Original and Ancient: Our Visit to Charleston's Drayton Hall

August 15, 2013

Original and Ancient: Our Visit to Charleston's Drayton Hall

Drayton Hall has seen ten generations of Draytons, seven generations of which lived in and left their mark on the grand English country-style home towering over the Ashley River. The manor was unlike anything else when it was built and was called “Drayton’s Palace.” It survived the American Revolution, the Civil War, and today survives time and urban sprawl. Hauntingly untouched, Drayton Hall is in near-original condition. This makes it truly stand out from the other grand plantations in Charleston. It’s like stepping back in time. The air is thick with hundreds of years of history.

The children and I spent the long July 4th weekend in one of our favorite Southern cities, Charleston, South Carolina. I looked up the Blue Star Museums in the area and Drayton Hall was among them. The perfect chance to check out a plantation!  Charleston is famous for its sprawling, beautiful plantations and I’ve wanted to visit one for a while…. But the steep admissions has kept me away. With 4 kids, that really adds up! I simple couldn’t resist visiting Drayton Hall for free. Thank you, Drayton Hall and the Blue Star Museums Initiative, for supporting our troops and for the fantastic opportunity! (Blue Star Museums- http://www.bluestarfam.org/Programs/Blue_Star_Museums).

My sister-on-law (also a military wife), her kids, and our clan drove out to the plantation bright and early Saturday morning. I was a bit worried about some reviews I read stating that this is absolutely not for kids, but I disagree with that. First, we do so many kid things that sometimes we’re going to do an outing that interests mom. Secondly, kids are the future and if we want them to preserve the past they need to learn to love and respect it. There’s no reason kids can’t learn a thing or two from visiting a plantation and sit nicely through the tour. I’m raising cultured kids—visiting historical sites is a big part of what we do! They not only enjoyed the tour, but loved the plantation grounds and got a lot out of our visit.

John Drayton bought the property in the late 1730s and the grand house was completed in 1742. Indigo and rice were farmed on this 630-acre plantation. It was in the Drayton Family until the 1970’s, when the cost of upkeep led the family to hand the house over to the National Trust for Historical Preservation to manage and maintain. We learned a lot about the Drayton family and life on a plantation. I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been to have Redcoats camping out in your garden (and destroying it) or invading your land! John Drayton died as the family fled from the British in 1779, suffering from a seizure while crossing the Cooper River and buried in an unmarked grave. How tragic!  The British returned a second time in 1780 and several thousand troops encamped on the plantation grounds! Several generals used the house as their headquarters. By the time peace returned in late 1782, the fields, gardens, and many buildings were severely damaged and would have to be rebuilt.  What a history!

By the time the Civil War began, Drayton Hall was no longer the Drayton family’s primary residence but was still an active plantation with around 30 slaves. It’s a mystery how Drayton Hall escaped the massive destruction of the war, but it was one of three Charleston plantations to avoid destruction. There are several interesting theories, though. The first theory is that one of the Drayton slaves claimed that the plantation was owned by a Union Man. The second theory is that the infamous general Sherman was in love with one of the Drayton ladies and spared the plantation because of his undying love (tres romantique!). The third theory is that John Drayton put yellow flags around the property marking the hall as a smallpox hospital. Who wants to go near a smallpox hospital? There is evidence that the hall was used as some sort of hospital, though I am partial to the love story.

We truly enjoyed our time at Drayton Hall. I loved the intricate carvings and decorations and the fact that everything was as-is.  There was nothing fake or romanticized about this place. How amazing to walk through the halls of history. The river walk was fantastic too, although it has been particularly rainy in Charleston and the grounds were quite swampy. By the time we finished our walk, we were saturated and covered in mud. Fortunately we did the house tour first!

I’m so glad we made Drayton Hall a part of our Charleston experience. I would certainly go back! I love history and this site is one that shouldn’t be missed. Don’t pass it by just because you have kids. Culture is something that should most definitely be passed on from one generation to the next. We may not have a plantation home to pass on through seven generations, but we can pass on a respect and reverence for the past and a deeper understanding of our American heritage.


The Melvilles are a family of six that loves camping, hitting the beach, hiking, and experiencing the amazing cities of the South. Nature, photography, and education are Jennifer Melville’s passions. Add in a smattering of professional writing, military moves, and homeschooling and it’s a pretty full life! 



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