Drayton Hall
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From Drayton-family diaries and letters to oral histories conducted with members of the Bowens family, there is so much more to learn about the people who lived and worked at Drayton Hall. Your membership can make this research possible. Become a member.

Seven Generations

Stories of family, race, and culture

For seven generations, Drayton Hall remained in the Drayton family — from its founding in 1738 by John Drayton until 1974 when Charles and Frank Drayton made the decision to sell their family's ancestral home to the National Trust. During that time — 236 years-seven generations of the Bowens family lived and worked at Drayton Hall too, as did hundreds of other people of African descent, both before and after emancipation. These are their stories.

The Drayton Family

From Charles Drayton, Drayton Hall's great biographer, to Dr. John Drayton, who may have saved the house from destruction during the Civil War; from Rebecca Perry Drayton, who encountered German Jaegers during the Revolutionary War, to Miss Charlotta Drayton, who left a provision in her will asking her nephews not to make any major changes to the main house. Follow Drayton Hallís ownership line from the 18th to the 21st century.
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The Bowens Family

According to family tradition, the first members of the Bowens family arrived in South Carolina as slaves brought by John Drayton's father, Thomas, or by John's grandfather. After the Civil War, Caesar Bowens became the caretaker for the property. His grandson, Richmond Herschel Bowens, was born here in 1908. After returning to Charleston from Chicago in the late 1970s and until his death in 1998, he served as the Trust's richest resource on African-American history at Drayton Hall.
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The African-American Community

From the 18th-century community of enslaved people who lived in houses that likely resembled traditional houses in Africa, to the 19th-century community who lived in barracks and houses along the high ground, to the 20th century African-American community that developed along Ashley River Road, people of African descent have been an integral part of Drayton Hall's history.
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A Message from Charles Drayton

Somewhere among the Drayton papers, there's a photograph of me taken in the 1920s; I'm standing on the mound near the sundial with a tennis racquet in my hand. I was so young at the time, I don't recall the picture being taken. But I wasn't much older than that when I first became aware of my family's country place called Drayton Hall. My father and mother, my younger brother Frank, and I would often drive out from town on weekends, and sometimes Father would take me with him on dove shoots.

It wasn't until much later, that Drayton Hall's real significance became clear to me. By then my Aunt Charlotta Drayton was the owner. Aunt Charley, as we called her, dearly loved the house and fully participated in the tradition of leaving it unchanged and authentic as possible.

When Aunt Charley died in 1969, my brother and I inherited Drayton Hall. It was her wish that the property be "preserved for further generations." The boundaries of that responsibility had grown enormously after almost 250 years of family ownership. We looked for a solution that could permanently ensure Drayton Hall's future. The National Trust was the answer. I'm still convinced it was the best thing we could have donečfor those future generations and for Drayton Hall.