* Genealogy of the Drake Family *
(version October 5, 2017)
Please email corrections to Mike Clark


Mary Swansborough (1855-1941) writes in The History of Evelyn's and Helen's Maternal Grandmothers that her grandmother Nancy Smith (neé Drake) was the daughter of "a man named John Francis Drake, a descendent of Sir Francis Drake" (c.1540-1596) - the famous sea captain and explorer. The problem here is that Sir Francis Drake did not have any children of his own, legitimate or otherwise. Despite this, many family trees that descend from one of the Drake families of New England claim Sir Francis Drake as their immigrant ancestor.

To get around the above problem, a few family trees attempt claim descent instead from Sir Thomas Drake of Buckland Abbey (1556-1606), the younger brother of Sir Francis Drake. However, extensive research by the Drake Exploration Society has yet to turn up any documentary evidence to support claims of descent in the paternal line from either Sir Francis Drake or his brother Sir Thomas. Suffice it to say that the only evidence these trees can provide to claim one of the famous Drake brothers as an ancestor are unproven stories of unknown origin. Thus, despite all claims to the contrary, the evidence is lacking, and we probably need to look elsewhere to find the true ancestors of Nancy Drake.

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Speculations on the Ancestry of Nancy Drake Smith - Although Nancy Drake cannot possibly descend from the famous Sir Francis Drake, she might very well descend from a Capt. Francis Drake, who was not a sea captain at all, and probably bears no relation to the famous Sir Francis. This lesser-known Francis Drake appears in the mid-1600s in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where for a time he was a land holder. He is thought by some to have been the son of a Robert Drake of Devonshire, whose son Nathaniel owned land next to Francis in Portsmouth. However, there is no mention of Francis in the will of Robert, which makes a strong case that they are not related. Francis ultimately settled in the New Jersey Colony, where he died on Sept. 24, 1687 in the Piscataway settlement that today is part of Middlesex County. His grandson John Josias Drake (1687-1779) relocated in 1733 or 1734 from New York City to Goshen in Orange County, New York, where his son Benjamin Drake (1734-1817) was born, married and died. Benjamin and his first wife Sarah Smith (d. 1775) raised a large family in Goshen, most of whom lived out their lives there, but some of whom moved on to other parts of the country.

One of Benjamin Drake's sons is William Drake (1761-1842), who about 1788 married Margaret Dowdle (1768-1848) in Goshen, New York. William, and perhaps a brother, served as loyalists during the American Revolution, probably in the King's Royal Regiment of New York commanded by General Sir John Johnson. He remained in New York following the 1784 disbanding of the regiment, but no doubt found himself at odds with neighbors who had supported the American cause. This may have led him to seek redress from the British government of Canada, and William in 1794, with members of his wife's family (the Dowdles), occupied land near the modern town of Cheapside on the Canadian side of Lake Erie. Two years later, they petitioned for and received 200-acre plots in this area after presenting themselves at Fort George, Canada, where the eastern outlet of the Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario. His wife's family ultimately settled on the north side of Niagara Falls, where for a time they were members of the Canadian community there, whereas William and family relocated to St. Thomas, Ontario many miles to the west of Cheapside.

Frances Drake, the wife of Capt. Francis McCumber, and a possible sister of Nancy Drake, was born on July 14, 1810 in Queenston, which is on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. Also, John Francis Drake and his wife Tamar, the parents of Nancy Drake, and the possible parents of Frances, ran a hostelry at the time on the American side of the Falls. Furthermore, William Drake's in-laws the Dowdles were members about this time of the Niagara Falls community. Nancy Drake's close association with Niagara Falls, and the close association of William Drake's family to the same area makes it very possible that Frances and Nancy Drake are close relatives of William Drake, and therefore descend from William's ancestor Capt. Francis Drake.

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An Alternate Ancestry - Another possibility, albeit one that is probably much less likely than the aforementioned ancestry, is that the immigrant ancestor of Nancy Drake and her father John Francis Drake, is a John Drake Sr. (d. 1659), who was born in the late 1500s in the parish of Wiscombe in Devonshire, England. This John Drake Sr. left England prior to 1640 with his wife and their three teenage sons to come to America, where they settled in the “Massacoh Valley” of the Farmington River. This area is on the outskirts of Windsor (previously called Dorchester), the first English settlement in the Connecticut Colony, and it corresponds today to the town of Simsbury.

John Drake's name first appears in 1640 in the Windsor, Connecticut town records, when he was granted a home lot of 14 acres. The records next list the 1646, 1648 and 1649 marriages of his sons Job, John Junior, and Jacob. The elder John Drake was killed in a tragic accident on Aug. 17, 1659 when he fell beneath the wheels of his ox cart and was crushed. His widow survived him by another 22 years, and he was also survived by their three sons. His son Jacob died in 1689 without any children, and his other sons Job and John Junior died in 1689 as well, but they had several children all born in Windsor. (Stiles, 1859, p. 583-584; Gay, 1933, p. 1-3)

Reuben Drake (1741-1825), a descendant of John Drake Jr. (d. 1689), was born in Windsor, and married there about 1766 to Elizabeth Rockwell. Reuben, his wife and their two grown sons Rodolphus (1767-1847) and James (1769-1855), and possibly others, came about 1800 to the town Redfield in Oswego County, New York. Redfield sits but a mere 30 miles south of Sackets Harbor, where Nancy Drake of the above narrative was born, and probably where she married as well. Nancy Drake's association with Sackets Harbor, and the proximity of Sackets Harbor to Redfield makes it possible that Nancy's father John Francis Drake was a close relative of Reuben Drake. Also, Reuben's great grandson Andrew Jackson Drake (1816-1838) resided in Sackets Harbor some years after Nancy's mother Tamar Drake was there. Unfortunately, Gay's (1933) study on the Descendants of John Drake of Windsor, a very throrough, well-done treatment on the family, makes absolutely no mention of Nancy Drake's family. This leads us to doubt a connection between Nancy Drake and Reuben Drake, but we cannot rule it out completely.

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The Smith Family of Burlington, Wisconsin - On a completey diffrent note, there is an interesting possibility, but one without any real evidence, that Nancy Drake's husband James Smith was a blood relative of the brothers Moses (1800-1849) and Lemuel Rood Smith (1812-1874), who were two of the first settlers in the Fox River Valley of Wisconsin. The Smith brothers arrived on the banks of Fox River in late December of 1835 very near to the present site of modern Burlington, and made the first land claims in the area by carving their initials on trees. They then built the first houses there, and Moses in 1837 helped to build the first sawmill. Although neither Moses nor Lemuel were born in the Great Lakes region of New York, where James and Nancy Smith came from, they did live part of their lives in Hamilton County in upstate New York. Furthermore, Moses and Lemuel enticed many friends and relatives from western New York, among them their father Aaron, to join them in 1836 in "Foxville", as Burlington was first called. Nancy Smith, who at the time was a widow with limited options, may have answered their call.

An important footnote to this is that Moses Smith was one of the original followers of Joseph Smith (no relation), the founder of Mormonism. Moses was instrumental in converting his brother-in-law John Jesse Strang to the faith. When Joseph Smith died in 1844 his followers split into two factions - one followed Brigham Young to Utah, and another, the "Strangites", followed John Strang to a new settlement in Voree, on the outskirts of Burlington. The Strangite Church of Latter Day Saints survives today, with a small congregation in Voree.










by Janet & Michael Clark

This history is an evolving document.
Despite our best intentions it probably contains mistakes.
Please let us know if you spot any by sending an email to Mike Clark



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