The first British ship to take African Slaves Jesus of Lubeck (Name of first Slave Ship to Grace the America’s

Queen Elizabeth Granted permission in 1562, Sir John Hawkins led the voyage to the area known as Sierra Leone and dropped the 300 – 500 African slaves off in the Dominican Republic. This begins the British involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

What has come to be referred to as “The Good Ship Jesus” was, in fact, the “Jesus of Lubeck,” a 700-ton ship purchased by King Henry VIII from the Hanseatic League, a merchant alliance between the cities of Hamburg and Lubeck in Germany? Twenty years after its purchase the ship, in disrepair, was lent to Sir John Hawkins by Queen Elizabeth.

Hawkins, a cousin of Sir Francis Drake, was granted permission from Queen Elizabeth for his first voyage in 1562. He was allowed to carry Africans to the Americas “with their own free consent” and he agreed to this condition. Hawkins had a reputation for being a religious man who required his crew to “serve God daily” and to love one another. Sir Francis Drake accompanied Hawkins on this voyage and subsequent others. Drake, was himself, devoutly religious. Services were held on the board twice a day.

Off the coast of Africa, near Sierra Leone, Hawkins captured 300-500 slaves, mostly by plundering Portuguese ships, but also through violence and subterfuge promising Africans free land and riches in the new world. He sold most of the slaves in what is now known as the Dominican Republic. He returned home with a profit and ships laden with ivory, hides, and sugar. Thus began the slave trade.


Admiral, Slaver John Hawkins

Admiral John Hawkins is often remembered as one of the greatest men in the early English navy. Along with his cousin and companion Sir Francis Drake, he helped defeat the Spanish Armada and cement England’s role as ruler of the seas. But like most men who fell under the category of “Sea Dogs”, his career was filled with a bloodthirsty ruthlessness far removed from the modern ideas of heroes.


Our world is now quivering on the very brink of one of its most amazing and enthralling epochs of social readjustment, moral quickening, and spiritual enlightenment.

In 1564, Queen Elizabeth I partnered with Hawkins by leasing the huge old 700-ton ship Jesus of Lubeck, on which he set forth on a more extensive voyage, along with three small ships. Hawkins sailed with his second cousin, Francis Drake, to the west African coast, privateering along the way. By the time he left, he carried African slaves; 400 survived when he reached Borburata on the western Venezuelan coast to trade as slaves.

So there was a ship called Jesus of Lubeck, and it delivered slaves for trade to now South America. That much is true.

However, with ‘between 400 and 500 blacks,’ Hawkins crossed over from Africa to the West Indies and ‘coasted from place to place, making our traffic with the Spaniards as we might, somewhat hard, because the King had straitly commanded all his governors by no means to suffer any trade to be made with us. Notwithstanding, we had a reasonable trade and courteous entertainment’ for a good part of the way. In Rio de la Hacha the Spaniards received the English with a volley that killed a couple of men, whereupon the English smashed in the gates, while the Spaniards retired. But, after this little bit of punctilio, trade went on under cover of night so briskly that two hundred blacks were sold at good prices. From there to Cartagena ‘the inhabitants were glad of us and traded willingly,’ supply is short and demand extra high.

Then came a real rebuff from the governor of Cartagena, followed by a terrific storm ‘which so beat the “Jesus” that we cut down all her higher buildings’ (deck superstructures). Then the course was shaped for Florida. But a new storm drove the battered flotilla back to ‘the port which serveth the city of Mexico, called St. John de Ulua,’ the modern Vera Cruz. The historic Vera Cruz was fifteen miles north of this harbor. Here ‘thinking us to be the fleet of Spain, the chief officers of the country came aboard us. Which, being deceived of their expectation, were greatly dismayed; but … when they saw our demand was nothing but victuals, were recomforted. I [for it is Hawkins’s own story] found in the same port 12 ships which had in them by report £200,000 in gold and silver, all which, being in my possession [i.e., at my mercy] with the King’s Island … I set at liberty.’

What was to be done? Hawkins had a hundred blacks still to sell. But it was four hundred miles to Mexico City and back again; and a new Spanish viceroy was aboard the big Spanish fleet that was daily expected to arrive in this very port. If a permit to sell came back from the capital in time, well and good. If no more than time to replenish stores was allowed, good enough, despite the loss of sales. But what if the Spanish fleet arrived? The ‘King’s Island’ was a low little reef right in the mouth of the harbor, which it all but barred. Moreover, no vessel could live through a northerly gale inside the harbor–the only one on that coast–unless securely moored to the island itself. Consequently whoever held the island commanded the situation altogether.

There was not much time for consultation; for the very next morning ‘we saw open of the haven 13 great ships, the fleet of Spain.’ It was a terrible predicament. ‘”Now”, said I, “I am in two dangers, and forced to receive one of them”… Either I must have kept out the fleet, which, with God’s help, I was very well able to do, or else suffer them to enter with their accustomed treason…. If I had kept them out, then there had been the present shipwreck of all that fleet, which amounted in value to six million, which was in the value of our money £1,800,000, which I considered I was not able to answer, fearing the Queen’s Majesty’s indignation…. Thus with myself revolving the doubts, I thought better to abide the jut of the uncertainty than of the certainty.’ So, after conditions had been agreed upon and hostages exchanged, the thirteen Spanish ships sailed in. The little island remained in English hands, and the Spaniards were profuse in promises.

But, having secretly made their preparations, the Spaniards, who were in overwhelming numbers, suddenly set upon the English by land and sea. Every Englishman ashore was killed, except a few who got off in a boat to the “Jesus”. The “Jesus” and the “Minion” cut their head fast, hauled clear by their stern fasts, drove back the boarding parties, and engaged the Spanish fleet at about a hundred yards. Within an hour the Spanish flagship and another were sunk, a third vessel was burning furiously, fore and aft, while every English deck was clear of enemies. But the Spaniards had swarmed onto the island from all sides and were firing into the English hulls at only a few feet from the cannon’s mouth. Hawkins was cool as ever. Calling for a tankard of beer he drank to the health of the gunners, who accounted for most of the five hundred and forty men killed on the Spanish side. ‘Stand by your ordnance lustily,’ he cried, as he put the tankard down and a round shot sent it flying. ‘God hath delivered me,’ he added, ‘and so will He deliver you from these traitors and villains.’

The masts of the “Jesus” went by the board and her old, stained timbers splintered, loosened up, and were stove in under the storm of cannon balls. Hawkins then gave the order to abandon ship after taking out what stores they could and changing her berth so that she would shield the little “Minion”. But while this desperate maneuver was being executed down came two fire-ships. Some of the “Minion’s” crew then lost their heads and made sail so quickly that Hawkins himself was nearly left behind.

The only two English vessels that escaped were the “Minion” and the “Judith”. When nothing else was left to do, Hawkins shouted to Drake to lay the “Judith” aboard the “Minion”, take in all the men and stores he could, and put to sea. Drake, then only twenty-three, did this with consummate skill. Hawkins followed some time after and anchored just out of range. But Drake had already gained an offing that caused the two little vessels to part company in the night, during which a whole gale from the north sprang up, threatening to put the “Judith” on a lee shore. Drake, therefore, fought his way to windward; and, seeing no one when the gale abated and having barely enough stores to make a friendly land, sailed straight home. Hawkins reported the “Judith”, without mentioning Drake’s name, as ‘forsaking’ the “Minion”. But no other witness thought Drake to blame.

Hawkins himself rode out the gale under the lee of a little island, then beat about for two weeks of increasing misery, when ‘hides were thought very good meat, and rats, cats, mice, and dogs, parrots, and monkeys that were got at a great price, none escaped.’ The “Minion” was of three hundred tons; and so was insufferably overcrowded with three hundred men, two hundred English and one hundred blacks. Drake’s little “Judith”, of only fifty tons, could have given no relief, as she was herself overfull. Hawkins asked all the men who preferred to take their chance on land to get around the foremast and all those who wanted to remain afloat to get around the mizzen. About a hundred chose one course and a hundred the other. The landing took place about a hundred and fifty miles south of the Rio Grande. The shore party nearly all died. But three lived to write of their adventures. David Ingram, following Indian trails all around the Gulf of Mexico and up the Atlantic seaboard, came out where St. John, New Brunswick, stands now, was picked up by a passing Frenchman, and so got safely home. Job Hortop and Miles Philips were caught by the Spaniards and sent back to Mexico. Philips escaped to England fourteen years later. But Hortop was sent to Spain, where he served twelve years as a galley-slave and ten as a servant before he contrived to get aboard an English vessel.

The ten Spanish hostages were found safe and sound aboard the “Jesus”; though, by all the rules of war, Hawkins would have been amply justified in killing them. The English hostages were kept fast prisoners. ‘If all the miseries of this sorrowful voyage,’ says Hawkins’s report, ‘should be perfectly written, there should need a painful man with his pen, and as great a time as he had that wrote the lives and deaths of martyrs.’

Thus, in complete disaster, ended that third voyage to New Spain on which so many hopes were set. And with this disastrous end began those twenty years of sea-dog rage which found their satisfaction against the Great Armada.

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