Drayton Hall Plantation SC: 11 Incredible Historical Facts

Drayton Hall in Charleston SC is one of the many plantations you can visit to get a glimpse of colonial history, but it stands out from the crowd because it’s the oldest unrestored historic site open to the public in America.

I remember first visiting Drayton Hall when I was writing my Civil War novel, Shades of Gray. The tour had a lasting effect on me, and some aspects of the plantation’s storied history are now part of this award-winning novel.

Part of the allure of this plantation is that the history of Drayton Hall predates the Revolutionary War. The property harbors hidden layers and many untold stories that go beyond the typical guided tour.

Keep reading about this historical Southern gem and learn things you won’t find anywhere else.

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Stately Drayton Hall, a 3 story brick structure with a 2 story white porch, reflected in water, with Spanish moss hanging in the foreground.
My favorite photo of Drayton Hall, which I took while watching carefully for the resident alligator(s).

Ready to book your Drayton Hall tour? Built in the 1740s, it is the best preserved colonial plantation house in the United States.

Drayton Hall History

John Drayton, who was born on the adjoining Magnolia Plantation, acquired the Drayton Hall property in 1738 at the age 23. Amazingly (and thankfully) it remained in possession of the Drayton family for seven generations and is now being preserved by a non-profit organization.

This precisely symmetrical Georgian house looks immense and immaculate against a blue sky, making it hard to believe it has survived earthquakes, war, pestilence and pillage.

One of the main reasons I’m drawn to the history of Drayton Hall is that the house itself has been preserved rather than restored.

This allows visitors to step directly into the past and experience its authentic beauty and raw history.

A large oak tree is bent to the right and frames the river side of Drayton Hall Charleston SC.
The river side of the plantation has beautiful old trees.

Visiting Charleston? Get your multi-activity pass for a great price! Tour pass with more than 40 attractions!

11 Little-Known Facts About Drayton Hall

As I said before, there are other plantation tours in Charleston SC., but Drayton Hall Plantation has a really unique history. Here are some of the little-known facts that make Drayton Hall so special.

1. An Old House With Original Architecture

Thanks to a technology called dendrochronology (a tree-ring dating technique), historians know that the timbers used to support the roof of Drayton Hall were felled in December of 1747 or January of 1748.

To put that in perspective, when Drayton Hall was built by John Drayton, George Washington was 6 years old and the town of Charleston was 70. (Amazing!)

A yellow graphic that says Planning a Trip? and advertises for a 16-page travel guide.

2. Original Furniture

The Drayton Hall desk and bookcase combination is thought to be the finest piece of furniture surviving from the American colonies. The piece includes beautiful inlays and 14 secret compartments!

These pieces were crafted from rare woods from six continents. After undergoing a a delicate furniture conservation at Colonial Williamsburg and a loan to another museum, the desk is back at Drayton Hall.

3. Lots of Bricks

More than 366,000 bricks were used to construct the house. Stray fingerprints left in the bricks are the signatures of the enslaved who fired, moved, and placed each brick.

An arched brick window at Drayton Hall.
The craftsmanship on the house can be seen inside and out.

4. Only Plantation House Spared

When Union troops burned their way along the Ashley River in 1865, Drayton Hall Plantation was among the only ones left unscathed. There are a number of legendary tales about why, but the one that stuck with me (and that appears in my novel Shades of Gray), is that Union troops were led to believe the house was being used to treat small pox victims and so they steered clear.

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5. The Last Drayton At Drayton Hall

Drayton Hall was owned by seven generations of the Drayton family before becoming a historic site. Miss Charlotta, the last Drayton to live in the house, passed away in 1969. She kept the house the way it was while living there, with no furnace, plumbing, electricity or running water!

When I walked through, I imagined the many generations of Draytons who fell in love, had babies, held parties, and celebrated in this house. The pencil marks of the height of the children can still be seen on the walls.

Another Amazing Fact: Some descendants of the enslaved population lived on the property until 1960.

Related Post: You can also tour the nearby McLeod Plantation in Charlestown.

A graphic for the Civil War novel Shades of Gray by Jessica James featuring a quote review about the book and the book cover.

6. Drayton Hall’s Connection With Our Fourth of July Celebration

Back in 1778, when the delegates in Philadelphia debated how Americans should observe their newly declared independence, William Henry Drayton argued for the day to be one of celebration with “certain grand fireworks,” rather than one of “fasting and mourning” as another South Carolinian proposed.

In the end, William Henry’s more popular idea won, and we still celebrate with fireworks to this day.

7. History Of Drayton Hall And The Art Of Grilling

By 1794, the Draytons celebrated July fourth in another way that’s popular today as well. William Henry’s brother Charles (the second owner of Drayton Hall) celebrated July 4 with a beef barbeque!

Leftovers Anyone? Charles noted in his journal: “Killed an ox to be cured in the barbecue manner. It is said the meat so cured will keep perfectly, & be more juicy and fresh, than salted or pickled.” 

Almost two months later, on August 30, Charles recorded: “the ox killed July 4. was all eaten 2 or 3 days ago. that is 7 lb daily for 56 days or 8 Weeks.”

8. Mystery Carving Over The mantel

You can’t help but be in awe of the decorative carvings throughout Drayton Hall. The eighteenth century craftsmanship is truly stunning.

But the overmantel cartouche in the Great Hall has lots of people wondering what it is. Possum? Weasel? Maybe a fox? You decide.

Engraving over the mantel at Drayton Hall showing an animal head that is a mystery.
Looks a bit like a possum at first glance, but then again… maybe a wolverine.

The plaster ceilings are truly exceptional works of art. The ceiling in one of the parlors at Drayton Hall is one of the only original hand-carved plaster ceilings that remain intact in North America.

The plaster ceiling in the Great Hall at Drayton Hall is circular and intricate, showing little triangles around a flowery object.
Plaster ceiling at Drayton Hall.

9. A Feud In Drayton Hall Plantation History

Slave labor was used to help build the house and sustain the rice and indigo plantation for more than a century, yet the Drayton family is linked by marriage to the Grimke sisters of Charleston. These sisters were abolitionists and were so ardent that they left the South permanently in 1832.

10. History Of Drayton Hall Still Being Uncovered

Drayton Hall remains an active archaeological site. There were archeologists on site when I was there, who had uncovered the foundation of the left flanker of the house that no longer stands.

There were flankers on each side of the house and a colonnade connecting them at one time.

Picture of Drayton Hall plantation with a brick flanker building on each side.

Fun Fact: Only 2 percent of the property has been excavated, yet more than 1 million artifacts have been discovered.

A few of the 1 million artifacts that have been found at Drayton Hall, including pieces of pottery and tiles.
A few of the 1 million artifacts found at the plantation.

11. A National Historic Treasure

Because Drayton Hall has barely been touched with ‘improvements’ even after more than 200 years, it remains one of the most treasured 18th-century structures in the United States.

Want to see something else you won’t find on any tour of Drayton Hall Plantation? Check out this video about the graffiti on the walls.

Drayton Hall is in the distance, with the Grand Oak, an old live oak stands to the left. There is a stone walkway leading to the tree.
The Grand Oak at Drayton Hall.

A Glimpse Inside The Drayton Hall Plantation House

Drayton Hall was the center of John Drayton’s extensive indigo and rice planting venture. Not only is it one of the finest examples of Georgian Palladian architecture in America, it is the only surviving colonial plantation house on the Ashley River.

The stairs at Drayton Hall rise 27 feet and retain most of their original hand-carved mahogany details. According to records, the walls were painted a buff color in the eighteenth century, and the beautiful mahogany was a brilliant vermillion.

The inside of Drayton Hall Plantation house shows wood floors and two staircases rising up two decks, with green paint on the walls.
The rich history of Drayton Hall Plantation is on display in the well-preserved interior.

In the cellar, you can see the large fireplace where enslaved people cooked meals for the Drayton family.

The basement of Drayton Hall Plantation house shows large flat stones on the floor and three archways separating the room.
The flooring and the beams in the basement are amazing to see. You can also a modern support pole on the right.

Visiting Drayton Hall Plantation

Drayton Hall is located 12 miles northwest of Charleston SC.

The ribbon of sandy road that winds gently through a massive oak allee’ on your approach to Drayton Hall is the stuff that dreams are made of.

And when the trees suddenly end, the view reveals a wide expanse of lawn stretching out in front of a Georgian-style house that you can just tell, holds lots of secrets.

The brick Drayton Hall Plantation house sits in the distance and is framed by a large live oak tree whose limbs are draped with Spanish Moss.
The wide expanse of lawn in front of Drayton Hall.

Drayton Hall Tours

Drayton Hall plantation is open Wednesday to Monday. Closed on Tuesdays.

The one-hour guided house tour is available at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.

All-Inclusive Tickets
$32 per person
$15 youth (ages 7-15) online/ $18 on-site
Children under 7 are free

A cluster of turtles on the bank of a body of water at Drayton Hall.
I didn’t see any alligators, but these turtles were sunning themselves on the bank of this waterway.

Additional attractions include:

  • Lapsed gardens and nature trails along the Ashley River (including the fantastic view across to North Charleston).
  • Drayton Hall has a lovely Museum Shop.
  • An 18th-century African-American cemetery features an entry-portal designed by famed Charleston metal-worker Philip Simmons.
The view from the yard of Drayton Hall to the river with benches and trees.
The view of the river from Drayton Hall Plantation’s yard.

Is Drayton Hall Haunted?

This is always a question people ask about old houses, and in this case, it might be true.

In fact, many people—visitors and staff alike—say: “Absolutely yes, Drayton Hall is haunted.”

Several visitors believe they have captured photographic evidence of ghosts or other spiritual beings inside the house, including shadows, circles, or odd bright areas.

Did you know you can take a haunted horse and carriage tour in Charleston?

Drayton Hall was featured on an episode of America’s Most Haunted Places that aired on The Travel Channel in 2003 with the claim that original family members are said to still walk through the house.

Staff members were interviewed and described their encounters with something they felt sure was “not of this world.” Others have also reported unusual experiences in different areas across the grounds.

One thing I know for sure… you can feel the presence of the past at Drayton Hall.

If You Dare: Take this Charleston Ghost and Graveyard Night-time Tour!

The Drayton Family Of South Carolina

Drayton Hall’s survival from 1748 to the present day can be attributed to a bit of luck and a lot to the Drayton family who safeguarded it through hurricanes, the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the earthquake of 1886, and, most recently, rampant development.

William Henry Drayton, the son of the owner, was born at Drayton Hall in 1742. After spending much of his youth studying in England, he returned to South Carolina in 1763. 

As a fierce supporter of America’s independence, William Henry served as a delegate and later president of the provincial South Carolina Congress.

His speeches about breaking free from Great Britain are considered to be among the best in American history.  Once America declared independence, he was appointed a member of the Continental Congress.

Who Owns Drayton Hall?

After a 1973 lease from the Drayton family, the Historic Charleston Foundation, the National Trust, the state of South Carolina and the Federal Government pulled together $680,900 to acquire the house and 633 acres around it.

Drayton Hall is now owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and managed by the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust, which opened the house to the public in 1976

The National Trust is the group I turn to find historic hotels. There is nothing better than finding a beautifully restored accommodation when traveling. Make sure you check out my reviews of hotels where I’ve stayed.

The stately brick Drayton Hall stands far in the distance, framed by tree limbs and their shadows.
The stately brick Drayton Hall stands far in the distance, framed by tree limbs and their shadows.

Plan Your Trip To Charleston

The Charleston, S.C. area has many plantations, including Hopsewee, home to a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Hampton, which is also rich in Revolutionary War history. Both area located north of Charleston and south of Georgetown.

The picturesque Boone Hall can be found just outside of the city, and Middleton Place Plantation, and McLeod Plantation are located just down the road from Drayton Hall.

Magnolia Hall and Gardens: One of my favorites. You can wander the beautiful grounds for hours.
Boone Hall: Picturesque oak trees and original slaves quarters.
Middleton Place: One of the most beautifully landscaped gardens.
McLeod Plantation: Tour focuses on the enslaved and Gullah culture.

An old Spanish moss-draped tree limb frames the 3 story brick Drayton Hall Plantation.
The long history of Drayton Hall Plantation can be seen in the architecture and the trees.
The brick privy at Drayton Hall with two windows and three steps leading up to the door.
This is the privy at Drayton Hall that held seven seats.

Need A Hotel Near Drayton Hall?

The view from the porch of the river side of Drayton Hall Plantation house, shows a massive lawn and trees. The porch has an iron railing and checkerboard floor.
The view from the porch of the river side of Drayton Hall.

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