Admiral Sir John HAWKINS

Born: 1532, Plymouth, England

Died: 12 Nov 1595, at Sea

Father: William HAWKINS

Mother: Joan TRELAWNY

Married 1: Catherine GONSON (d. 1591) (dau. of Benjamin Gonson and Ursula Hussey) ABT 1557


1. Richard HAWKINS (See his Biography)

Married 2: Margaret VAUGHAN (b. ABT 1540 - d. AFT 23 Apr 1619) (dau. of Charles Vaughan and Elizabeth Baskerville) AFT 1591

Son of William Hawkins, one of the five richest men in Plymouth in 1543. He was worth £150 a year (to get a sense of scale bear in mind that the towns total income in that year was £63). During that year he was accused of being responsible for a fellow townsman’s near death by beating. He managed to avoid trial over this.

William commanded privateers (pirates licensed by Kings & Queens) to Brazil at least three times and then continued to develop the trade from home to his immense profit. He became infamous to the Spanish and Portuguese colonies where his violent piracy was feared. As elected Lord Mayor William seems to have benefited during the dissolution of the monasteries. This was the time when Henry VIII wanted to divorce Catalina of Aragon. The friars that upheld Church Law against the King lost their property and valuables (never mind lives) in the following conflagration. The Lord Mayor was the most powerful person in a town at that time; not a ceremonial position but for instance he would be in charge of the city militia and responsible for the defences of the city. 

In 1544 William received the Kings Commission to ‘annoy the King’s enemies’. William trod a fine line between legality and piracy. He was sent to prison at one point but this did not prevent him on release from more piracy.  When William died his estate went to his two sons William and John. William Jr. managed the business at home and John took control at sea.

Soon after 1560, John Hawkins had moved to London and, after marrying the daughter of the Treasury of the Navy, formed a syndicate of wealthy merchants and officials including Sir Lionel Duckett and Sir Thomas Lodge, who were already engaged in Gold Coast trade, Benjamin Gonson and Sir William Winter (d. 1589). This syndicate's period of activity may mark the time when a nexus of interest strengthened - between "naval men" and merchant-slavers. By 1564, John Hawkins' patrons included Robert Dudley, Earl Leicester and Henry Herbert, Earl of Pembroke. He had backers including Sir Lionel Duckett, Sir Thomas Lodge and Sir William Winter, his own father-in-law Benjamin Gonson. Sir Lionel Duckett was a cloth manufacturer and metalworker who had three daughters each given large dowries. Duckett had a company with the Cecils and the earls of Pembroke to construct waterworks to drain mines. He was Aldermen and Lord Mayor of London.

He became a sea captain and in 1562 became the first Englishman to start capturing people in Sierra Leona and selling them as slaves to Spanish settlers in the Caribbean. The following year his cousin, Francis Drake, joined him in these activities. As it was illegal for the settlers to buy from foreigners, Hawkins and Drake soon came into conflict with the Spanish authorities.

Sir Lionel Duckett

Lord Mayor of London

When John Hawkins sailed on his first venture from Plymouth in Oct 1562 to the Canaries, his chief ally amongst the Spanish was Pedro de Ponte. Hawkins sailed thence for Cape Verde, while Ponte dealt with Hispaniola (Jamaica). Hawkins got about 400 slaves, some from Portuguese ships. In April 1563 Hawkins got to north of Hispaniolo, to Puerto de Plata; then to La Isabela, bartering slaves for goods, pearls, hides and sugars, some gold.

John Hawkins' second voyage had the backing of Elizabeth, the earls of Leicester and Pembroke, and Lord Admiral of England, Edward Fiennes Clinton, plus Gonson, Winters and some Londoners. Later Captain John Lovell was slaving in Hawkins's tracks.

In the period when Hawkins' business was sent to Hugh Tipton, the Duke of Feria, an adviser to Felipe of Spain, had an English wife and one of Hawkins' men, George Fitzwilliam, was a kinsman of hers; though such connections "did not ensure cargo delivery".

Hawkins arrived home to England in Sep 1563, with profit despite all. Soon, hearing of seizures of his cargoes, Hawkins wrote to the Queen, before the end of 1563. Then he readied to go to Spain in person. By 1562, a Frenchman Jean Ribault wished to lead an expedition to Florida. About then, Elizabeth I wanted Thomas Stukely to go to Florida with Ribault, but Stukely found Channel privateering more lucrative. Another Frenchman, a Huguenot, Rene de Laudonniere, sailed for Florida in 1564 with the approval of French government.

In 1566, John Lovell followed in Hawkins' wake, but found Spanish ports closed to him, and he is remembered only as he had Francis Drake with him. By 1567 or so we find Drake's father, "of good yeoman stock", leaving Devon "under a cloud" to become chaplain to ships of the Medway. Drake when quite young went back to Plymouth to take part in his cousin John Hawkins' trading voyages as the latter "opened trade" with coast of Guinea, Brazil and the Caribbean.

In 1566, Elizabeth had a financial stake in John Hawkins' second voyage of plunder, which was undertaken in defiance of views of the Spanish.

In 1571 Hawkins was involved in a plot with Felipe II to assassinate Elizabeth I. However, he changed sides and his information helped William Cecil to have the main conspirators arrested and executed.

Hawkins was rewarded by being appointed Treasurer of the Navy. In 1577 John Hawkins helped to introduce a new type of warship. This ships were longer in relation to their breadth (about three to one) and with the forcecastle and sterncastle greatly reduced. The mainmast was placed further forwardand the sails were flatter. This ships were more manoeuvrable than any warships that had been built before.

In Jul 1588 131 ships in the Spanish Armada left for England. The large Spanish galleons were filled with 17,000 well-armed soldiers and 180 Catholic priests.

On hearing the news Charles Howard of Effingham, Lord High Admiral, held a council-of-war. Lord Howard decided to divide the fleet into squadrons. Hawkins, Francis Drake and Martin Frobisher were chosen as the three other commanders of the fleet.

For his role in the victory Hawkins was knighted by Elizabeth I. Sir John Hawkins went on another exhibition to the Caribbean and died in Puerto Rico in 1595.


The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2004, Columbia University Press

Mary W. S. Hawkins: The Hawkins Family  1888 - Book converted for the Web © Paul Welbank, 1997

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