Eyewitness accounts of the sacking
by Hector Santos
© 1996, 1997 by Hector Santos
All rights reserved.
There are at least four different accounts of the capture of the Santa Ana. They are told from different perspectives and provide conflicting data especially with regards to dates and the value of the cargo carried by the galleon. Nevertheless, the eyewitness accounts are consistent when they talk about the major events that happened in Cabo San Lucas one November day in 1587.
The most widely read account is that of Francis Pretty, a crew member with Thomas Cavendish. He chronicled Cavendish’s circumnavigation of the world and his account was first published by Richard Hakluyt in his 3-volume The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation... (London, 1598-1600). It has been reprinted in various forms since then.
There are two Spanish accounts, both sworn testimony in response to an inquiry as to why the Santa Ana was lost. One was by Antonio de Sierra, an illiterate seaman who was on board the Santa Ana. The other is by Santa Ana’s captain, Tomás de Alzola, who can be presumed to have a self-interest in telling a version of how he lost his ship without accepting responsibility for it.
Finally, there is that sworn testimony by the indio Francisco Mangabay, a native of Panay. His testimony is the least known. This is hard to understand because the manuscript is in Archivo General de Indias, Sevilla, the same place where the two Spanish accounts are kept.
Pretty must have kept a journal because he mentions a lot of dates in his circumnavigation account. In 1587 England was still using the Julian calendar, an offshoot of the anti-Pope sentiment. Pretty’s dates have to have 10 days added to make them conform with Spanish accounts. I would say his dates are more accurate than those from other accounts because he kept a journal whereas the others were culled from memory.
Pretty’s account of the capture of the Santa Ana is straightforward and not embellished too much. It had to be since that incident was only a small though important part of the Cavendish circumnavigation.
Sierra gave his deposition on January 23, 1588 in Guadalajara. Although illiterate, he must have been one of the more important personages on board the Santa Ana because he was among the six hostages who were picked up by Cavendish. He also seemed to know quite a bit about the cargo of the ship although he may have given an inflated estimate as to their value. He gives dates but they do not match those given by Alzola.
Alzola, who was directly in charge of the Santa Ana, had the most to lose if the inquiry took a wrong turn. He blamed certain people, especially the pilot Miguel Sanchez, who were captured by Cavendish earlier for betraying the conditions under which the Santa Ana would be arriving in that area. He also gave a glowing account of how his crew valiantly resisted the attacks by the “Lutheran infidels.”
Surprisingly, the lowly Mangabay who gave his testimony in Manila on April 16, 1588 after being released in Capul by Cavendish three months earlier gave the most details about the sacking of the Santa Ana. He told about how indio rowers ferried the hostages to Cavendish’s ship and the passengers to shore. He mentioned how indios and negroes were kept on board the Santa Ana to man pumps so that she would remain afloat while the Englishmen rummaged through her cargo. He told about the one-eyed interpreter that Cavendish had.
Mangabay also gave the reason for the hanging of Almendrales and an account about how his master, Valladolid, was hanged in Capul for writing a letter to the governor secretly.
This article was rewritten for the World Wide Web and first appeared in the Jan/Feb 1996 issue (3: 1) of Sulat sa Tansô.
- Licuanan, Virginia Benitez and José Llavador Mira. The Philippines under Spain: A compilation and translation of original documents, Book IV (1583-1590), The Royal Audiencia. Manila, 1993.
- Lessa, William A. Drake’s island of thieves: Ethnological sleuthing. Honolulu, 1975.
- Mathes, W. Michael. The capture of the Santa Ana: Cabo San Lucas, November, 1587. Los Angeles, 1969.
- Wagner, Henry R. Spanish voyages to the northwest coast of America in the sixteenth century. San Francisco, 1929.Santos, Hector. "Eyewitness accounts of the sacking" in Sulat sa Tansô at http://www.bibingka.com/sst/santana/accounts.htm. US, April 5, 1997.
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