Today in history: Whatcom farmer finds out he’s inheriting $13M

The Bellingham Herald

It’s a story almost too good to believe – 110 years ago, a Whatcom County farmer found out he was heir to a $13 million fortune after the death of his long-estranged father.

Francis Drake, a lineal descendent of Sir Francis Drake – the 16th-century English sea captain, slave trader and privateer – was working a small ranch near Nugent’s Corner in 1908. He had come to Whatcom County five years earlier after drifting about the United States, according to a Feb. 15, 1908, report in The Bellingham Herald.

Drake ran away from home at age 11 to make his way in the world. His father, Lord Francis Drake, tracked him down more than 30 years later and the two began a correspondence. The father told Francis Drake that his mother had died and wrote of the increasing fortune he was making in Calcutta, India.

The Herald wrote of Lord Drake: “He owns much real estate, holds several valuable franchises, has an interest in government affairs and had accumulated much cash in the banks of that place.”

A day earlier, Valentine’s Day, the local farmer received a cablegram that his father had died and he was sole heir to the fortune, estimated at $13 million.

Accounting for an average inflation rate of three percent, that would be more than $321 million in 2018 dollars. By comparison, the Powerball jackpot in Washington was $223 million on Thursday.

Francis Drake told The Herald it would take three years to settle the estate, after which he planned to return to Puget Sound and invest some of his new-found wealth in Bellingham.

He set sail for India that same week and, by all accounts, never returned here.

Jim Donaldson: 360-715-2288, @Skitosea