Drake’s West Indian Voyage: Primary Source Highlight

"S. Augustine." Baptista Boazio. London?: 1589.

What do tall ships sporting colorful flags, forts firing cannons, and a “pricked line” have in common? They are all details observed by a group of fourth grade students investigating a series of maps from the Library of Congress depicting Sir Francis Drake’s 1588 West Indian voyage.

Italian artist Baptista Boazio’s set of hand-colored engravings quickly capture one’s attention and imagination with depictions of flying fish and sea monsters, but are also historically important for understanding Sir Francis Drake’s voyage.

The fascinating detail of this set of maps lends them to close observation. Students can trace the route of Drake and his “Englishe fleete of 23 shippes and barkes” illustrated by the “pricked line” on the lead voyage map, or jump back in time through one of the four bird’s-eye view maps and witness the Spanish defense of their settlements from the attack of Drake and the English infantry.

Detail of Boazio's S. Augustine map

The four city plans are the first printed views of the cities of Santiago, in the Cape Verde Islands, Santo Domingo, Cartagena, and St. Augustine, Florida. Translation of the Latin text on these four maps provides insight into what unfolded when Drake and his crew anchored their ships. From the text on the map of Santo Domingo, for example, we learn that Drake, “captured and plundered the town, then demanded, and received, a ransom of 25,000 ducats.”

Upon closer examination, the “pricked line” on the lead voyage map makes land-fall at each location illustrated in the four city plan maps. Also, it looks as if Drake and his crew made a few additional stops that are not documented with bird’s-eye view maps.

One of these undocumented stops appears to be off the coast of the United States. After leaving St. Augustine, Drake sailed to Roanoke Island, off the coast of Virginia, to evacuate the survivors of the failed English colony. Such observations might lead students to question the purpose for these maps. Why would Baptista Boazio create maps for certain stops on the voyage, but not others?

Teaching Ideas

The Boazio maps are part of a collection amassed over fifty years by Jay and Jean Kislak. It is the Kislaks’ hope that, by donating their collection to the Library of Congress, scholars and students will be able to study and learn more about the materials. Consider using this set of maps with your students. After analyzing the maps, students can:

  • Create timeline of the journey. Write a story based on the evidence in the maps.
  • Create a hypothetical narrative of the village battle from a resident’s point of view or from a sailor’s point of view.
  • Propose how the United States history may have evolved differently if this voyage did not take place.

Additional Resources

The maps are on display in the Library’s permanent exhibition Exploring the Early Americas.

To find more maps from the European Age of Discoveries, check out the Geography and Map Division.

Or, visit the Library of Congress Teachers page to find the Drake’s West Indian Voyage lesson plan along with other resources for using maps in the classroom.

If you use maps to build your students’ content knowledge and critical thinking skills, we would love to hear some of the strategies you used to facilitate a meaningful map analysis! Let us know in the comments section. Also, let us know what other areas of the Library’s online collections you’d like to see highlighted in the future!

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