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The History of Drayton Hall
John Drayton’s Palace & Gardens
Shortly after 37-year old widower John Drayton took up residence at Drayton Hall with sons William Henry and Charles in the early 1750s, his newly constructed home seat was referenced in the South Carolina Gazette as nothing less than a “Palace and Gardens.”
Thanks to research conducted by a multitude of scholars over the last 40 years, we now understand Drayton’s palace as the first fully executed example of Palladian architecture in North America; that his gardens were composed of idealized English landscapes reminiscent of contemporary grounds created in the British Isles by designers such as Capability Brown and William Kent; and that the interior spaces of Drayton’s palace were finished with the finest examples of European and Charleston-made material goods, furniture, a wealth of imported ceramics, and fashionable artwork. Taken as a whole, Drayton Hall was one of the most significant elite plantations assembled in colonial America, and its rare survival makes the estate an icon of American history, design, and historic preservation.
Drayton’s 350-acre masterpiece was conceived as a show place and a management hub at the center of his vast commercial plantation empire. Throughout his lifetime, he owned upwards of 100 different plantations totaling approximately 76,000 acres across South Carolina and Georgia where scores of enslaved Africans, Native Americans and their descendants grew rice and indigo for exportation to Europe and reared cattle and pigs for shipment to the Caribbean sugar islands. The legacy of this slave society survives today in the form of Drayton’s home, its landscape, and surviving collections.
“Drayton Hall [is] a place where time stands still. The first time I saw it I was overwhelmed with a sense that things that mattered had happened here. The house itself stands as a tribute to a past that we wish to honor, not to alter. There are beautifully restored places that we can visit, but the wonder of Drayton Hall lies in the quiet you hear through the open doorways as the breeze sweeps across the portico, through the rooms, and away on the currents of the Ashley River. Is it the 1700’s? The 1800’s or the 21st century, I cannot tell. I only know that this place that is a part of our history is a part of our hearts as well and we are better for it.”
—Elayne B., member in the Friends of Drayton Hall
Archived in December, 2015
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