John Hawkins, born in 1532 in Plymouth, England, Queen Elizabeth Slave Trader,was a successful seaman and played a pivotal role in the history of England and the emergence of the global slave trade. Born into a family of wealthy pirates, Hawkins became fascinated by tales of the riches of foreign lands. Early in his career he led an illegal expedition in which he captured three hundred slaves in Sierra Leone and transported them to the West Indies. There he traded them for pearls, hides, and sugar–thus giving birth to the British slave trade. His voyages were so lucrative that Queen Elizabeth herself sponsored subsequent missions. Discouraged from his career as a pirate by a near-fatal encounter with angry Spanish troops, Hawkins spent much of his later life in England at the service of the queen. Although he committed treason, murder, and adultery at various points in his career, he was nonetheless knighted in 1588 for his role in defeating the Spanish Armada
John Hawkins later became treasurer and controller of the English navy and oversaw the creation of more technologically advanced vessels. He died on November 12, 1595 while en route to a raid in Puerto Rico.
The Atlantic slave trade resulted in the enforced scattering of millions of Africans to the Caribbean, the Americas and elsewhere – including Britain. A significant early English figure was John Hawkins. His father, William Hawkins, made the first English expeditions to West Africa in the1530s. William Hawkins was an adventurous trader who set out to explore the Guinea coast. His voyages were made in search of commercial materials such as Glossary – opens new windowdyewoods.
Exploration and trade were the most significant reasons for people to move around the world during the 15th and early 16th centuries. The French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch sent their merchant seamen to Asia, Africa and the Americas, where trade developed rapidly. The English, anxious not to miss out on this bounty, became experts in shipping, finance and insurance and thus major players in overseas commerce.
The English chapter in the history of African slavery began in Plymouth and is remembered every year. Each year, African Remembrance Day pays homage to the millions of Africans who perished during 500 years of enslavement.
Held every year on 1 August, African Remembrance Day reflects on the lessons and challenges resulting from over 500 years of African enslavement.
It brings people together in mourning for those who perished during this painful period in Africa’s long and turbulent history.
Interestingly the English chapter in the history of slavery begins in Plymouth.
John Hawkins was England’s first slave trader. In 1562 he sailed from The Barbican in Plymouth with three ships and violently kidnapped about 400 Africans in Guinea, later trading them in the West Indies.
Between 1562 and 1567 Hawkins and his cousin Francis Drake made three voyages to Guinea and Sierra Leone and enslaved between 1,200 and 1,400 Africans.
According to slavers’ accounts of the time this would probably have involved the death of three times that number.
The pattern was consistent. Hawkins sailed for the west coast of Africa and, sometimes with the help of other African natives, kidnapped villagers.
He would then cross the Atlantic and sell his cargo, or those who survived the voyage, to the Spanish. The slave trade was better business than plantations.
Hawkins’ personal profit from selling slaves was so huge that Queen Elizabeth I granted him a special coat of arms, which has a c.
Hawkins, in his own words, as noted by Hakluyt, ‘profited by the sale of slaves’ – so much so that he included a bound slave wearing a necklace and earrings on the crest of his coat of arms. His final voyage turned out to be a disaster for Hawkins, as he lost his ships and men to the Spanish. This event precipitated hostilities between England and Spain.
He was appointed as Treasurer for the Navy in 1577 and knighted in 1588 by the Lord High Admiral, Charles Howard, following the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
For Hawkins, the trade ended in 1567 when his fleet, which included a ship commanded by Francis Drake, took shelter from a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. The Spanish were also there. In the chaos and fight that followed, many of his men were killed.
Hawkins escaped in one ship and Drake in another. He’d lost 325 men on that voyage but it still showed a financial profit.
However, slavery continued after Hawkins and, although banned in England in 1772, it continued in the colonies until the 19th century.
In Plymouth there are numerous public monuments to his achievements, including Sir John Hawkins Square.
While Plymouth has publicly remembered John Hawkins as ‘England’s first slave trader’, there are no public monuments to the thousands of Africans killed and enslaved by Hawkins and Drake – nor the millions who perished in the period that followed.
African Remembrance Day pays homage to those who perished and those who survived.
- Sir John Hawkins Biography and Profile (BBC)