The history of the Drew family whose members were our ancestors begins in County Westmeath, Ireland. What we are calling "the beginning" is that portion of the family history that we are able to trace with certainty by means of documents.
WHERE WE COME FROM
In the 1780's, there were at least six or seven Drew families residing in Milltown Parish of County Westmeath. At that time, Ireland was divided into Counties, Parishes, Baronies, and Townlands. (Townships) As of the year 2,000, a wonderful indexed (searchable) database called IreAtlas is now on line at http://www.leitrim-roscommon.com/ which lists these "divisions" and includes every single Townland in Ireland at the time of our ancestors. [Note that a "parish" has a different meaning than it does in the U.S.A... and it does NOT mean a certain church.] Finding the "right church" to seek our our ancestors was a completely separate problem.
Fortunately for our search, my great great grandfather, John Drew, brought his prayer book to America. Inside the cover of the book he had burnedthe words: "John Drew, Lakenstown." By further good fortune, one of his sons, John Jr., who died in 1909 included the name of his county of birth (Westmeath) on his gravestone. It so happens that Lakenstown is a townland of only 268 acres; so we know within 268 acres the exact place of his home in Ireland. The exact and full designation of where the Drew family (actually several Drew families) lived before their emigration to Ireland is as follows: Townland of LAKENSTOWN(also written "Lakingstown,") Kilmacnevan parish, Moygoish barony, County Westmeath, Province of Leinster.
During our 1970 and '71 visits to Lakenstown, we found distant Drew cousins still living on that Lakenstown farmland. Much to our amazement and enjoyment, our "cousins" showed us the "remains" of several stone foundations of homes that had been built and once lived in by our Drew ancestors.
For pictures and more information about Lakenstown and the Drew family ruins, Click here!
As far as we know, the Drew's are an ancient Irish family with an ancient name. And, of course, the original spelling of the name would have been in Gaelic. Since no Gaelic scholarship has been sought in our history search as yet, we must trust to the "tradition" of the remaining Drews in Ireland... and the church records at Milltown to guide us as to the pronunciation of the name.
THE NAME DREW
The Drews living in Westmeath in 1971 all declare that the name used to be pronounced "Druch" ...having a very soft gutteral sound at the end just as the names McCullogh, and others. This sound at the end probably represents a letter of the Gaelic alphabet. Further proof regarding the presence of a "strange sound" at the end of the name is found in the church records themselves. As the priests attempted to translate all the Irish names into Latin (Roman alphabet) there is a gradual progression of spellings which seems to change with each priest over the years. In the 1780's until well into the 1800's the name was spelled "Drought" by the priests. Then as time went by, the priests would use spellings such as "Drouch" and "Druch" ...even though it is clear from the records that this is the same family.
By the time of the 1830's, all of the schools had been "Anglicized" by the ruling English Aristocracy and the priests were entering all the baptisms, marriages, and deaths with the spelling "Drew." As far as we know, Drew is the only spelling that was ever used by the family after arrival in the U.S.
THE EARLIEST RECORD OF OUR ANCESTORS
The earliest record that we are certain belongs to one of our forebearers is that of John Drew, born in 1806. His parents were Bernard and Catherine Drew And we believe (but cannot prove) that Catherine's maiden name was Nally. It is noted that many of the baptismal sponsors for this couple's other children were Nally's.
A photo of the 1806 birth certificate of John Drew can be seen by clicking HERE. It is also on display in the document called Milltown Records... along with the marriage certificate of John's 1830 marriage to Rose Reillyand the 1833 baptism of their second child, James Drew, who founded the Indiana branch of the Drew family.
TRACING BACK TO 1750
Having spoken at the beginning about the importance of providing certainty by means of documents, we shall begin with the one document about which we are not 100% certain: We tried our best to identify (find birth or marriage records for) John's grandparents, the parents of Bernard and Catherine Drew. In doing so, we found a 1784 baptism record of a child named Bernard Drought who was born to James and Judith Drought. This 1784 birthday would have made Bernard 22 when he married Catherine and begot John in 1806... quite plausible. There is no record of this marriage... but that is not a problem if Catherine were from another parish. The records did not record mothers' maiden names or fathers' middle names... so we cannot trace John's grandparents with certainty. We do know, however, that his parents were Bernard and Catherine... we just do not know for certain that it was the 1784 Bernard. IF IT WAS HE, then John's grandparents were James and Judith Drought. An argument FOR this lineage is that John and Rose (Reilly) Drew named children James and Judith... but the science of genealogy does not permit such an argument to be used as proof.... especially when the landscape was ALIVE with Drought's named James and Judith and Catherine and Bernard. Regardless of our failure to identify John's grandparents with certainty, it is "safe to say" (even if unproven) that they were probably James and Judith Drought... and they would have been born about 1750 We can be proud that we were able to trace our Drew ancestry back that far.
A BRIEF POLITICAL AND SOCIAL BACKGROUND OF IRELAND
IN THE DAYS OF OUR ANCESTORS
A proper understanding of the political and social "situation" in the Ireland of our ancestors must begin by recalling that King Henry VIII of England "broke" away from the Roman Catholic Church and formed the Church of England in the early 1500's. The repercussions of this in Ireland were huge; as the Irish remained faithful to the Roman Church. A few generations later, during the time of Charles Cromwell, the Irish were "in rebellion" and accepted King Charles's invitation to fight against Cromwell. Cromwell not only defeated the King's Irish and Scottish forces... but also had the King beheaded.
Between 1649 and 1652, Cromwell then led viscious military campaigns through Ireland and Scotland... with the Irish campaign being exceptionally cruel. It has been estimated that over half the population of Ireland was slaughtered... including millions of defenseless women and children. Cromwell's own recorded description of this campaign was a "scorched earth" policy... and it ended with the famous "Drogheda and Wexford Massacres" in 1652. Immediately thereafter the English (by now well into the spirit of "colonization") made Ireland an English Colony and deeded all the land to English "Landlords." These "landlords" were known as the "gentry" (ruling class) and the Irish were peasants.... a system not unlike "sharecropping" ...with huge taxes and quotas of every harvest required to be sent to England. This system persisted right up till the mid 1800's; and it is said that even in the years of the potato famine, the Irish wheat and grain harvest went to England while the Irish starved.
We picked up the story of our ancestors (in 1750) just about four generations after Cromwell. At just about this time, Benjamin Franklin made a tour through Ireland during one of his European trips. He is quoted as having said "Never have I seen a people in a more impoverished condition nor so persecuted by their government." Also at about this same time, a question was asked on the floor of the British Parliament: "What about the rights of the Irish." The response was "There is no such thing as rights for an Irish Catholic."
The political and social structure in Ireland at that time was a system wherein all the land was owned by "Landlords" who were loyal to the English Crown. Irish families were parcelled out very small parcels of land for which they were required to pay rent. Less than 2% of the Irish population owned any land outright. The remainder were poor and living hand to mouth by working the land and by employment in the Peat bogs, quarries, construction projects, and other enterprises owned and governed by the wealthy landed gentry.
The landlords of the entire area for miles around Lakenstown were a family named Tuite and pronounced "tyoot." The Tuites were a Norman family who had held sway in large areas of Westmeath for centuries. Their family residences were located at a place called Sonna... 3 or 4 miles northeast of Lakenstown; and they were hence known as the "Tuites of Sonna." Credible historians say that, among an array of skills and schemes, was the Tuite family's clever habit of maintaining allegiances and good will (and membership) with BOTH Catholic and Protestant heirarchy... a scheme which had enabled them to keep their land and remain in power through the centuries. Although the tradition passed down through the generations of our family held that the Landlords and general social situation in Ireland was a horrible memory, more recent research and discussion of this matter with our distant cousins in Ireland has revealed some surprising information: The Tuites were, in fact, remembered as "good landlords" ...especially when compared to many ruthless, selfish, and even anti-Irish landlords in some areas of Ireland.
Lakenstown was a very rural environment; and given to agriculture and the harvesting of peat. It is likely that all our Drew ancestors had skills and experience in all these areas. It is also an undocumented tradition and a probable fact that the Drew clan and all the residents of the area were skilled stonemasons. The Royal Canal with many miles of channel and many bridges and locks within walking distance of Lakenstown, was built between 1750 and the 1820's. It is likely that many of our Drew clansmen were involved in the quarrying, horsemanship, and stonemasonry required to build the canal.
The first Drews to leave Lakenstown were THE FAMILY OF JOHN DREW AND ROSE REILLY. The family left Ireland and emigrated to America in 1847... the third year of the "great potatoe famine." As far as we can tell, the mother, Rose Reilly Drew may have died in Ireland prior to the journey... but after 1846, when her last child was born. Not a single document or trace of her has ever been turned up during all research in this country. This means that John made the journey with six children.
MEET OUR ANCESTORS THAT EMIGRATED TO THE USA
To read more about this family, and find out what happened to each of them, CLICK HERE, to go to this family's web page.
CLICK HERE to return to the DREW Index Page