Drayton Hall is a remarkable colonial house; in fact, it is the earliest and finest example of Palladian architecture in the United States. As such, you might expect that it was designed by a famous architect. However, research indicates that Drayton Hall was likely designed by John Drayton (d. 1779) himself. 

Little is known about Drayton’s life prior to purchasing the tract of land on which he would construct Drayton Hall. Born to Thomas and Ann Drayton around 1715, it has not been determined whether he traveled to Europe or was educated abroad. Nevertheless, clues present within Drayton Hall’s architecture, archaeological record, and museum collection indicate an intimate connection to England and the ideas of the intellectual enlightenment that spread from Europe throughout the 18th century.

Drayton Hall’s architecture, for example, was heavily influenced by the classically inspired design principles originally put forth by Andrea Palladio in Italy during the 16th century. Such were embraced in England from the 17th century, and gained momentum in the UK and the American colonies during the 18th century through the publication of architectural pattern books.

Documentary resources indicate that Drayton used a range of pattern books to design his masterpiece, and filled his library with these and many other titles including works on landscape design, astronomy, ornithology, and horticulture. Several popular 18th-century architectural books are listed among the volumes that likely comprised the personal library of John Drayton. Such books were often consulted by wealthy intellectuals who wished to direct the construction of their estates.

Among the architectural elements in Drayton Hall that are attributable to these books are two classically-inspired overmantels that appear in William Kent’s, Designs of Inigo Jones, and James Gibbs’, A Book of Architecture, respectively.  Considering the extravagant cost of acquiring such volumes and the education necessary to utilize them, the architectural books in John Drayton’s library offer valuable insight into his wealth and intellect.

The original treble or w-shaped roof and decorative plaster ceilings are among numerous elements of the house that appear to be directly related to architectural books listed in a family library inventory created by Charles Drayton. The publication dates of these books establish that they likely belonged to John, and at least one of the books is clearly the design source for another chimneypiece on the first floor.

We are constantly studying our historic structures for clues that tell us how the main house and surviving outbuildings were designed, built, and used, how they changed over time, and what stories they have to tell about the people who lived and worked here. Because Drayton Hall has never been restored, we have the rare opportunity to study materials and designs from every period in the house’s history—all the way back to the time of its construction.

Browse through John Drayton’s Library.

John Draytons Library Inventory

Above:This listing from Charles Drayton’s journal is likely an inventory of his father John Drayton’s library.

Image credit: Drayton Hall staff

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