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From Slavery to Freedom

The 18th-Century

One of the earliest records in the possession of Drayton Hall is the estate list of John Drayton's father, Thomas. This document, dated 1724, includes the names and occupations of several dozen enslaved people. John Drayton inherited one-third of this population upon his father's death, and he likely brought them with him to Drayton Hall when he purchased the property.

Origins of the 18th-century Enslaved Population

Judging from the estate list, these enslaved people were likely from Africa, the Caribbean, and South Carolina. As the Draytons had been operating plantations in South Carolina since the 1670s, many of their slaves would have been born here. However, as late as the 1760s, John Drayton was still importing slaves from the West Indies.

The African-born members of the community would have been a diverse group. Although almost all of them would have come from West Africa, that region encompasses many different cultures. Some of the African names on the 18th-century lists — Affra, Quash, and Toby, for example — suggest a Central West African origin. Other names such as Maria, Joseph, and Caterina suggest the influence of Portuguese Catholicism in places like Angola. Still other names show the influence of Islam: Ishmael, Abram, and Fatima. Several of the enslaved people on Thomas Drayton's estate list may have been Native Americans as it has been estimated that, in the early colonial period, as many as one-third of all enslaved people in the Lowcountry were Native Americans. Many others could have been "mustees" — people with a Native American and African heritage.

Searching for Evidence of 18th-century Dwellings

An archaeologist's conception of a middle eighteenth-century slave house at Curriboo Plantation in Berkeley County, South Carolina. [From Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African America, 1650-1800 by Leland Ferguson, 1992, pp. 65.]
Archaeological research indicates that the earliest housing for slaves was located on Drayton Hall's land-front lawn, near the curve in the present-day drive. During the 2003 and 2005 archaeological field schools, archaeologists discovered a number of post-hole features — dark circular stains in the dirt that are the remnants of disintegrated wood posts that were likely used in the construction of earthfast dwellings and other structures — throughout this area of the lawn. In fact, archaeologists were looking for such post holes as evidence of 18th-century slave housing (as opposed to looking for foundations), because historians believe that housing for slaves during that period would have looked more like traditional West African huts than English cabins.

Work on a Rice Plantation

The rice plantation at Drayton Hall would have also looked much like Africa. It was African knowledge that made rice a commercially viable crop, and many of the enslaved women would have worked in the rice fields. However, enslaved people not only worked in agriculture at Drayton Hall, but also as coopers, blacksmiths, carpenters, boatmen, and domestic servants. It is very likely that enslaved people also contributed to the construction of the main house, and that over the years they were responsible for building and maintaining many of the dependency structures, such as barns, loom houses, and the blacksmith shop.

The American Revolution: A Chance for Freedom

During the American Revolution, many slaves across the Lowcountry escaped to freedom or to serve one of the armies, and the war greatly reduced the number of enslaved people at Drayton Hall. A "book of Negroes" recorded by a joint British-American commission in 1783 contains information on the enslavement, escape, and service of over 3,000 formerly enslaved people. This book includes the following entries:

Samuel Drayton, 40, stout fellow, (Edward Hannah). Formerly slave to Mrs. Drayton near Charlestown; left her before the Siege of Charlestown.

Cath Drayton, 40, ordinary wench, (Edward Hannah). Formerly slave to Mrs. Drayton near Charlestown; left her before the Siege of Charlestown.

Samuel and Cath Drayton are listed on the ship Ann & Elizabeth bound for Port Roseway, Nova Scotia. As Rebecca Perry Drayton was widowed by John in 1779, it seems that both Samuel and Cath Drayton were enslaved people that she owned. Although they could have belonged to William Henry Drayton's widow, Dorothy, this is unlikely because Dorothy had left the Charleston area by April, 1779 having fled to the Pee Dee area of South Carolina following the British invasion and the destruction of her home. Black Loyalists, such as Samuel and Cath, arrived in Nova Scotia in 1783 and founded a number of free black settlements. One of the largest of these was Birchtown. Samuel Drayton later appears on the list of the Muster of Free Blacks in the Settlement of Birchtown 1784, listed as "Head of Family."

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