All Drakes everywhere seem to wish to connect themselves with the family of the famous Sir Francis Drake. The Isle of Wight County, Virginia, family of this surname is no exception. As early as the mid-nineteenth century, a fifth generation descendant of the family's seventeenth-century progenitor wrote to a relative, invoking the family legend:
I will here give you the tradition of the Drake family in this country, as I received it from old Matthew Drake who was a merchant and frated [sic] to Virginia. He said about 200 years ago or more, three men by the name of Drake came into the mouth of James River from old England--one of them settled in Southampton County, Virginia, one of them went to the north (say Rhode Island) and the other went south, say to South Carolina. They claimed to be descendants of Sir Francis Drake that sailed around the world. From that branch of the family that settled in S. hampton sprang all the Drakes that peopled N.C.(2)
Like most such family stories, this tale is a mixture of useful oral history and wishful thinking. Although a lot has written about this family, heretofore, there has been difficulty in documenting its origins, primarily because of a lack of early records, but also because of a pre-existing bias that many researchers have demonstrated in attempting to connect the family with that of the famous English navigator.
Printed accounts of the Drakes of Isle of Wight date from at least the late-nineteenth century--the earliest being mere speculation and the many of the later containing definite inaccuracies. An unsigned piece in Boddie's Historical Southern Families gives some useful early data; but it lacks documentation and provides no clear-cut solution to the problem.(3) The Boddie account identifies at least three Drakes in eighteenth-century Isle of Wight--John, Thomas, and Richard. It mentions an earlier John Drake found in patent records of the late-seventeenth century, as well as a still-earlier James Drake who appears briefly in the records of the county,(4) but there was no attempt to connect these into a coherent pedigree. At about the same time, there appeared in print a number of works relating to the James Drake immortalized in Wheeler's history of North Carolina.(5) Not surprisingly, the latter James was taken out of proper family context and artificially connected to Sir Francis's brother and heir, Thomas of Buckland in Devonshire, England.(6) This widely circulated line has been refuted in print in recent years.(7) The research reported here not only connects James to his proper roots in Isle of Wight but also identifies the actual English antecedents of the family.