On this day in 1865, Hanson, Mass. Civil War soldier Thomas Drake died in the notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia, a Confederate-operated Union prisoner of war camp. He was Hanson’s last Civil War casualty, with Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendering less than a month later.
Thomas Drake was born in East Bridgewater, Massachusetts on 16 May 1828, the son of Timothy and Polly (Beals) Drake. He was raised in East Bridgewater and moved to Hanson after his marriage. 25 year old Thomas Drake and 16 year old Mehitable P. Brown were married in East Bridgewater on 7 June 1853 by justice of peace Isaac Pratt. Mehitable was born in East Bridgewater on 31 June 1836, the daughter of David and Mehitable (Brown) Brown. Mehitable was seven months pregnant at the time of their marriage with their first child, Alice Drake.
Thomas and Mehitable (Brown) Drake had five children:
- Alice Drake, b. East Bridgewater 11 August 1853; d. East Bridgewater 1946; m. Abington Mass. 1 May 1870 George W. Holmes.
- Samuel Drake, b. East Bridgewater 28 July 1855; d. Abington 22 July 1934 and bur. Mount Vernon Cemetery, Abington; m Abington 2 Oct. 1888 Mary Alice McKenney.
- Edith Drake, b. Hanson 22 January 1858; d. Franklin, Mass. 6 March 1888; m. Abington 20 October 1879 Fred D. Straffin.
- Thomas Drake, b. Hanson 30 March 1860; d. Hanson 1945; m. Lynn Mass 21 Feb 1883 Isabel Stanton.
- Timothy Drake, b. Hanson 5 March 1862; d. 1949 and buried in Mount Vernon Cemetery, Abington; m. 31 Dec 1885 Nellie G. Nash.
Thomas Drake (26, shoemaker) was enumerated in the 1855 Massachusetts Census in East Bridgewater with wife Mehitable (19) and children Alice (3) and “Infant” Samuel (1).
In 1857, the Drakes moved from East Bridgewater to a house on Brook St. in Hanson. History of Hanson Houses reported that Thomas and Mehitable (Brown) Drake lived in two houses across the street from each other on Brook St. during their marriage. Timothy Drake, the youngest son of Thomas and Mehitable (Brown) Drake, reported that sometime prior to his birth, his parents lived in a house on the south side of Brook Street owned in 1830 by J. Pratt . This is probably the house where their daughter Edith Drake was born in 1858. Timothy Drake reported that “all the [younger] Drake boys were born” in another house on the north side of Brook Street which had been owned in 1856 by Luther Howland. After Thomas Drake’s death and her remarriage, Mehitable (Brown) Drake Fuller sold the property to Jerome Shaw [Plymouth County Deeds, 462:215].
Thomas Drake (33, shoemaker) was enumerated in the 1860 Census in South Hanson, Mass. with wife Mehitable (24), and children Alice (7), Sam (5), Edith (2), and Thomas (4 months).
South Hanson shoemaker Thomas Drake, aged 35, enlisted 2 January 1864 as a private in Company D of the Massachusetts 4th Calvary Regiment. He was one of Hanson’s later recruits in the war. Perhaps he delayed enlistment to tend to his homestead and support his young family.
According to a history of the Massachusetts 4th Calvary: “On June 6, two companies under Capt. Morton moved to Jacksonville, Fla., and encamped there. In the early part of Aug., the detachment formed part of an expedition up the St. John’s river to Palatka, engaging the enemy at Palatka, Magnolia and Gainesville, with a loss during the expedition of 6 killed and 50 captured, including 3 officers.”
Thomas Drake fought at the Battle of Gainesville in Co. D, Mass. 4th Calvary under Capt. Joseph W. Morton on 17 August 1864 which took place in the town square in Gainesville, Florida. 342 Union soldiers under the command of Col. Andrew L. Harris were in the town that day, having just performed a grueling two day 50 mile march from Baldwin, Florida in the summer Florida heat. They were taken by surprise when a Confederate force under the command of Captain John Jackson Dickison attacked from the rear. Thomas Drake was captured by the Confederate forces during the battle.
He was sent to Camp Sumter (also known as Andersonville Prison) as a prisoner of war. Andersonville was a notorious prisoner of war camp, known for its horrific conditions. The camp was constantly overcrowded, was extremely unsanitary, and lacked water and food supplies. Its commander, Henry Wirz, was executed after the Civil War for war crimes, including “violation of the laws of war, to impair and injure the health and to destroy the lives—by subjecting to torture and great suffering; by confining in unhealthy and unwholesome quarters; by exposing to the inclemency of winter and to the dews and burning sun of summer; by compelling the use of impure water; and by furnishing insufficient and unwholesome food—of large numbers of Federal prisoners.”
A Connecticut prisoner who entered the camp shortly before Thomas Drake described his first impression of the camp:
“As we entered the place, a spectacle met our eyes that almost froze our blood with horror, and made our hearts fail within us. Before us were forms that had once been active and erect;—stalwart men, now nothing but mere walking skeletons, covered with filth and vermin. Many of our men, in the heat and intensity of their feeling, exclaimed with earnestness. “Can this be hell?” “God protect us!” and all thought that he alone could bring them out alive from so terrible a place. In the center of the whole was a swamp, occupying about three or four acres of the narrowed limits, and a part of this marshy place had been used by the prisoners as a sink, and excrement covered the ground, the scent arising from which was suffocating. The ground allotted to our ninety was near the edge of this plague-spot, and how we were to live through the warm summer weather in the midst of such fearful surroundings, was more than we cared to think of just then.”
Nearly a third of the Union soldiers who were imprisoned at Andersonville died. About 45,000 in total were imprisoned there, with almost 13,000 prisoners dying from disease and starvation.
Thomas Drake was a prisoner of war at Andersonville for seven months until his death in the prison. The 36 year old Thomas Drake died there on 14 March 1865. Andersonville records simply record his cause of death as rheumatism. His rheumatism was likely caused by scurvy and starvation. His widow Mehitable more emphatically stated his cause of death in her pension application: “He died at Andersonville, Georgia of chronic diarrhea, starvation, and brutal treatment.”
Thomas Drake was buried in Andersonville National Cemetery and was given a military-issued headstone.
Mehitable (Brown) Drake was devasted when news reached her about the death of her husband, especially on the heels of the end of the Civil War. With five young children to support, she applied for a widow’s pension on 24 June 1865. On 25 August 1865, she was granted a pension of $8 a month, with back-pay starting at the date of Thomas’ death. On 25 July 1866, her pension was raised from $8 a month to $18 dollars a month, representing an increase of $2 per month per child of Thomas Drake.
The widowed Mehitable Drake (28) was enumerated in the 1865 Census in Hanson, Mass. with children Alice (11), Samuel (9), Edith (7), Thomas (5), and Timothy (3). She lived in a house with her parents David Brown (55, tackmaker) and Mehitable Brown (54, housekeeper) and brother Elias G. Brown (15, tackmaker).
Widow Mehitable P. Drake married the widowed Lucius Tisdale Fuller in Hanson on 28 November 1869 by Rev. B. Southworth at the Hanson Congregational Church. Lucius Fuller’s first wife Eliza B. (Pratt) Fuller had died of consumption in 1862, leaving him a widowed father to their children Ella M. Fuller (1852-1923) and Hiram T. Fuller (1858-1914).
Mehitable moved into Lucius T. Fuller’s house, located on West Washington St. (then called Willow St.)
In the 1870 Census, Lucius T. Fuller (47) was enumerated in Hanson with his wife Mehitable Fuller (34), daughter Ella M. Fuller (18), son Hiram T. Fuller (12), mother Patience B. Fuller (75), and step-daughter Edith Drake (13).
In the 1880 Census, Lucius T. Fuller (53, shoemaker) was enumerated in Hanson with his wife Mehitable Fuller (44) and mother Patience Fuller (86).
Lucius T. Fuller died at home of heart disease in Hanson on 5 November 1893 at the age of 71.
In the 1900 Census, Mehitable P. Fuller (64) was enumerated in Hanson with a relative, Joseph Brown (17), and her grandson Charles A. Drake (17).
Mehitable’s Civil War widow’s pension was renewed in 1901 at a rate of $12 per month. Hanson assessors reported at this time that Mehitable owned a house valued at $500, a barn valued at $150, 2 hen houses valued at $20, a 2.5 acre houselot valued at $100 and a 40.5 acre woodlot valued at $250, totaling real estate valued at $1,020. Mehitable testified that “I own an old homestead house [located on “Washington St. in North Hanson”] of eight rooms built about the year 1750, it is in bad condition and occupied entirely by myself for the reason that it is an out of the way locality, and not convenient for letting purposes, there is about 40 acres of land connected with the house and not fit for cultivation except about two acres, all the hay I could raise last year (1900) I sold, for five dollars. Most of the land is not fit for pasture. I have neither cow nor horse and cannot let the land as it is of little value for any use. My place is taxed for $1000 for last year, I have neither stocks, bonds, or any other investments. I have no income whatever, nor any persons who is legally bound to provide for my support. My support is derived from my own labor on raising enough vegetables and etc. on my garden for my own use.”
According to History of Hanson Houses, the widowed Mehitable, wife of Lucius T. Fuller, lived on [West] Washington St. in a house built by John Beal circa 1767. The house was purchased by Barzilla Fuller in 1825, and later inherited by his son Lucius T. Fuller, then his widow Mehitable (Brown) Drake Fuller. [Plan 2, House 44]
In the 1910 Census, Mehitable P. Fuller (74) resided on Washington St., Hanson with Joseph W. Brown (39).
Mehitable’s Civil War widow’s pension was renewed in 1916 at a rate of $20 per month. In 1926, it was increased to $50 per month.
In the 1920, Mehitable P. Fuller (83, widow) was enumerated on Washington St. in Hanson with her son Thomas Drake (59, real estate salesman).
In the 1930 Census, Mehitable Fuller (93) resided on Washington St., Hanson with son Thomas Drake (70, furniture dealer) and daughter Alice Holmes (65).
A few weeks before her 94th birthday, Mehitable P. (Brown) Drake Fuller died in her home on West Washington St. in Hanson on the morning of 4 June 1930 of chronic myocarditis and arterio-sclerosis and was buried in Fern Hill Cemetery, Hanson. Her son Thomas Drake was present at her death and he reported that her final Civil War pension check arrived in the late morning just after she had passed away – 65 years after the death of her husband Thomas Drake.
The Fuller farmhouse on West Washington St. was later purchased by the Mullen family and named “Red Acres Farm”, who since 1955 have hosted an annual Red Acres Christmas Sing in Hanson which continues today.
Special thanks to Drake descendant Ally Smith for wanting to learn more about her Civil War ancestor, and to Andersonville historian Kevin Frye for his assistance in accessing Thomas Drake’s Andersonville records.
[Written by Mary Blauss Edwards, Hanson Historical Society Curator]