Drake Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Drake Surname Meaning

The root of Drake is the Latin draco or drago, meaning a snake or dragon. These terms cropped up also in Old English. As a nickname they could apply to someone fierce in battle, or a standard bearer. Draca was used in medieval England to mean a battle standard as well as a dragon. The name was to be found at Musbury in Devon from Saxon times.

Drake Surname Resources on The Internet

Drake Surname Ancestry

  • from SW England and Ireland
  • to America, Canada and New Zealand

England. Drake has been mainly a name of SW England.

Devon. Drake has been from early times a Devon name. John Drake was recorded as holding lands at Musbury from 1272. They were engaged in shipping and trade out of Exmouth and owned lands at Sprats Hayes and East Budleigh nearby.

Around 1420 John Drake, described as a “man of great estate and a name of no less antiquity,” married into the Billett family of Ashe. This resulting Ashe line of Drakes continued through Elizabethan times and Sir Bernard Drake until the death of Sir William Drake in 1733. A later visitor to their house was Sir Winston Churchill whose ancestor the Duke of Marlborough had been born there.

The swashbuckling adventurer Sir Francis Drake, born near Tavistock, started the Drake line at Buckland Abbey. “Drake’s Drum” is said to be kept there. A descendant Elizabeth Drake wrote a study of this family, The Family and Heirs of Sir Francis Drake, in 1911. Sir Francis Drake himself died without heirs. His succession passed through one of his brothers until 1794 when the line became extinct.

Other Drakes in Devon were to be found at Crowys Murchard and in and around Plymouth and Newton Abbot. The Drake family in Barnstaple descended from Henry Drake, the mayor of Barnstaple in 1679. Many Devon Drakes in the 1600’s left for America.

Elsewhere. Outside of Devon, Drakes were to be found in Somerset, Dorset, Buckinghamshire, East Anglia, and Yorkshire.

The most illustrious of these Drakes were probably in Buckinghamshire. The first of the line was Richard Drake who arrived from Devon via Esher in Surrey. His son Francis acquired through marriage the Shardeloes manor at Amersham and became its MP in 1625. The Drakes remained important in Amersham well into the 20th century. Edward Tyrwhitt Drake, a foxhunting enthusiast like his forebears, was the Sheriff of Buckinghamshire in 1927.

The largest Drake cluster may have been in and around Halifax in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Some think that these Drakes were also originally from Devon. But the name was recorded at Horley Green in Northowram as early as the 13th century.

Francis Drake from this family was an antiquarian who wrote Eboracum, the history of the city of York, in 1736. The Joseph Drake who married Margaret Holt in 1674 was the forebear of the Sowerby Drakes. And many Drakes were to be found in the parish records at Ovenden.

Ireland.   Drakerath in county Meath was the seat of the Irish Drakes from the early 14th century. By the time of Cromwell they were considered “more Irish than the Irish” and were dispossessed of their lands. They migrated first to Kildare and then to Limerick before returning to Meath in the early 18th century.

America.  Devon Drakes were early arrivals in New England, including Thomas Drake of the Ashe Drakes to Weymouth, Massachusetts in 1635. His line was covered in Louis Drake’s 1896 book The Drake Family in England and America.   Sir Francis Drake’s brotherThomas also came.

Francis Drake, probably from Meath in Ireland, came to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Richard Drake arrived in Virginia from Somerset in 1658.  His descendants were planters in Isle of Wight county. Some early Drakes were originally Dutch Drachs and Dracks, such as the Johannes Drack of Long Island in  1715.

Carolinas.  The Drake name cropped up in North Carolina in the early 1700’s, particularly in Nash county. By the time of the Civil War, one family had moved from there to Tennessee, another (with sons in the Confederate army) to Alabama. A third had migrated to Iowa where their son,  Francis Marion Drake, fought on the Union side and rose to become the Governor of that state in 1895.

From the other side of the tracks was an Eason Drake of uncertain parentage who was born in South Carolina around 1780. He was a wanderer. He drifted to Georgia and ended up in the 1840’s in Tyler county, Texas. His son Francis was a Confederate war veteran who lived on there, but died half-blind in poverty at the turn of the century.

Elsewhere.  Samuel Drake arrived from Barnstable in Devon in 1810. When his wife died four years later, he packed up his family and embarked on a tour of the West as far as the Mississippi, offering theatrical performances wherever he went. He died in 1854; but left a family of actors who carried on his craft.

Canada.  Some early Drake settlers were Loyalists from America. They settled in New Brunswick and in St. Thomas, Ontario. George Drake from Devon was said to have jumped ship in Newfoundland and ended up in Halifax around 1780. Another Drake from Devon, Samuel Drake, emigrated to Prince Edward Island in 1826.

New Zealand. Thomas Drake was an early settler in the 1840’s in Wellington New Zealand, starting the first brewery in the area. His father John, a merchant from Deptford in Kent, had been in charge of convict shipments to Tasmania (he was declared bankrupt in 1826). These Drakes were related to the Devon Sir Francis Drakes and later family members made inheritance claims.

Drake Surname Miscellany

Drake Name Origins.  The name Drago or Draco, the Latin for Drake, was in use among the Romans and signifies “one who draws or leads,” a leader.  Their standard bearers were called draconarii. The Romans obtained the name from the Greeks among whom it is found as early as 600 BC when Draco, the celebrated Athenian legislator, drew up the code of laws for the government of the people which bore his name.

Soon after the conquest of Wessex by the Saxons, a family or clan called Draco or Drago appear to have taken possession of an old Roman and British encampment in what is now Musbury in Devon.  This encampment subsequently became known as Mount Drake.

These Drakes in Devon predated the Norman Conquest.  The Domesday Book of 1086 contained six references to Drakes, including the following mention: “Honitou, one of them, was well known to the Romans and was held by Drago the Saxon before the Conquest.”  The name Drake appeared in English records in the 13th century.   In 1272 John Drake held lands there by grant of Edward I.

Sir Bernard and Sir Francis Drake.  John Drake of Ashe had died in 1558, his wife in 1578, and they were commemorated by one of the three groups of sculpture on the large Drake monument in Musbury church.  Of their six sons only three survived them, Bernard, Robert and Richard.  But from these three are descended a large clan.

Sir Bernard inherited the estate at Ashe.  He was a Lord High Admiral in Queen Elizabeth’s navy, but was also, like Sir Francis Drake, described as a pirate.  His greatest accomplishment was probably to solidify the English claims to Newfoundland by destroying the Spanish fishing fleets there.

There was a rivalry between the older Sir Bernard and the upstart Sir Francis.  But Sir Francis was the wealthier of the two from his years of plunder.  In 1585 Sir Bernard sought and borrowed £600 from him, using as security a mortgage on the Ashe estate. Sir Bernard died a year later of jail fever caught at the Exeter assizes and the principal was not repaid until ten years later.

The outstanding debt caused rancor between the two families. Sir Francis’s side put out the story that Sir Bernard had resented the assumption by the new knight of the Drake arms and had grossly insulted him.  The Queen heard of the spat and took sides with Sir Francis.  She bestowed on him a new coat of arms.  There was a ship on the crest; and attached to the riggings was a red wyvern, the arms of the jealous Sir Bernard.

Devon Drakes of the 1600’s

John Drake 1602 died at Whitchurch
Francis Drake 1615 born.  Later emigrated to
New Hampshire.
Francis Drake 1617 born.  Drake heir of
Buckland Abbey.
John Drake 1625 born.  First baronet of
Thomas Drake 1635 born in Colyton.  Later
emigrated to Weymouth, Mass.
Moses Drake 1637 born in Childe.  His sons
emigrated to America.
Edward Drake 1646 born in Churchstanton.
William Drake 1695 born.  Last male heir of

Sir Francis Drake Inheritance.  Sir Francis Drake himself died without heirs.  His succession passed through one of his brothers until 1794 when the line became extinct.  However, there was a Sir Francis Drake who died in 1717.  He had a brother named John and his descendants have made claims that they should be entitled to the Drake inheritance.

The claims were made by a Mr. Jenkins, a resident of New Zealand who was the grandson, through his mother Mercy, of the settler Thomas John Drake from Kent and descendant of the earlier John.

In their family’s possession was a horn drinking cup, believed to have come from the Devon Drakes, and a gold plate, as well as a ring and a metal plate, bearing the Drake coat of arms.  There were two mottos on the escutcheon:

  • one, auxilio divino, means “by divine assistance.”
  • and the other, sic. parvis magna, means “thus great things from small.”

Alongside the words auxilio divino was a hand intended to draw the ship safely around the world.

Reader Feedback – Sir Francis Drake Descendants in America.  I just wanted to touch base and let you know that Sir Francis Drake’s line did not become extinct in America.  His line continued through his brother Thomas.  I am a direct descendant.

Our lineage and history has been recorded in The Golden Hindsight by my uncle William Drake.  Benjamin Drake fought in the Revolutionary War. Our family is located mostly in Ohio…but definitely is not extinct.  My brother’s name is Thomas Francis Drake.

Patricia Lavatai (pilavatai@gmail.com)

The Shardeloes Drakes at Amersham.  From the early 17th to the mid 20th century, the town of Amersham of Buckinghamshire was dominated by the Drake family of Shardeloes.  It was said that these Drakes “increased their family fortune by securing valuable sinecures and by marrying wealthy heiresses.”

Most of the work to make the present-day Shardeloes House took place in the 18th century under William Drake.  He had gone on the Grand Tour of Europe from 1742 to 1746.  The next year he married Elizabeth Raworth, an heiress, and the injection of her funds enabled him to rebuild Shardeloes between 1758 and 1766.  A young Robert Adam provided designs for the interior including chimney pieces, woodwork and plasterwork.  Adam later designed a large portico on the north side, as part of his first country house commission.

The family fortunes changed in the early 19th century when the Drakes discovered fox hunting, described by their biographer as “a costly pastime which diverted the Drakes from the care of their estates and which led to their being attracted to women who were good riders rather than wealthy heiresses.”

Thomas Tyrwhitt Drake who inherited the estate in 1933 was the last of the Drake family to live at Shardeloes. He later moved to Little Shardeloes on Amersham High Street where he died in 1956.

Francis Marion Drake.  The Drakes had come originally from Virginia.  John Adams Drake, born in North Carolina, was a great friend of Alexander Campbell, one of the early Church reformers.  In 1830 he took his church zeal to Schuyler county, Illinois where Francis Marion was born in 1830. Seven years later, the family had moved onto Iowa, first to Fort Madison in Indian territory and then to Davis county where they founded the village of Drakeville.

In 1852 Francis Marion – at the age of twenty two – crossed the plains to Sacramento in California with a train of ox teams.  He returned after a fair degree of success and then re-crossed the plains two years later with a drove of cattle.

This time he almost didn’t make it back.  He was on a steamer running through a dense fog when the vessel struck a reef and broke apart.  He succeeded in reaching a barren coast and was picked up five days later.   He didn’t go to California a third time.  Instead, he entered the pork packing and livestock business with his father and brothers and stayed there until the Civil War broke out in 1861.

Francis Marion was a Union army officer during the Civil War, later rose to become a railroad president, and was elected Governor of Iowa in 1895.  He died in 1903.  Drake University in Des Moines is named after him.

Reader Feedback – Drake in Idaho and Los Angeles.  My mother’s maiden name is Drake.   Her mother Cora was still carrying my mom when she up and left my Grandpa in Idaho. I never met my Grandpa Mr. Drake.

When my Grandma died my sister found a letter that my Grandma had kept from my Grandpa.  A part of the letter went something like this – Cora, I will find you and get my daughter and take her back with me to Idaho.  But that never happened. He was growing potatoes in Idaho and could never get away to get my mom back.

My Grandma went to Washington state and had my mom there in 1923.  Then my Grandma went to Los Angeles.  She bought some property in west L.A. 3rd and Bixel.  The cocktail lounge was named the Hillcrest which she had built underneath her rooming house.  And she did quite well buying real estate in and around Los Angeles county.

Glenn Watson (barbnglenn0@gmail.com)

The Clare Drake Arena.  The Clare Drake Arena is a 3,000 seat multi-purpose arena in Edmonton, Alberta.  It is home to the University of Alberta Golden Bears ice hockey team.  The stadium is named after the former Golden Bears coach Clare Drake.  He had led the Bears to 697 career wins.

Drake Names

  • Sir Bernard Drake of the Ashe family was the Elizabethan naval captain who secured Newfoundland against the Spanish in the 1580’s.
  • Sir Francis Drake, born near Tavistock in Devon, was the Elizabethan privateer who circumnavigated the world in the 1570’s and then helped to defeat the Spanish Armada.
  • Roger Drake was Governor of Calcutta during the notorious “black hole” incident in 1756.
  • Edwin Drake first drilled for and discovered oil in the United States at Titusville in 1858.
  • Ted Drake was the Arsenal footballer who played for England in the 1930’s.

Drake Numbers Today

  • 10,000 in the UK (most numerous in Devon)
  • 23,000 in America (most numerous in California)
  • 13,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Drake and Like Surnames

Many surnames originated from SW England, the principal counties there being Devon and Cornwall, Somerset and Gloucestershire.  These are some of the prominent and noteworthy surnames that you can check out.


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Written by Colin Shelley

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