THE SEARCH FOR CLUES
There were three keys to sorting out the early Drake generations in Isle of Wight.(8) First, all surviving records of the county were read, in the originals, word for word. This resulted in the discovery of a number of previously unknown references to Drakes during the late-seventeenth century and made it possible to establish that the founders of the family there were men of the same approximate age, named John Drake and Thomas Drake. Second, a study was made of records created by all known associates. From this, a pattern emerged to suggest Drake origins also. Finally, all surviving documents of that area in which the name Drake occurred were studied, with particular attention to the inheritance of property and the existence of identifying marks or signatures. This made it possible to sort out numerous members of the subsequent generation and assign them to a logical place in the family structure.
The first task was to approximate the ages of the progenitors. There is no direct statement in Virginia records as to age or birth date. However, indirect evidence is available from two separate documents that were created twenty-five years apart--one by a spouse and the other by an associate.
Regarding John Drake, in 1694, Jemima Drake, the widow of John Drake, appeared before the court and gave her age as about forty-three years.(9) Typically, in Virginia society of this era, the husband would be some few years her senior. Therefore, it would be reasonable to place John's year of birth at about 1650 or, perhaps, up to ten or so years before.
Regarding Thomas Drake, in an obscure unindexed entry, Thomas Drake is mentioned in the 10 May 1669 inventory of the estate of Edward Gibbs, deceased. The key phrase identifies him as "one man servant named Thomas Drake to serve 2 years from the first of April last."(10) The inventory also included one Richard Fern (indentured as a child, apparently as one of the orphans of Timothy Fern)(11) and "one boy named Richard Gray having about 9 years to serve." It thus appears that Edward Gibbs tended to indenture young boys. If Thomas was similarly bonded to him as a child and if his term was to expire at age twenty-one in accordance with the contemporary Virginia statute,(12) then Thomas's birth might be placed at about 1650 also. In all probability, he was born 1 April 1650 and would have come of age on that day his servitude was to end--1 April 1671.
When data about a target individual or individuals is scarce, a useful technique is to identify associates and track them. Over the quarter century spanned by these key records just mentioned, John and Thomas appear--individually and jointly--in various Isle of Wight documents. Several of the men and women involved with them in these records provided important clues to the identities and origins of these two Drakes, the following chronology identifies those associates as well as the Drake activities:
1669 Thomas, together with Richard Fern and Richard Gray, is a servant of Edward Gibbs.(13)
1677/78 John is claimed as a headright by Hodges Council of Isle of Wight.(14)
1679 John and Thomas are both claimed as headrights by Colonel Arthur Smith of Isle of Wight.(15) (For John to be named twice merely reflects the abuses of the headright system and does not mean that there were two individuals of the same name.)(16)
1682 John patented land in Isle of Wight, claiming the headright of Boaz Gwyn.(17)
1684 Thomas is mentioned in the appraisal of the estate of John Freazell.(18)
1686 John and Thomas are both mentioned in the appraisal of the estate of John Watson.(19)
1687 John is named in the will of his brother-in-law, Thomas Parnell. (20)
1689 John is mentioned in the appraisals of the estates of Thomas Pitt and John Burnell.(21)
The connection of Gibbs with these two Drakes appears to be especially significant since it represents the earliest extant record on either John or Thomas in their first known place of residence. Indeed, the discovery of this document moves back, nearly ten years, the initial appearance of these Drakes in the county records. Not coincidentally, many of the individuals with whom the two Drakes had dealings appear together in a single Gibbs document.
Richard (X) Feme, planter, makes bond with Arthur Smyth and Boaz Gwyn--condition that at death of Elizabeth Gibbs these men have 1200 lbs. tbco to be paid them if Elizabeth Gibbs set free the servant Richard Gray at her decease. 8 June 1672. [Witnesses:] John Bumell, Robert Jones.(22)