Although history portrays Sir John Hawkins as a pirate, for much of his career he actually worked for the British navy and was supported by Queen Elizabeth I.
John Hawkins was born in Plymouth in 1532. In 1562 he became the first English slaver. He led four expeditions to Africa where he captured slaves and sold them to the Spanish settlers in the Caribbean. Spanish officials tried unsuccessfully to stop this practice as settlers were not supposed to trade with foreigners. As well as the slaving trips, Hawkins raided Spanish ships and plundered their cargoes. Hawkins came under attack near Mexico in 1568 and lost four of the six ships in his fleet. He was lucky to escape with his life.
In 1571 Hawkins befriended the Spanish and was involved with a plot by Spain's King Phillip II against the English Queen. However, Hawkins betrayed the Spanish, foiling the plot and earning the backing of Queen Elizabeth I.
After this, Hawkins was appointed as treasurer of the English navy and began overhauling the fleet. As well as improving existing ships, he built new ships with improved maneuverability. He also helped to build the navy's manpower by providing better working conditions for the sailors. In 1588 a huge Spanish Armada of 130 ships headed for England, but the improved British navy was ready for them and, after suffering much damage, the Spaniards left without landing on English soil. Hawkins, who had captained one of the ships and commanded a squadron, was knighted for his efforts.
Soon after Hawkins returned to piracy, encouraging others to do the same. They targeted Spanish ships in the hopes of lowering Spain's wealth and preventing Phillip II from rebuilding his Armada In 1595 he voyaged to the Caribbean with his famous cousin, Francis Drake. This trip was to be his last Ð he became ill and died near Puerto Rico.