Rock Island Lighthouse Keepers
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 Foster M. Drake, 1879-1886
    Written by Mark A. Wentling


        Foster Monroe Drake was born 1833 in Jefferson Co., New York, son of Thomas Drake and Hannah Cass. The Drakes lived in a house on the corner of Maple and Main Sts. from the 1840 census until Thomas' death.  Thomas Drake was a mason and had done all the plastering work inside the nearby LaFarge Mansion, built in 1833.
        Foster first appears by name in census records as a 17 year old man, occupied as a mason, living in his parents' household along with siblings Alvira, Caroline and Dexter.  Father Thomas was employed as a mechanic.
        By about 1856, Foster had become involved with 
Emily E. Bort, daughter of Cornelius Bort.  In 1860, they were enumerated in the same household on the opposite end of Main St., with a boy named William C. Drake, age 3.  Foster was employed as a mason, as was his father Thomas.
        On 23 October 1861, at age 27, Foster enlisted as a private in the 94th New York Infantry Regiment, Co. B at LaFargeville, Town of Orleans, and was mustered out on 9 December 1961
. For part of his service, he was tentmates on the field of battle with Willard L. Cook, who would later precede him as keeper of Rock Island lighthouse.
was wounded at the second Battle of Bull Run in his leg and sent to a hospital at New York. He was subsequently discharged on 28 October 1862. Presuming his discharge was vaild, he left the hospital in May 1863, but through some clerical error, he was charged with desertion. He subsequently applied for a pardon from the President in 1865, but years later the error protracted his pension application process.
        Thereafter, Foster took up residence in Sackets Harbor, Town of Hounsfield, where in 1865 he was working as a mason.

        After the war, Foster' marriage to Emily turned sour. On 2 July 1868, Emily was summoned by the New York State Supreme Court to answer charges of adultery brought by the Plaintiff, her husband. Emily failed to appear at a special term of the Court, held at Watertown on 13 October 1868, where she was to be deposed by Charles D. Wright regarding facts in the case. Consequently, on 1 December 1868 at Ogdensburg, the Court found that "Emily E. Drake has committed the several acts of adultery charged in the complaint." The marriage was dissolved, "and it is so ordered and adjudged that it shall be lawful for said Complainant Foster M. Drake to marry again in the same manner as though the said Defendant Emily E. Drake was actually dead, but it shall not be lawful for said Defendant Emily E. Drake to marry again until the said Complainant Foster M. Drake is actually dead."
        Foster's second marriage was a happy one that lasted the rest of his life. On 9 June 1869 at Redwood, he was married to Angeline Jemima Leonard by the Justice of the Peace. Angeline was born at Alexandria Bay on 22 May 1846, a daughter of Isaac Leonard and his wife Lovina Evans (daughter of Columbus Evans and Friendly Fisher). Shortly after their marriage, Foster and Angeline moved to Lincoln, Lancaster Co., Nebraska, to be near his brother, Dexter.  Here he was enumerated as a "plasterer." They moved back LaFargeville soon after.

        On 20 February 1879, Foster Drake became the first to hold the position of "Acting Keeper" at Rock Island.  On 14 July 1880, he was promoted to Principal Keeper.  Foster Drake was the last keeper to care for the combination keeper's dwelling with light tower on top.  In 1884, a one-and-a-half story shingle-style Victorian dwelling was erected on the island, protected by a concrete seawall, and a separate iron light tower was erected behind the house on a bedrock base in the center of the island, approximately 15 feet above mean water level.

        On 7 June 1886, Foster was witness to the sinking of the ship Oconto, which struck a shoal off Rock Island.

        On 28 August 1886, Foster was dismissed from Rock Island, and replaced by M. J. Diepolder.
        In 1890, Drake was working as a plasterer and decorator. He owned his own house and lot on Maple Avenue, Lafargeville, and owned another house and lot at Fisher's Landing.
        He died on 25 May 1908 of a cerebral hemmorhage, age "74 years, 7 months, and 15 days," (as certified by J. F. Fowkes, M.D. of LaFargeville) and he was buried in Grove Cemetery, Main St., LaFargeville. After his death, Angeline collected a widow's pension. She lived in LaFargeville until November 1909, subsequently removing to Oswego for several years. She died 13 January 1929, and was buried next to Foster at Grove Cemetery.
        As indicated in his deposition for a military pension (given on 25 September 1897), Foster had no children.  It is not clear how this statement relates to William Drake, found in the 1860 census.


1840 Federal Census of the Town of Orleans, Jefferson County, New York.

1850 Federal Census of the Town of Orleans, Jefferson County, New York.

1860 Federal Census of the Town of Orleans, Jefferson County, New York.

1870 Federal Census of the Town of Lincoln, Lancaster Co., Nebraska.

Bartlett, John & Ellen and A. E. Rogers. "Town of Orleans Cemetery Inscriptions." Jefferson County, New York GenWeb []. Visited 14 June 2000.

Child, Hamilton. "Town of Orleans business Directory, 1890. Jefferson County, New York GenWeb. []. Visited 16 January 2001.

Civil War Servicemen of the Town of Orleans" (from an 1865 town clerk's enumeration). Jefferson County, New York GenWeb. []. Visited 16 January 2001.

Corespondence (email) with Ken Drake (descendant of Dexter Drake), February 2011.

Correspondence (email) with Roberta D. Calhoun-Eagan (descendant of Leonard family), April 2005.

"Foster Monroe Drake" [obituary].  Watertown Re-Union Herald, Saturday, 8 May 1908.

"New York Roster: Report of the Adjutant-General." Civil War Database. []. Visited 3 June 2000.

Pension File for Foster M. Drake. National Archives, Washington, D.C.

"Rock Island Station Keeper's Logs, Vol. 1."  Record Group 26.  National Archives, Washington, D.C.

Thomas Tag <>, Great Lakes Lighthouse Research

Image of Oconto sinking from Howard Gardner photo collection, owned by Ginny Ihrig, courtesy Donna Gorrell.

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