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John Drake (1819-1902)
Pioneer insurance businessman, of Bay City, MI

1883 biography. (Added Jan., 2009)

History of the Lake Huron Shore, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Chicago, IL: H.R. Page, 1883.

Some of Bay County's Early Comers.


John Drake is one of the early mill men of Bay County. He is a native of Scotland, and emigrated to Canada in 1834. In June, 1851, he started with his brother James and a hired man, from Delaware, near London, (in Canada West, the Province was then called,) and came to Port Huron, where they purchased a small sail boat, hired a boatman to manage it, provided themselves with a tent and supplies, and commenced a coasting voyage along the shores of Lake Huron and the Saginaw Bay, Lower Saginaw being their point of destination, at which place they arrived after six daysí sailing, with many narrow escapes from capsizing their little craft, which proved to be a crank affair, and afterwards caused disaster to others by capsizing in the river. Mr. Drakeís object in coming to Michigan was to engage in the lumber business, and on his arrival at Lower Saginaw he laided his boat at the dock of the Dunlap Mill, (now Gateís & Payís) And the first person he encountered on the shore was the late James Fraser, who, under the circumstances, was the very man he should first become acquainted with in the Valley, Mr. Drake being a native of Scotland, which was of itself sufficient to interest Mr. Fraser in his behalf; but when the object of Mr. Drakeís coming to the Saginaw Valley was made known, Mr. Fraser became doubly interested, as he was always on the alert to induce capital and business to center in this locality. Mr. Drake spent some time in viewing the different localities on the river, making several trips to the towns on the upper portion of the river where many tempting offers were made to him of property for a mill site, but he rejected them all, and finally selected the point (now in West Bay City) where the well known Drake Mill now stands. In two different negotiations he purchased from Mrs. Birney, wife of the late James G. Birney, the forty-four acre tract which is contiguous to the mill, with eighty rods of river front for about $1,400, not a bad bargain when we take into consideration the present value of the property, which would probably be estimated at $150,000. He completed the mill and operated it until 1853, when he sold it to Kibbie, Whittemore & Co.

Mr. Drake removed his family to Lower Saginaw (now Bay City) in November, 1852, and has been a resident of this locality since that time, except two years, which he spent in Detroit. Not being satisfied to give up the lumber business entirely, Mr. Drake run the Zilwaukee Mill during the years of 1856 and 1857, and the little mill at Portsmouth during 1857. Since Mr. Drakeís retirement from the lumber business he has held positions of trust and honor under the government of the United States, and has been engaged most of the time in the insurance business, and is now in that occupation. Since his residence here he has been identified with the material interests of the place, and enjoys to a high degree the esteem and confidence of the community.

1886: Death of wife, Emma Dixon. (Added Feb., 2009)

Michigan Historical Collections, Michigan Historical Society, 1888


Mrs. John Drake died at the family residence, 1001 Center Avenue, Bay City, on the morning of December 10, 1886, after an illness of a few weeks, aged 62 years and 11 months.

Mrs Drake's maiden name was Emma Dixon. She was born at Appleby, Westmoreland, England, January 3, 1824; removing to Canada with her parents in 1832, where she was married in 1844 to John Drake, a successful merchant of the Province of Upper Canada. Here he carried on his business til 1852, when, with his wife, he removed to Lower Saginaw, becoming pioneers of what is now a thriving town of Bay City, where they have since resided, with the exception of two years passed in Detroit. For a number of years Mrs. Drake was an invalid, resulting from a fall, but recovering, she renewed her social connections with her many warm friends and acquaintances whom her kindness of heart, affability and true Christian character had won for her.

Mr. and Mrs. Drake had four children; two infants, a boy and girl, died in Canada; a daughter aged seven years died at Lower Saginaw in November, 1858, and another daughter aged seven years and three months died in August, 1860. After the last of her own offspring had passed away, Mrs. Drake's motherly instincts were exercised in caring for others who required her hear and home two orphaned grandnieces, who were now bereft of a second mother.

Mrs. Drake was one of the original members of Trinity Church, and her exertions in its behalf and in promoting the cause of Christ generally, and her true Christian graces have tended greated to promote the growth and interests of that church.

1902 obituary. (Contributed by Jim Petrimoulx - Apr., 2008)

The Bay City Tribune - Sunday, September 26, 1902 (Page 1)


John Drake, Pioneer Resident of
City, Answers Last Call
Ending Came Peacefully at 10:40 O'clock Last Night
Final Illness the Result a Stroke of Apoplexy
Had Resided in Bay City for Over Forty Years

Another pioneer resident of Bay City has answered the final summons; again has death closed the earthly labors of a man well-known in the community and highly respected by all who were acquainted with him in business or a social way. At 10:40 last night John Drake passed peacefully away at the home of W. O. Clift, 1409 Sixth street, after an illness of about ten days. For several days the relatives and friends of the sick man knew that his hours were numbered and the ending was not unexpected.

For about three years Mr. Drake had been in failing health, but it was only within the past ten days that he relinquished his business cares. About two months ago he suffered a very slight stroke of apoplexy, being confined to the house only two or three days. The morning of Wednesday September 17, he arose at the usual hour. While dressing he suffered a second stroke of apoplexy and from this time his friends realized that there was no hope for him. His rugged constitution withstood the attack for some time , but finally gave way under the strain. The end came peacefully . It was like the passing of a tired mortal into a refreshing slumber.

John Drake was a conspicuous figure in Bay City for nearly a century. He came here almost before there was a town and had watched with pride and interest the up building of a beautiful and progressive city. He became interested in lumber and then drifted into other channels of business. His record was most honorable. For over 40years he was the representative here of one insurance company - a fact that speaks volume of his sterling integrity.

John Drake was born in Patna, Ayrshire, Scotland, August 1, 1819 and came to this country with his parents in 1834, his father locating in Hamilton, Ont. There and in London he worked as a clerk and later went into business in Delaware, Ont., where he became county clerk and postmaster. In 1850 he came to Bay City and with his brothers James and Sewell erected the Drake steam saw mill and bought considerable pine land. He assisted materially in building up the town then known as Lower Saginaw, but in 1854 removed to Detroit. Two years later he returned and engaged in manufacturing lumber in the Zilwaukee mills, which he operated two years.

The panic of 1857 obliged Mr. Drake to close out his business and at the same time he became subject to rheumatism, which prevented him from doing business during the next three years. For four or five years later he was state land agent for this vicinity and in 1858 he took an agency for the Home Insurance Co. of New York and continued to represent that company until the time of his death. In 1862 he was appointed assistant assessor of internal revenue for the Fifth district, which office he filled for five years. In 1872 he was reappointed to that office and after serving the term was deputy revenue collector for four years. He retained his connection with various insurance companies until his death.

The deceased in 1844 married Miss Emma Dickson. She died in 1886 and was the mother of four children all of whom died. He is survived by two adopted daughters Ethel and Harriet Drake and a brother Samuel. He was a prominent member of the Masons, belonging to Joppa Lodge No. 315 and was the last living charter member of the vestry of Trinity Episcopal church, in the up building of which he was very active. He was for 20 years a vestryman and for several years secretary and treasurer of the church society. In politics he was always a staunch supporter of Republican principals.

Drake collection to the Hamilton Association. - Added Dec., 2010.

Jounal and Proceedingns of the Hamilton Association, 1882-1883 (c 1884)

Page 17.
A communication was read from James Hutchinson, as executer of the late William Murray, Entomologist, conveying to the Association a case containing a miscellaneous collection of Natural History specimens, the gift of Mr. John Drake, Bay City, Michigan, legatee of the late Wm. Murray.

Page 80.
List of specimens donated by Mr. Drake on behalf of the estate of the late Wm. Murray:
  • 12 Specimens of Amethyst Crystal.
  • 1 Specimen of Feldspar.
  • 1 Specimen of Dogtooth Spar.
  • 1 Specimens Lead Ore.
  • 2 Specimens Galena Ore.
  • 1 Specimens Agate Pebble.
  • 1 Specimens Quartz containing Hornblende Crystals
  • 1 Specimens Quartz containing Cornelian Pebbles.
  • 1 Specimens Boring from Slate Rock.
  • 1 Specimens Boring from Granite
  • 1 Specimens boring from Titanite.
  • 2 Specimens Scutella Subrotunda, Miocene Formation.
  • Also specimens of Natural History.

    Page 90.

    Read at Annual Meeting, May, 1885.


    A Collection. Presented by , Bay City, Michigan; being the property of the late William Murray, his brother-in-law, who was for a long time a resident of Hamiliton, and a diligent collector of Natural History. Mr. Drake secured the specimens and had them placed in a case at hiw own expense, to perpetuate the memory of his friend.

    Additional Notes.

      1868 - Directory: Bay City, Mich.

    • Crable, Ralph - (Drake & Crable) h 604 N Jackson.
    • Drake & Crable - General Insurance Agency, opposite Post Office.
    • Drake, John - (Drake & Crable), h Fifth, cor Adams.
    • Drake, E.J., Groceries, Water, cor Fourth, h 218 N. Van Buren.
    • Drake, Simon, h 218 N. Van Buren.

      1880 - Census: West Bay City, Mich.

    • Drake, John - b. Aug 1819 Scotland
    • Emma, wife - b. 1844

      1893 - Directory: Bay City, Mich.

    • Drake, John - General Insurance Agent, office 6 Central Block, res 514 N Jefferson.
    • Drake, Miss Rose V - cashr S Drake & Co., bds 213 N Adams.
    • Drake, Samuel (S Drake & Co), res 213 N Adams.
    • Drake S & Co (Samuel Drake), Grocers 400 Center.

      1900 - Census: West Bay City, Mich.

    • Drake, John - b. Aug. 1819 Scotland, insurance
    • Harriet, daughter, b. Mar 1873 Utah, school teacher
    • Mary E., daughter, b. May 1880 Utah

      1902 - Missouri Deaths: Bay City, Mich.

    • John Drake, b. 1819 Scotland, d. 27 Sep 1902, son of John Drake and M. Baird.
  • Another Drake family found living in Bay County but unable to connect to the the subject, is a John W. Drake, born 1851, son of Gilbert Drake and Maria Fox. This John married Mary Clark in Bay City on Jun. 15, 1891, and second married was to Adeline Parent on Apr. 25, 1898 in Linwood.
  • Related Pages/Notes
    John Drake is considered the founder of the oldest existing business in Bay City, as a result of several mergers that ultimately became the Moulthrop-Clift Insurance Agency.
    According to book on Michigan Lumbertowns, John Drake and his brother came to Bay City in 1851, where he purchases 40 acres near the village of Wenona and entered the lumbering business. [Source]
    1871-72 Directory: Office: 401 N. Water Home: 517 Adams & 5th
    Related Pages:
    Clift, Wm. O.
    Drake, Samuel Bro.
    Drake Bros. Mill
    Oakridge Cemetery
    Trinity Episcopal Church
    People Referenced
    Baird, M. (mother)
    Birney, Elizabeth Mrs.
    Birney, James G.
    Clift, Wm.O.
    Crable, Ralph
    Dickson, Emma (wife)
    Drake, Ethel (dau.)*
    Drake, E.J.
    Drake, Harriet (dau.)*
    Drake, James (bro.)
    Drake, John (father)
    Drake, John (subject)
    Drake, Rose v.
    Drake, Samuel (bro.)
    Drake, Sewell (bro.)
    Drake, Simon
    Frazer, James
    Hutchinson, James
    Murray, William
    * Adopted.
    Subjects Referenced
    Ayshire, Scotland
    Bay City, MI
    Bay Co., MI
    Detroit, MI
    Drake & Crable
    Drake Steam Mill
    Drake S & Co.
    Dunlap Mill
    Gates & Pays mill
    Hamilton, Ont. Can.
    Home Insurance Co.
    Kibbie, Whittemore Co.
    Lake Huron, MI
    London, Can.
    Lower Saginaw, MI
    New York
    Patna, Scotland
    Port Huron, MI
    Portsmouth mill
    Saginaw Bay, MI
    Saginaw Valley, MI
    Trinity Episcopal Ch.
    West Bay City, MI
    Westmoreland, England
    Zilwaukee mill
    WRITINGS: History As It Was Written Then.