John Hawkins holds the dubious title of founder of the English slave trade (He was not the first Englishman to carry slaves – John Lok and William Towerson had brought slaves to England in the 1550s). In 1562 Hawkins sailed from Plymouth. He took 400 Africans from Guinea and traded them in the West Indies. Between 1562 and 1567 He made three voyages three voyages to Guinea and Sierra Leone taking between 1,200 and 1,400 Africans.
Hawkins would sail for the west coast of Africa and kidnap villagers, often with the help of other African natives. He would then cross the Atlantic and sell his cargo, or those who survived the voyage, to the Spanish. For Hawkins, the trade ended in 1567 when his fleet, which included a ship commanded by Francis Drake, took shelter from a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico. The Spanish were also there. In the chaos and fight that followed, many of his men were killed. Hawkins escaped in one ship and Drake in another. He'd lost 325 men on that voyage but it still showed a financial profit.
He was later appointed as Treasurer for the Navy and knighted in 1588 by the Lord High Admiral, Charles Howard, following the defeat of the Spanish Armada. In Plymouth there are numerous public monuments to his achievements, including Sir John Hawkins Square.
Above: The Hawkins Crest