The Story of Sir Francis Drake by Mrs Oliver Elton

The Story of Sir Francis Drake was written for children by Mr Francis Elton early in the twentieth century. Drake’s story is very familiar in many respects and he has been described as “a privateer”, “a slave trader”, “a pirate” and so on, but we know Queen Elizabeth 1st was pleased with what he did on behalf of herself and her country.
What comes out in this story which has not had much of an airing is Drake’s relationship with the Maroons and a black African, Diego, a former slave of the Spaniards. Such individuals were invaluable since they had an inside knowledge of the enemy and had good reason to want to pay back the treatment that they had had. It seems Diego became very important to Drake and is mentioned in his journals second only to John Drake, his brother. Diego travelled with Drake on his round the world voyages until he was killed in battle. Drake was greatly distressed by this.

There is a great deal of teaching material here. One section “The Golden Mule Train” describes the maroons in some detail:
“THERE were forty-eight men of the party, of whom eighteen only were English. The Maroons carried arms and food, and got more food with their arrows from time to time. Every day they began to march by sunrise, and rested in the heat of the day in shelters made by the Maroons. The third day they came to a little town or village of the Maroons, which was much admired by the sailors for its beauty and cleanliness. ‘As to their religion,’ says the story, ‘they have no kind of priests, only they held the Cross in great awe. But by our Captain’s persuasions, they were contented to leave their crosses and to learn the Lord’s Prayer, and to be taught something of God’s worship.’
They begged Drake to stay with them some days, but he had to hasten on. Four [30] of the best guides amongst the Maroons marched on ahead, and broke boughs to show the path to those that followed. All kept strict silence. The way lay through cool and pleasant woods.
‘We were much encouraged because we were told there was a great tree about half way, from which we could see at once both the North Sea, from whence we came, and the South Sea, whither we were going.
The fourth day we came to the height of the desired hill, a very high hill, lying east and west like a ridge between the two seas. It was about ten of the clock. Then Pedro, the chief of the Maroons, took our Captain by the hand, and prayed him to follow him if he wished to see at once two seas, which he had so greatly longed for.
Here was that goodly and great high Tree, in which they had cut and made various steps to get up near the top. Here they had made a convenient bower, where ten or twelve men might easily sit. And here we might, with no difficulty, plainly see the Atlantic Ocean, whence we now came, and the South Atlantic (Pacific) so much desired. South and north of the Tree they [31] had felled certain trees that the prospect might be clearer.”

This material is something of an antidote to the tendency to dwell on stories of slavery and people as victims. Stories of Maroons abound from everywhere slavery was practised. Here in Panama they looked after the English, whom they greatly outnumbered, offering food and hospitality, caring for the sick and injured.
The illustrations need to be handled with care as they are exotic, fantasy of what people looked like. The artists weren’t eye witnesses and could only use their imagination based on how they had been brought up. The story brought to life by Mrs Oliver is refreshing, however, as it deals with actions on a heroic scale rather than portraying the passive victims of a barbaric episode in European history.
Note: “(The) text was prepared by Teresa Roth, using as copytext, The Story of Sir Francis Drake, by Mrs. Oliver Elton; London : T.C. & E.C. Jack, LTD. 1907
Since this book was first published before 1923, it is in the public domain in the United States. By U.S. law, it entered the public domain 75 years after its first publication.
There are eight original color illustrations included in this text.”

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