died hard, all the more so because from time to time the world was misled by reports of the navigation of the reputed waterway. The published accounts of such men as Maldonado, de Fonte and others, were believed implicity by many. These bald falsehoods, manufactured as they were out of whole cloth, served to keep alive the idea that such a passage really divided the North American continent. The early explorations on the Mexican and Californian littoral soon established beyond peradventure that the long sought for passage did not find an outlet in this region, and the fact might have had a discouraging effect on the progress of northwest exploration if a new reason for charting the Pacific coastline had not arisen. The establishment of the trade route to the Spice Islands has already been alluded to. It will be remembered that the ships crossed the Pacific in the path of the southwesterly trades. In returning, however, mariners were obliged to steer a northerly course so that their landfall on the continent was often far above Mexico. This necessitated a more or less protracted voyage along an uncharted and dangerous coast. Naturally enough the authorities at Madrid, bearing in mind the enormous value of the Philippine trade, soon determined that in order to> prevent the constant loss of ships in these waters it would be necessary to find and chart havens of refuge for the homing treasure ships. It is impossible to say in what latitude the ships made the continent, but it has been stated, and apparently with some show of reason, that they often sighted land in the higher latitude of the Californian coast. There is reason to believe that long before Vizcaino, in 1602-3 charted the coastline between Cape San Lucas and the forty-third parallel, the Spanish captains engaged in the East Indian trade knew of the harbor of San Francisco and it is not altogether improbable that they often visited this port for water and refreshment after their long and tedious voyages across the Pacific.

Between the voyages of Vizcaino and that of Juan Perez in the "Santiago," which is dealt with in the next chapter, there is an interregnum of nearly two hundred years. During that long period, so far as contemporary evidence is available, attention from the problems of Pacific navigation, trade and adventure was completely withdrawn, only to be revived to greater activity towards the close of the eighteenth century, when Spain made a final effort to assert her traditional sovereignty over the western and southern seas. England had also entered upon a new phase of naval activity, and was again to be brought into conflict with an European power for the supremacy of the ocean, this time with France, as she had once in the earlier period described, in conflict with Spain, and it was her destiny once more to emerge triumphant. Spain at this later period was struggling with adverse fate to regain lost ground; England was in the ascendancy, strong, aggressive and indomitable. A new race of sea dogs, worthy of the best traditions of the days of Drake, had risen in the Navy, and headed by Nelson, were more than ever to make the Union Jack respected and feared wherever flung to the breeze. In respect to the Pacific Coast of North America, the later expeditions of the Spanish were soon followed' by those of the English. Interest was again revived in the solution of the problem of the Northwest Passage, and the mariners of both nations contributed much to the knowledge- of this coast. That England should lead in this enterprise is not to be wondered at, considering the greatly superior vessels and improved equipment as compared with those of the Spaniards. That she should remain in possession while the Spanish retired forever from the region north of California coast was inevitable. Spain was a worn out and decrepit naval power, while England was coming to her prime, and was yet to witness her greatest triumphs.

Juan de Fuca.

In 1592, just a century after the discovery of America by Columbus, the Viceroy of Mexico sent a Greek pilot, known among the Spaniards of that colony as Juan de Fuca, on a voyage of discovery to the north Pacific Ocean. This navigator followed the coast till he reached an inlet up which he sailed for more than twenty days. The entrance of the strait was marked by a great headland or island on which was an exceedingly high pinnacle of spired rock. This strait which grew wider as the explorer proceeded contained numerous islands. Juan de Fuca landed at several places and found the natives dressed in the skins of beasts. He observed that the land was fruitful and reported that it was rich in gold, silver, pearls and other things like , New Spain. Sailing on he reached a broader sheet of water of which he spoke as the North Sea. He then returned to Acapulco. The inland waters thus explored are known now as the Straits of Juan de Fuca and Georgia. This is alluded to in the following extract from Robert Greenhow's "Historic Memoirs of the Northwest Coast:" "The discrepancies to be observed in the narrative of de Fuca are few and slight and are all within the limits of supposable error on the part of the Greek, especially when his advanced age, and the circumstances that he spoke only from recollection are considered.; while on the other hand, the coincidences are too great and too striking to be fairly attributed to chance.

"It may, therefore, be undoubtedly admitted that Fuca entered the strait now bearing his name, and that he may also have passed entirely through it, but that he, an experienced navigator,' should have conceived that by sailing thirty leagues east and then eighty leagues northwest by west he had arrived in the Atlantic is wholly incredible."

The explorer not receiving the rewards he expected from the viceroy and the Spanish king returned disappointed to his home in Cephalonia. On his way thither in 1596 he met at Florence an English sea-captain, John Douglas, who introduced him to Michael Lock, an influential merchant. So greatly were these Englishmen impressed with the truthfulness of the story told by the old mariner and of the importance of his discovery that they endeavored through Lord Cecil, Sir Walter Raleigh and Richard Hakluyt, famous for his publication of works of travel and exploration, to induce Queen Elizabeth to employ de Fuca to make discoveries on England's behalf. To take the explorer to England 100 was needed and the British Government was asked to furnish the money. It was not sent and when in 1602 Lock found himself in a position to advance it out of his own funds Juan de Fuca was on his deathbed. The opportunity had passed and it was almost two hundred years before the flag of England was planted on the Northwest Coast.


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