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Little is known about John Drayton’s life prior to purchasing the tract of land in 1738 on which he would construct Drayton Hall. Born into one of South Carolina’s leading colonial families around 1715, Drayton is virtually absent from the public record until his purchase of the property. His wealth was facilitated by the institution of slavery. While no documents survive from this period to provide the exact number of enslaved individuals owned by John Drayton, he owned more than 100 commercial plantations totaling approximately 76,000 acres of land, and the figure is likely in the thousands.
Charles Drayton, John’s second son, was a product of the Scottish Enlightenment and completed a degree in medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. In 1784, he took up residence at Drayton Hall with his wife, Hester Middleton. From Charles’s diary, we can see a stratified enslaved society at Drayton Hall through his mention of skilled artisans like blacksmiths, coopers, and carpenters. These entries about enslaved people are brief, however, some people are mentioned repeatedly over the course of time, but by first name only. This created social distance between himself and his human property. Charles mentions Toby and Quash, the carpenters, Dumplin, the cook, and George, the bustler.
Following the Civil War, phosphate mining and manufacturing became the primary industry in the Lowcountry until the 1920s. The industry relied on the labor of African American freedmen, so communities of laborers formed as they were drawn to the opportunity of work in the mines.
Portions of that community continued to live on the property at Drayton Hall until 1960. Families lived here for generations—raising children, maintaining their houses and the landscape, cooking, farming, gardening—keeping Drayton Hall alive. As a result, the property was never abandoned, nor did it sit idle. It was home to a thriving community that preserved the property by living there.