Historical Masonry: Drayton Hall

Words: Sa Bal

Words: Sa Bal
Photo: code6d

Drayton Hall is located on Charleston's Ashley River. The majestic Hall is the oldest, most historic, surviving building with Georgian-Palladian architecture. During the Revolutionary War, Drayton Hall experienced the ownership of both British and Colonial troops. 

For unknown reasons, Drayton Hall, alongside Ashley River, is the sole plantation soldiers did not destroy in the Civil War. Not just this, it later lived through the Great Earthquake of 1886. 

Later in 1974, the National Trust for Historic Preservation bought the Drayton Hall to make sure it survives for generations. Let's take a closer look at the wondrous Drayton Hall:

What is the Drayton Hall?

Drayton Hall is a majestic icon of colonial American identity and architecture. The Hall was established back in 1738 and endured the ownership of seven generations of family ownership, Civil Wars and Revolutionary Wars, and devastating hurricanes and earthquakes. Yet somehow, the main house is still in its original condition. 

Time and time again, people study historic structures to find clues that tell us how the main house and various surviving buildings were crafted, designed, and use. Moreover, we try to seek the stories each house has to tell. However, since Drayton House has never been restored, it still boasts materials and designs built during its time of construction.         

The Drayton Hall has never been modernized with plumbing, central heating, air conditioning units, or electrical lighting. At the same time, its main house remains unfurnished to allow visitors to focus on the beauty of the original Drayton Hall and its intricate architectural details.

Ancient live oaks surround the incredible Drayton House. Furthermore, the vast Hall is bordered by the historic, beautiful Ashley River. The entire site, which includes the historical grounds, broad vistas, rare historic features, and vanished structure, continues to testify to the U.S.'s wondrous heritage. 

The Back Story of Drayton Hall

Drayton Hall refers to one of the most remarkable homes in North America. Seven generations of the Drayton family owned this fine example of Palladian architecture before becoming a historic site. Let's unravel the history of Drayton Hall:

How it all Started

Back in 1678, Edward Mayo received a significant land grant of 750-acres- this portion would later become the impressive Drayton Hall. 

Edward Mayo decided to sell the land in 1680 to Joseph Harbin. Upon becoming the land's new owner, Joseph built the very first house on 750 acres. This land was eventually subdivided and went into the hands of many different people. 

In fact, in 1738, 350 acres of the land were purchased by John Drayton. After receiving the land, he instantly began constructing a fully designed house, planned out, and been built until 1742. 

The land's high value is due to its location beside the incredible Ashley River. The river made Drayton Hall the perfect area for cultivating Carolina Gold rice, a crop dependent on tides for proper irrigation. Not to mention, Carolina Gold was grown only in South Carolina Low Country and Coastal Georgia. It made rice growers in those regions wealthier.  

In fact, census records reveal that an average of 45 slaves lived at Drayton Hall per year to irrigate and grow crops. Unfortunately, the success of these crops relied on the forced labor of hundreds of slaves.  Women mostly worked in the rice fields from these salves, whereas other enslaved men, children, and women worked throughout the property. They acted as house slaves, blacksmiths, coopers, and wheelwrights.

Drayton's Journey to Charleston 

In 1679, Drayton came to Charleston from Barbados abroad on the ship Mary. Plus, Drayton bought with him a slave family better known as the Bowens. In fact, census records show that Drayton owned 12 acres, seven slaves, the indenture of a white slave, and a hired white servant.

While settlement to Carolina was initially due to the land, Drayton arrived, cattle ranching alongside cropping had become profitable. Not to mention, it was through cattle ranching that Drayton saved up a fortune.

Moreover, it's more than likely that the Bowens family helped construct the house. Although, it must be noted that it is highly unusual for slaves to have surnames. Not just this, but several members of the Bowen family are buried in a cemetery present near the main entrance. Moreover, many Bowen descendants still reside in the area. 

A Closer Look at the Architecture of Drayton Hall

Typically, a classical Georgian-Palladian home's architectural symmetry requires the main house to be bordered by two similar outbuildings. 

In the Drayton Hall, the Georgian Palladian architecture is met by a fantastic laundry flanking and a colossal kitchen flanking. Unfortunately, the earthquake in 1886 caused the demise of the laundry building. 

On the flip side, in 1893, the Seas Islands Hurricane led to the destruction of the kitchen structure. For this reason, only the foundation of the Drayton Hall remains. In addition, upon visiting the Magnolia Plantation- where the Drayton Hall was constructed- you'll find that the foundation of the house is a historic 18th-century hunting lodge.  

You can even find a restored slave quarter built among some of the prettiest gardens in South America. However, there are no leftovers of Thomas Drayton's earlier plantation. It is because Union Troops burned down the ranch. 

Today, Drayton Hall's magnificent collection of decorative arts and artifacts represents diverse and exciting stories during the 18th and 19th centuries. It includes the tale of the family, ethnicity, artistry, construction, innovation, social and economic enterprise, and the impact of war and the environment. 

Probate Inventories- What Did Thomas Drayton Own?

One of the most exciting parts of historical documentary records is probate inventories. 

During the 17th and 18th centuries, after someone would pass away, a group of local men would get together and visit the deceased's property. They would then appraise the property to ensure they had a complete, in-depth record of the entire estate if any creditors made a claim. 

In some cases, the appraisers would walk through the house and list the individual's property room by room. Thus, the appraisal revealed their objects and the details of the occupied space as well. 

In July 1724, a couple of Drayton's neighbors gathered and went to Drayton Hall so that his wife would show them everything he owned. The inventory they produced resides in the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

To Sum it Up- The Preservation of Drayton Hall

South Carolina offers a vast array of iconic, historic buildings. A famous, majestic building in South Carolina is Drayton Hall, located outside Charleston on the Ashley River. 

Once the Nation Trust purchased the Drayton Hall, they decided not to alter nor embellish the home's original architectural details. The building was designed, constructed, and finished during the 17th century and 18th centuries. Even today, it stands tall on the Magnolia Plantation, boasting its original design and construction. 

It means that the Drayton Hall is unchanged from its history of seven generations of Drayton ownership and environmental impacts. Today students of architecture and architectural enthusiasts frequently visit the Drayton Hall due to its impressive architectural purity.

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