While Westerly has seen its fair share of fascinating individuals over its 350-year history, perhaps no one has had a more interesting story to tell than Marshall Drew, a survivor of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic. Although not born in Westerly, Marshall’s family had connections to the town’s granite industry, and he spent the last several decades of his life in his Dunn’s Corners home.
Marshall Brines Drew was born on March 30, 1904 in the town of Greenport on Long Island, New York to William John Drew, a granite worker, and his second wife, Annie Eliza Brines. William was born in 1864 in Constantine, Cornwall, England. Upon the death of his first wife, William moved from Greenport to Westerly in 1894, where he found work at Smith’s Granite Company. It was in Westerly where he met his second wife, Annie, a Westerly native and daughter of Irish immigrants.
The couple returned to Greenport, where Marshall was born the following year. Annie passed away just weeks after Marshall’s birth, leaving William a single parent. Believing he was not able to properly care for his son alone, William allowed his childless brother, James Vivian Drew, and his wife, Lulu, to raise Marshall in Southold, New York. Together, William and James operated a successful marble monument business on Long Island.
In the Fall of 1911, James, Lulu, and Marshall travelled on the Olympic to England, where they would spend several months celebrating the holidays with relatives in Cornwall. Then, on April 10, 1912, the family, looking to return to New York, purchased tickets for the maiden voyage of the Titanic, a decision made more out of convenience than a desire to travel aboard the massive ocean liner.
Marshall, along with his aunt and uncle, boarded the ship at Southampton as second-class passengers, where they were assigned ticket number 28220. The trip cost £32, 10s for the three passengers (worth approximately £1,900 or approximately $2,450 today).
On the evening of April 15, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg, sinking the ship and ultimately resulting in the death of 1,513 passengers. When the impact occurred, James Drew was on the deck having a cigarette while Marshall and Lulu slept in their cabin on the lower decks.
Once he realized what was happening, James returned to the family’s room and escorted his wife and nephew to lifeboat number 10 (some accounts claim it was number 11) and said his goodbyes. Despite his assurances to the contrary, Lulu knew that she was unlikely to ever see her husband again, a premonition which sadly proved true, as James Vivian Drew perished as the ship sank into the north Atlantic.
In the lifeboat, Marshall fell asleep, and when he awoke he witnessed the approach of the Carpathia, the nearest ship which proceeded to pick up the stranded passengers and gave them passage back to New York. Years later, Marshall would tell friends that he was having donuts and cocoa when the list of survivors was being compiled and as a result, his fate was unknown to his family back in New York.
In fact, the Brooklyn Daily Times reported on April 17th: “All Greenport is fearful that James V. Drew and Marshall, the 5-year-old son of William J. Drew, brother and partner of James Drew, are among the Titanic’s dead.” Upon hearing this, William went to Manhattan and stayed near the White Star Line offices, awaiting word of his son’s fate.
William’s eventual joy in the safety of his son was short-lived, as the death of his brother, James, was confirmed. The following year, the widowed Lulu Drew visited Westerly where she met and married Richard Opie, a local shipbuilder. The couple would live the rest of their days in Dunn’s Corners, where she would die in 1971.
Five years after Marshall’s safe return to New York, his father succumbed to tuberculosis, leaving his son without a living biological parent at 13. During the 1920’s, Marshall exhibited a talent for art, and in 1928, he graduated from the Pratt Institute in New York City and then attended Columbia University for a time.
During the 1930’s, Marshall married a woman from Connecticut named Mary and on March 27, 1937, their only child, a daughter, Elizabeth ‘Bette’ Drew was born. Marshall Drew went on to become a teacher, specializing in art, and teaching at Grover Cleveland High School in Brooklyn for 36 years.
After retiring from teaching, Marshall continued to give art lessons and host events and exhibitions. He would spend much of his time practicing painting and origami. In October 1946, he purchased land on Boston Post Road in Westerly from Richard and Lulu Opie, although he would continue to be identified as being from New York until 1962, when he appears to have settled in Westerly permanently. Still, he spent many summers in Southold, New York with his great uncle, Henry Christian, a Civil War veteran.
While living in Westerly, Marshall Drew gave art lessons in his home studio and enjoyed photographing local scenes immensely. He left more than ten thousand photo slides to the Westerly Camera Club. He was also fond of singing songs while strumming away on his ukulele sitting outside his home in Dunn’s Corners. On Friday mornings, he could often be found at local coffee shops, conversing with his friends from the art community.
Marshall Brines Drew died on June 6, 1986 in Greenport, New York while visiting friends. At the time of his death, he was one of an estimated 20 remaining survivors of the sinking of the Titanic.
In 2003, a hat band purchased by James Drew for his nephew while on board the Titanic, sold at auction for $53,000, allowing his story to live on in the public memory. Marshall is buried in River Bend Cemetery in Westerly, where his gravestone reads “Teacher • Artist • Friend, Survivor R.M.S. Titanic 4-15-1912,” serving as a loving reminder of the man for all who knew him.