Why does Plymouth celebrate Francis Drake?

Sir Francis Drake is arguably the single most celebrated and memorialised figure in Plymouth. His name and image live on across the city over 400 years after his death – in statues, plaques and information boards; in the names of buildings, parks, schools, streets, hospital wards, electoral wards, and even in the crest of the city’s University.

But, until recently, there has been little recognition of Francis Drake’s complete history – as someone who brutally kidnapped, enslaved, sold and murdered hundreds of people (on slaving voyages with his cousin John Hawkins), and as someone who played a significant part in pioneering the Atlantic trade in enslaved African people (that over 400 years enslaved more than 12 million Africans).

To learn more about Drake’s history, actions and role in slave trading, have a read & listen to this History Extra special which gives readers a deep-dive into Francis Drake’s forgotten role in the English slave trade, covering questions like:

  • Who was Drake, what is he most famous for, and how involved was he in the slave trade?
  • What was Drake’s relationship with Sir John Hawkins?
  • What were the circumstances that led to the development of the transatlantic slave trade in the 16th century?
  • Where does England fit into this history?
  • How did Drake & Hawkin’s slaving operation work?
  • Was this in any way state-sponsored or sanctioned activity by the Elizabethan government?
  • Was there any contemporary reaction in England to slaving activity – was it widely known about, were there any reservations expressed?
  • Why doesn’t the slaving part of Francis Drake’s life and career get much attention?


Drake’s actions, attitudes and brutality continue to impact millions of people’s lives across the globe to this day – so we need to ask ourselves some important questions…

Why do we continue to celebrate and memorialise Drake across Plymouth? Are Drake’s values (of brutality, conquest and white supremacy) ones we want to continue to celebrate and reinforce in 2020 and beyond?

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