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18th- and 19th- Century Drayton Family Artifacts

Materials From Around the World


Archaeological excavations around the main house of Drayton Hall and the North and South Flanker buildings have revealed an assemblage of exceptional artifacts that illustrate the wealth and refinement of the eighteenth-century Drayton family. Through the advent of rice and indigo cultivation and exportation, the Drayton family gained prosperity and became full participants in the British consumer revolution. This revolution was also fueled by the growth in the trans-Atlantic trade which allowed the English colonists to acquire goods from around the world. The Drayton family's collection included goods from China, Ireland, Germany, England, and the Netherlands. The remains of this consumption, ranging from highly decorative ceramics and fine glasswares to furniture hardware and clock parts, facilitate an understanding of the taste and material culture of eighteenth-century Charleston planters.

Changing styles and manufacturing techniques of ceramics in the late eighteenth century also coincided with the American Revolution in the North American colonies. The Revolutionary War also had dramatic effects on Drayton Hall and its occupants; John Drayton died while fleeing the property in 1779. As a result, his son Charles Drayton took over ownership in 1785 until his death in 1820; a change that is reflected in the archaeological materials from his tenure.

But the prosperity of the eighteenth-and nineteenth-century Draytons would not have been possible if it were not for the work of enslaved Africans and their descendants. The material culture that remains from Drayton Hall's African residents demonstrates how cultural practices from Africa were carried to and employed in the New World.

This Chinese-export porcelain tea bowl has an overglazed decoration of cranes, mosquitos, and floral motifs from the mid-eighteenth century, Yongzheng period (ca. 1722-1750). This rare example was excavated with three additional matching tea bowls, saucers, and a waste bowl. John Drayton may have ordered these specifically for Drayton Hall.
Artifacts related to 18th-century entertaining include a decanter, etched beaker, and faceted wine glass stem. All are made of lead crystal, and the decanter, with three broadly spaced rings, was manufactured in Cork, Ireland, in the 1780s.
Additional imports uncovered archeologically are an assortment of 18th- and 19th-century tin-glazed earthenware "delft" tiles. Used to line fireplaces, at least eight varieties of tiles have been identified at Drayton Hall, and this is probably a reflection of changing styles. Delft tiles were manufactured in England and the Netherlands from the 16th to the 19th century, and popular themes depicted on the tiles include flowers, birds, soldiers, maritime activities, biblical scenes, and geometric patterning.
The intricate blue and gray stoneware medallion from a jug or tankard was made in the Westerwald region of Germany. The "GR" in the center stands for Georgius Rex, or King George, and became popular after the first King George came into power in 1714. It is likely that this piece was introduced into the South Carolina colony by John Drayton in the mid-eighteenth century. After the American Revolution, however, this piece may not have held favor anymore and may have been discarded by Charles Drayton if the vessel had not already been broken by then.
Charles Drayton most likely acquired this engine-turned creamware bowl (ca. 1785-1820). The bowl is decorated with circle and half-circle bands. The fragments that make up this piece were found archaeologically near the North Flanker in 2009. Creamware was an early attempt by the English potters to emulate the Chinese-export porcelains that the colonists were so fond of.
Having almost the exact vessel shape as the above creamware bowl, this pearlware version (ca. 1790-1830) is decorated with hand painted polychrome flowers and bands. Again, the English potters were attempting to advance their emulation of the Chinese-export porcelains, adding more blue to the glaze in this version and making these vessels distinct from their creamware counterparts. This piece also likely belonged to Charles Drayton.
Several of the nineteenth-century artifacts uncovered at Drayton Hall reflect the medical endeavors of Dr. Charles Drayton I and his son Dr. Charles Drayton II. A pair of fleams, for example, would have been used by the Draytons for phlebotomy or bloodletting. The depletion technique of bloodletting was viewed as the first line of defense against a wide array of colonial and antebellum ailments including sore throat, chest pains and fainting. The Drayton fleams, consisting of iron blades in a brass case, would have unfolded similarly to a pocket knife for use in opening veins. Additional medical materials used by the Draytons include a delft apothecary jar from the Netherlands. This shallow, bowl-like vessel would have been used for storing ointments or medicinal herbs.