Drake was born in Lebanon, Ohio, the son of John Burroughs Drake a harness-maker from Trenton, New Jersey and Nancy (Harry) Drake from Pennsylvania. His father died when he was 11 causing him to have to work in a store, while obtaining a “Common school” education. At 16 he took a job at a Lebanon tavern.
In 1845, he embarked to Cincinnati, OH where he worked as a hotel clerk for a pair of hotels.
He married Josephine Corey, daughter of Francis Edward Corey on February 24, 1863. They had three sons and two daughters.