17. The Power of Convergence, Part 1: Francis Drake

According to my father I began the genealogical craft at age 14. I had accompanied Dad to the burgeoning collection of the Allen County Public Library in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, temporarily housed in the warehouse-like Purdue building, and pitched in locating materials related to our families of interest. The next year, I believe, we took our first original research trip, visiting Pennsylvania courthouses and cemeteries.

From that point I was well and truly hooked. Besides helping Dad type and correct his first book of ancestry, published in 1970, I carried on a continual correspondence with family genealogists who wrote queries in the monthly publication The Genealogical Helper.

One of those exchanges provided me with a mystery that endured for decades, and was only recently solved. It concerns the Drake family of New Hampshire and New Jersey, and their possible relationship to the Drakes of West Meath, Ireland.

In 1646 my ancestor Francis Drake (ca 1615?-1687) was of Portsmouth, Rockingham county, New Hampshire, when he was one of a group of men agreeing to have land laid out. However, he sold his land in 1668 and moved to New Jersey, probably because his family was identified with the Baptists, a sect poorly tolerated in New Hampshire at the time. In 1673 he was licensed to keep a tavern in Piscataway, New Jersey. From 1673 to 1685 he was Captain and first commander of “The New Jersey Blues”, a militia company [4, 5].

Was Francis Drake from Ireland?

Francis was clearly the immigrant ancestor of his line, but where did he originate? In 1969 I received a tantalizing letter from a correspondent, that had been written to her by another party in 1964. That person had referenced work by a Col. Kephart claiming to have Francis’ signature from a 1653 power of attorney in Ireland, empowering one Thomas Temple to draw £600. It was witnessed by a Richard Saunders. Drake, the account continued, was of co. Westmeath, Ireland, and the claim (whether made by Kephart or someone interpreting Kephart) was that he used the £600 to finance his immigration.

The astute reader will have already recognized something fishy with this account, because Francis was documented in New Hampshire a full 7 years before the power of attorney in Ireland. Still, the reference nagged at me for years on end. Col. Kephart had claimed to have his signature. Might it match some unknown signature of Francis in America? Could the drawing of £600 have occurred while Francis was in New Hampshire, perhaps an advance on an Irish estate to further his American interests?

The reference given for the information was vague, namely to Irish State Papers dated 1642-1660. It was not clear whether this was a reference to a publication or a manuscript, or where it was obtained. A few half-hearted attempts to locate the reference turned up nothing. But that was long before computer systems linked library catalogs to allow worldwide searches by title, and longer still before they allowed content searches.

The Irish Francis Found

Earlier this year while reviewing some of my Drake materials, I relocated my old correspondence and realized that the time might be ripe to locate, once and for all, the Irish power of attorney. The search term “Irish State Papers 1642 1660” seemed to get me a reference to holdings of the British National Archives, but no useful content. But it was then that I hit on using the names mentioned in the correspondence: “Francis Drake Thomas Temple Richard Saunders”.

And so it was that the Convergent Power of the Web finally located the long-sought record. Entering the search terms allowed the Google engine to converge quickly on the unique piece of world wide web content that concerned them all, located precisely at the address https://books.google.com/books?id=T1gMAQAAIAAJ.   Better yet, the content was in a book that Google had scanned and made freely available. It was all right there before me, on the printed page. The reference, however, was only vaguely related to that given to me in 1969 [1].

My relief in finally locating the record was palpable, but this was a genealogical success story only in the sense of all but demolishing a claim. A close reading of the record revealed its full context, showing that it could not plausibly have concerned the immigrant. The “draw”, as it turned out, was a lottery drawing for land. The land was located in the barony of Kilkenny West, co. Westmeath, and the power of attorney was needed for Thomas Temple to make the drawing in Francis’ absence. Furthermore, the £600 had been paid as a partnership between John Hamond, Sir Matthew Brand, and Francis Drake as long ago as 1642, and represented the total investment of all three men. In one of the relevant records, dated March 1651/2, Francis was designated “Esq.”, a term that in rank-conscious Great Britain meant he was considered something more than a gentleman, but less than a knight. It was a designation often applied to barristers or to office holders such as justices of the peace.

Westmeath

The term “the Irish adventure” was applied in some of the records, indicating that the drawing was connected to the Puritan “Adventurers for Ireland”, a mercenary group authorized by Parliament in 1642 to fight the Irish. The group was empowered to seize property, to be sold to citizens at the rate of 1000 acres per £200 investment. Over a tenth of the entire area of Ireland was set aside for the purpose [2, 3]. Apparently, then, with an investment of £600, Francis Drake and his partners hoped to purchase 3000 acres, the specific location of which would be awarded them by lot.

Conclusion

It seems very unlikely that this Francis Drake was the immigrant, not only because of concerns over chronology but because of the size of the enterprise and the use of “Esq.” with his name, suggesting a high social rank and fortune. At his death in 1687, my ancestor the immigrant left personal property worth £67.7 [5], contrasting with the £200 in cash that each partner presumably put forward for “the Irish adventure”.

Still, a diehard might find something to keep the Irish spark alive. It is true that the investment was made in 1642, four years before the immigrant appeared in New Hampshire. Perhaps, unable to simply withdraw the money, Francis was forced to wait out long-developing events until the land drawing in 1653, even after immigrating to America. A researcher wanting to investigate this possibility would surely want to find out whether, as Col. Kephart reportedly claimed, an original signature is available from the 1653 power of attorney. It would also be necessary to see if a signature is available from a document involving the immigrant, perhaps from the inventory Francis helped make of the estate of William Meeker in 1675 [5]. If any such signatures match, it would be an original and much appreciated discovery, one that has eluded generations of Drake descendants.

For me and for now, that possibility is too distant a long shot to be worth pursuing, so this story ends in the disappointment of not learning Francis Drake’s origins [6]. But also for me, the episode is a “signature” one that beautifully illustrates the convergent power of the web. We truly live in wondrous times, having tools that were undreamed of only a few years ago.

Sometime soon, in Part 2, I will offer a more positive outcome of the web’s convergent power. I promise!


Notes:

[1] Specifically, the reference is: Mahaffy, R.P. (1908). Calendar of the State Papers Relating to Ireland Preserved in The Public Record Office. Adventurers for Land, 1647-1660. London: Mackie and Co.

[2] Dillon, E.M. (2004). The Gender of Freedom. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.

[3] Information retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adventurers%27_Act (2015).

[4] Boles, D.B. (2016). The Omnibus Ancestry. Available through Lulu.

[5] Boles, H.W., & Boles, D.B. (1990). Foster Ancestors: Some Europeans, Immigrants, Colonists, and Pioneers. Available through Lulu.

[6] Ibid stated that he was a son of Robert Drake (1581-1668), of Hampton, Rockingham co, NH. However, Y-DNA genetic analysis of living descendants has since indicated that these were two unrelated families (information retrieved from http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~drakerobinson/DNAPages/DrakeDNA.htm and DrakeDNA2.htm, 2011). There is also no relationship to Sir Francis Drake, the English captain of Elizabethan fame (ibid, showing Y-DNA results from descendants of his grandfather Edmund Drake, of Devonshire, Eng, under group “ENGLAND – Ra1”).


Picture Attribution: Believed to be in the public domain.