Frederick C. Drake (1937-2002)

Lewis Perry and John Sainsurby, May 2003

Frederick C. DrakeFrederick C. Drake of Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, died on June 18, 2002, after several years of struggle with myelodysplasia, a blood disorder related to cancer of the bone marrow. He was 65 years old and had recently retired from teaching. Born in England, he received his PhD in the United States, and taught for most of his career in Canada. His research interests in U.S. diplomatic history, North American military conflict, and naval history were true to the trans-Atlantic dimensions of his life. The Empire of the Seas (1984), his biography of Rear Admiral Robert Wilson Shufeldt, USN, received the John Lyman Award from the North American Society for Oceanic History. He received the Great Lakes History Prize in 1990 for an article on "The Niagara Peninsula and Naval Aspects of the War of 1812." He was elected president of the Canadian Association for American Studies from 1987 to 1989.

Born in the shipbuilding town of Barrow-in-Furness in Lancashire, England, Drake was in the words of a friend from his student days "a true Barrovian" who broke from "the insular mould of a small town life and made his way, entirely through his own efforts, into a successful international career." The break was never complete, however, as he often spoke with feeling of his working-class boyhood, and his research interests never diverged far from ships and the sea.

His life as a historian began at the University of Manchester, where he studied with Marcus Cunliffe and Maldwyn Jones. After a year's employment at University College, London, and another year at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, he began study for the PhD at Cornell University, where his mentor was Walter LaFeber. He taught for three years in Wales at University College of Aberystwyth, before returning to North America in 1970 and joining the faculty at Brock.

Colleagues remember him as a dedicated and much loved teacher who served Brock's academic community in many capacities, including chair of the history department and of the University Senate and member of the Board of Trustees. He never gave up the indefatigable love of research that characterized his entire career. In addition to his biography of Shufeldt and a collection of documents on The War of 1812 in the Niagara Peninsula (1981), he published 10 scholarly articles (including an early re-examination of witchcraft in colonial America in the American Quarterly [1968]) and more than 80 encyclopedia articles, wrote numerous book reviews, gave frequent conference papers and lectures, and served on many conference panels. Two lengthy manuscripts—one on naval operations in the War of 1812, the second on the Lake and Rivers War in the same conflict—awaited editing at the time of his death. Both friends and scholars in the field will hope that these projects may be brought to completion.

A person of great integrity, energy, and humor, Fred Drake raised the spirits of those around him with his wit and courage even as he battled the debilitating effects of illness. To friends who were farther away in recent years, news of the death of this man of such great vitality is hard to absorb. Good times and laughter with him and his wife Val remain unforgettable memories, and the joy and pride he felt for his daughters were evident in every conversation. To honor Fred Drake's memory, friends and colleagues at Brock University have established a history scholarship in his name.

—Lewis Perry, Saint Louis University
—John Sainsurby, Brock University