Drake Family Chronicles: Part 2

Week 14: #52 Ancestors – Brick Wall

Drake Family Chronicles: Part 1

By Eilene Lyon

The Drakes in Ireland

Samuel Drake, Sr. and Eliza J. were born in Northern Ireland around 1790. Though I have not found a record giving Eliza’s maiden name, Sorby turns up as a middle name repeatedly with her children and grandchildren, making this the prime candidate.

A variant of Sorby that I’ve seen is Sowerby. Both are English or Scottish and refer to “sour ground,” a place where nothing will grow.1

The Drakes were all proud of the their “Irish” heritage; many of their gravestones sport their home in County Down. However, they were undoubtedly of English or Scottish ancestry.

Samuel and Eliza lived in Killyleagh, a port town nineteen miles south of Belfast. They were probably married around 1816. Samuel stated he was a fisherman and Eliza a servant, when they landed in America.2

They spoke English, but were probably not literate, though their children were. The little town boasted six public and four private schools to educate the local children. Killyleagh was also home to a substantial fabric mill and members of the family may have worked there.3

The oldest son, Samuel, Jr., was born in 1817. Thomas came along in 1818, Mary Ann in 1819, William in 1821, Eliza J. in 1822, then a long gap. Martha was born about 1831 and Richard in 1832. (All dates are approximate.)

Though a couple records say that Thomas was born in England, it’s likely all the children were born in Killyleagh. Thomas’s headstone indicates he was from there.4

Perhaps it’s true that William Drake worked in the merchant navy, as explained in Part 1. That may be how he met English mariner Robert Halse. Robert settled in Killyleagh and married Eliza Jane Sorby Drake about 1844.

The worst year for famine in Ireland was 1847, but the exodus from the plagued island continued through the early 1850s. The people of Killyleagh were probably not as impacted as those in southern Ireland, but America spelled opportunity, and the Drake clan made their escape plans in 1850.

The Smithfield Years

When the Drakes and Halses settled in Smithfield, Rhode Island, William Drake and Robert Halse continued working as mariners.5 There is even a tantalizing clue that puts Robert in San Francisco in 1851, during the early gold rush years.6 It wouldn’t be out of the question that he tried his hand in the mines. He was still in his 20s at the time.

As well, a San Francisco passenger manifest in 1852 has a William Drake listed, but it wasn’t an uncommon name.7

Smithfield’s primary industry was fabric mills, processing the cotton shipped out of the southern states. Samuel, Sr., Samuel, Jr., Richard, and Thomas Drake all went to work as weavers in a nearby mill.8

As for their religious life, the family attended the Episcopalian Christ Church of Lonsdale, then part of Smithfield. John Halse, just a toddler, was buried in the church cemetery in 1851.9 Thomas Drake married Catharine Peoples about 1852 (no record). Martha Drake wed James Connery in the church in 1853.10

Addie Card, 12 years old, in a cotton mill in 1910. Photo by Lewis Hine. Imagine how much worse the conditions were for the Drake girls in the 1870s. (Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas and Catharine Drake remained in Smithfield for life. They had three daughters who all went to work with their father in the cotton mills, beginning as young as 13 or even earlier.11 It had to be a tough life. Working hours were long, six days a week, and conditions in the mills were unhealthy: hot, humid, with air full of cotton dust and noise.

The daughters never married. After Thomas died in 1870, Catharine and her girls continued living together.12 Catharine died in 1889 and Eliza, Mary, and Martha L. continued on together, at home and in the mills.

Martha L. spent her later years in a mental asylum and Mary also ended up there.13 It seems like such a grim existence – so much for the American dream, streets paved with gold, yada yada. I hope they found time for some joyful pursuits in life in what little free time they had.

Mary Drake
Christ Church burial record for Mary Drake indicates she died in the asylum.

The entire Thomas Drake family is buried in the Christ Church cemetery. A headstone placed sometime in the 20th century lists the three “spinsters” with their grandmother, Eliza J. Drake. The birth/death dates on this headstone aren’t reliable (see Findagrave).

Fortunately, a Rhode Island cemetery inscription project recorded a stand-alone headstone for Eliza J. wife of Samuel. It gives her birth year as 1789 and death date as July 25, 1855. It also states that she is a native of Killyleagh.14 At last I know the fate of my 4th great-grandmother.

Martha Drake Connery

Martha Drake’s husband, James Connery, was an immigrant from Glasgow, Scotland.15 He was a master boiler maker and even received patents on steam boiler improvements and specialized calking tools. He gave the profession permission to freely use his tools without royalties.16

Broadway, Manhattan in the early 1850s. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Connerys settled in Manhattan and had two sons, William D. and James R., and a daughter who may have been stillborn.17 It appears that Martha possibly died in childbirth with James R. in January 1859. I haven’t been able to locate the family in the 1860 census. James W. remarried in Delaware in 1865 to Catharine Scully and had seven more children.18 Martha’s fate and burial place are unknown at this time.

The rest of the Drake-Halse-Murphy clan headed west to learn about farming life.

To be continued…

Drake Family Chronicles: Part 3

Feature image: Killyleagh parish church (Wikimedia Commons)

Samuel Drake and family on Ancestry.com

  1. https://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Sorby 
  2. Samuel Drake. Year: 1850; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Microfilm Roll: Roll 088; Line: 5; List Number: 441 – via Ancestry.com. 
  3. https://www.libraryireland.com/topog/K/Killyleagh-Dufferin-Down.php 
  4. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/23118167/thomas-drake 
  5. Robert Halse and William Drake. Year: 1850; Census Place: Smithfield Districts 2 and 3, Providence, Rhode Island; Roll: M432_846; Page: 118B; Image: 243 – via Ancestry.com. 
  6. Rasmussen, Louis J. 1966. San Francisco Passenger Lists V. II, Clearfield, Colma, California, p. 101 – via Ancestry.com. 
  7. Rasmussen, Louis J. 1965. San Francisco Passenger Lists V. I, Clearfield, Colma, California, reprinted 1978 by Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, Maryland, p. 88 – via Ancestry.com. 
  8. 1850 census, see note 5. 
  9. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/23118463 
  10. “Rhode Island, Town Clerk, Vital and Town Records, 1630-1945,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:F8VW-GWH : accessed 13 April 2019), James Connery and Martha Drake, 28 May 1853; citing Marriage, , Smithfield, Rhode Island, United States, Rhode Island State Archive, Providence City Archives, city and town clerk offices; FHL microfilm 959,591. 
  11. Thomas Druk [sic]. Year: 1870; Census Place: Smithfield Districts 2 and 3, Providence, Rhode Island; Roll: M593_1477; Page: 766B; Family History Library Film: 552976 – via Ancestry.com. 
  12. Catherine Drake. Year: 1880; Census Place: Lincoln, Providence, Rhode Island; Roll: 1215; Page: 459C; Enumeration District: 122 – via Ancestry.com. 
  13. Christ Church Episcopal, Lincoln, Rhode Island. Burial records for 1917: Mary Drake. Received image copy by email April 9, 2019. 
  14. Elizabeth Drake. Ancestry.com. Web: Rhode Island, Historical Cemetery Commission Index, 1647-2008 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016. Original data: Gravestone Search. Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission. http://www.rihistoriccemeteries.org/webdatabase.aspx: accessed 12 November 2015. 
  15. James Connery. Public Archives Commission, Delaware Public Archives; Dover, Delaware; Marriage Records, 1744-1912; Record Group: RG1325.003.004 – via Ancestry.com. 
  16. https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/1314/31082_18863495-68003/1073774?backurl=https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/22745619/person/372092146720/facts/citation/1042128942384/edit/record and The Engineering and Mining Journal, July 5, 1890, p. 12. Clipping from Google Books on Ancestry.com. 
  17. “New York, New York City Births, 1846-1909,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:27Y3-D5R : 11 February 2018), Martha Conery in entry for William Conery, 21 Nov 1854; citing Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, reference bk 3 1854 New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,315,311. And: “New York, New York City Births, 1846-1909,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2W7B-6BF : 11 February 2018), Martha in entry for [daughter] Connery, 07 Apr 1857; citing Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, reference New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,421,411. And: “New York, New York City Births, 1846-1909,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:27T1-3MY : 11 February 2018), Martha Connery in entry for [son] Connery, 12 Jan 1859; citing Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, reference v 5 p 88 New York Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,315,312. Some confusion exists about James R. Connery’s birthday. It is also given as October 1868, but the 1870 and 1880 census records support his birth in 1859 as cited here. His death record names Martha as his mother, but his father was married to Catherine in 1865, so James R. was not likely born to Martha in 1868! 
  18. James Connery and Catherine Scully. Public Archives Commission, Delaware Public Archives; Dover, Delaware; Marriage Records, 1744-1912; Record Group: RG1325.003.004 – via Ancestry.com. 

16 thoughts on “Drake Family Chronicles: Part 2

Add yours

  1. Ah, the dreaded middle name or surname issue. For years many of us believed that my grandmother was Emily Sarah May Waters, and unbelievably found a line going back several generations for her from Cornwall to Wisconsin. It turned out to be wrong, and it took a professional genealogist to find it for me …… her surname was May and she was from Kent, not Cornwall!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting, and sad. It is hard to imagine a life so bound by work. I wonder if they ended up in the asylum due to some kind of lung disease associated with their work in the mills?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I cannot imagine how difficult the change would be back in the 1800s to change from being city-dwellers to being farmers. It seems crazy to me, but obviously your ancestors did so with success. That photo of Broadway 1850 is amazing. It looked so normal.

    Liked by 1 person

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