Check out today’s edition of The Post and Courier for a feature on Drayton Hall’s furniture collection and an interview with Carter Hudgins, director of preservation and education. There are 26 objects from Drayton Hall that will be on display at Colonial Williamsburg starting February 15 in an exhibit titled “A Rich and Varied Culture: The Material World of the Early South.”
by Anne Drayton Nelson
Last June I had a wonderful opportunity to see a preview of the upcoming Exhibit entitled A Rich and Varied Culture: The Material World of the Early South that will open officially at Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum on February 15, 2014. This Drayton Hall-sponsored trip included staff, Drayton family members, current and former advisory site council members, and other sincerely interested individuals.
We had a lovely gathering the night before the private tour, and the day of the tour we were greeted and led by the expert curators at Colonial Williamsburg, including Ron Hurst and Margaret Pritchard. The exhibit has been in the works for several years and covers all aspects of the decorative arts in the early South. We were given behind-the-scenes views of the various departments of restoration, including furniture, paper, art, and upholstery, and shown Colonial Williamsburg’s extensive collection. It was absolutely fascinating to see pieces of furniture in varying stages of restoration, and absolutely astounding to learn of the research applied before any restoration was begun. The curators are incredibly knowledgeable and shared their expertise with enthusiasm and pleasure. It was a most exciting and rewarding experience.
Being a member of the Drayton family, it was especially exciting and rewarding to see pieces that I had known as a child brought back to such vibrant life! The secretary desk, as we called it (now referred to as the “bureau bookcase”), had made a remarkable resurrection. I remembered it as dark, dull, and missing some trim. It is now literally glowing with health and all its wounds repaired and invisible! I also remembered one of its secret compartments, which I remembered only as that—a secret compartment. With the research and restoration, the “prospect”—its formal name—now shows its stunning craftsmanship and wood-carving artistry. The compartment’s “floor” inlay reveals a beautiful star pattern and its mirrored back reflects light onto it. It has become a miniature “ballroom” for storing secret treasures.
Seeing another piece of Drayton family furniture, the 18th-century clothespress, in the process of being restored was also exciting. I had remembered it as beautiful, but what it has become in its restoration is stunning.
Among the other Drayton family pieces that are to be a part of the exhibit, it was uplifting to see the restoration of a 1736 George Edwards watercolor as well as the minute and tedious work of restoring an early architectural rendering of Drayton Hall, which emphasizes the Palladian concept and design. The 1736 telescope that had belonged to builder John Drayton was magnificent with its cleaned and polished brass. It was also moving to see some porcelain pieces that had been in my parents’ home and some that had even been in my own. To have these family heirlooms understood, appreciated, and treasured warms my heart, and having them shared with a wider audience makes me very proud.
I am grateful to the partnership between Drayton Hall and Colonial Williamsburg because it elevates the outreach of both organizations. Each organization has outstanding personnel and when working together they extend the expertise of each. I urge anyone who has the opportunity to attend the DeWitt Wallace exhibit A Rich and Varied Culture: The Material World of the Early South, to do so, as it is a unique and outstanding collection and presentation of treasures from across the early South.
Anne Drayton Nelson is an eighth generation Drayton family descendant who has fond childhood memories of climbing the ancient live oak trees at Drayton Hall. Shown here with her father Charles Henry “Charlie” Drayton, III, at a Thanksgiving gathering at Drayton Hall—an annual tradition for the Drayton family and relatives. The National Trust for Historic Preservation acquired Drayton Hall from Charlie and his late brother, Frank, in 1974, in order to protect and preserve this icon of colonial American architecture.
By Sarah Stroud Clarke, Archaeologist and Curator of Collections at Drayton Hall
October is National Archaeology Month and a great time for me to reflect on all of the current activity taking place around the archaeological collections at Drayton Hall. Archaeological excavations began at Drayton Hall when the National Trust for Historic Preservation gained ownership of the property in 1974. Since then there have been numerous archaeological investigations around the “historic core” of the property, mainly the main house of Drayton Hall, the Privy, and the Garden House, resulting in an estimated one million artifacts in our collection!
Over the course of the past two years much of my work has focused on one of our largest critical priorities—stabilizing the iconic Drayton Hall portico. The portico work has been an interdisciplinary undertaking and it was my job to work with the structural engineers from Bennett Preservation Engineering to expose portions of Drayton Hall’s foundations in order to see how the foundation walls of Drayton Hall had held up over the course of the past 275 years.
As the project progressed, an extensive excavation was completed in the western end of the Drayton Hall basement directly underneath of the portico in order for a shoring system to be installed without damaging any cultural materials that lay beneath the stone floor. It was a wonderful opportunity to explore the central area of the basement as this area had never before been tested archaeologically. Much to my delight, hundreds of artifacts remained trapped under the heavy stones and once the artifacts are cataloged they will reveal new interpretive narratives for this space that was once full of activity by the enslaved population of Drayton Hall.
One of the things that is hardest to explain about archaeology is that my work is not finished once the excavations are completed outside. I often tell our visitors that for every hour I spend working in the field it takes an average of eight hours in the laboratory. Drayton Hall has an active archaeology lab and storage space on-site and I am never far from the artifacts. The archaeological process is a long one and I couldn’t possibly undertake this process without the help of a group of very dedicated and hard-working volunteers comprised of Friends of Drayton Hall.
Over the past four years, a dedicated group of Drayton Hall Friends has come together the third Wednesday of each month to volunteer with the Archaeology portion of our Preservation and Education Department. The “Preservation Wednesday Group” has collectively spent hundreds of hours washing the excavated archaeological artifacts and I am proud to say that they have officially finished washing all of the artifacts excavated since my arrival at Drayton Hall in 2008—a job that would not have been completed without their generous donation of time!
As we move into the next phase of the archaeological process, the group will learn how to label the clean artifacts and will begin to help me weigh and measure them, after which they will be properly cataloged. Archaeologists used to have to use pens with nibs and India ink to label each artifact, but we are now using an innovative system created by other archaeology labs, such as those at James Madison’s Montpelier and Colonial Williamsburg, in which labels are printed on special paper and then applied to the artifacts using clear Paraloid B-72, which does not harm them. This process will save us considerable time and energy and prepare the artifacts for the next step: cataloging.
We are proud to be the second satellite institution to have the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery (DAACS) installed on-site (the first was George Washington’s Mt. Vernon) and will use this system to catalog the entirety of the Drayton Hall archaeological collections. This innovative comparative cataloging system was developed at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and now hosts cataloged archaeological collections from the Chesapeake, South Carolina, and the Caribbean.
It is always an honor to partner with other institutions and we are thrilled to be included in a brand new exhibit at Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Gallery: A Rich and Varied Culture: The Material World of the Early South. The exhibit officially opens in February of 2014 and in addition to the impressive Drayton Hall furniture pieces, a number of archaeological artifacts were selected from the Drayton Hall collections, including this pair of Chinese-export porcelain chocolate cups shown left (click on image for a larger view). From the first quarter of the eighteenth century, they were found in an archaeological feature that pre-dates the construction of Drayton Hall. Drinking chocolate was made fashionable in London during the late seventeenth century by Sir Hans Sloane who added milk and sugar in order to make it more appetizing. Drayton Hall is fortunate to have such a beautiful example of early chocolate cups in our collection. Click here for more on this fascinating topic.
You never know what we might find next at Drayton Hall so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to keep up with our latest discoveries and read more about Drayton Hall archaeology and other preservation activities in our monthly eNewsletter, Circa.
To subscribe to Circa, please email email@example.com with “Sign Me Up for Circa” in the subject line.
When do you smash things in the name of preservation? In preparation for our upcoming repointing project, preservationists Joe and Trish have been creating tiny brick fragments to add to the historic lime mortar we make on site. If you visit in the coming weeks you may see the end result of all that brick smashing–a traditional mortar repointing campaign.
by George W. McDaniel, Ph.D.
SHEAR Conference – July 20, 2013
Each year, millions of people visit historical plantation sites throughout the South. Mount Vernon alone attracts about a million, while Monticello engages about a half million. Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston brings in about 200, 000, while Middleton Place just up the river attracts 100,000, and Drayton Hall nearby attracts over 50,000. Think then of the educational potential of such sites. If interpreted well, they can illustrate the trajectory of Southern- Americans, both black and white, through centuries of time. They can serve as a remedy for the often overlooked contributions of African Americans and help correct a false picture of historical reality. As Pulitzer-prize-winning historian C. Vann Woodward wrote in his American Counterpoint:
The ironic thing about these two great hyphenate minorities, Southern-Americans and Afro-Americans, confronting each other on their native soil for three and a half centuries, is the degree to which they have shaped each other’s destiny, determined each other’s isolation, shared and molded a common culture. It is, in fact, impossible to imagine the one without the, other, and quite futile to try.
If interpreted in such ways, Southern plantation sites can help us understand that history is not a simple linear progression, but rather is much more complex. They can help us appreciate the fact that the people of the past, like us today, are not easy to understand. They too were rife with contradictions, complexities. There are shades of gray, not a simple black and white dichotomy. Decisions were not clear cut or easy to make. Outcomes, for good or bad, were not known in advance. History is nuanced. How to help visitors understand this?
One way, which I’d like to discuss, is by interpreting Southern historical plantations as a place of paradox. That is, historical Southern plantation were at once places of beauty and places of tragedy, places of opportunity and places of oppression; places of freedom and of slavery; they were at once a home and a prison.
As many of you well know, when visitors go to historical Southern plantations, the interpretation too often accents the aesthetics of architecture, decorative arts, landscapes, gardens, and the life of the owners to the neglect of the tragic reality of slavery, which made such places possible. Of course, many Southern plantation sites, ranging from Monticello and Mount Vernon to Montpelier and Drayton Hall were indeed beautiful places. To deny that would be false.
On the other hand, to present only that picture would be false. Southern plantations were like a gulag, a prison camp –where one was sentenced to a confinement that lasted not just for a specific period of years, or even for a lifetime, but rather a confinement lasting from generation to generation to generation.
How to find a path through these seemingly opposing points of view? One solution is to embrace them both and to acknowledge they are both true at the same time, which is the very nature of a paradox: a seeming contradiction that is nonetheless true. It is hoped that by interpreting history as more complex than what visitors may immediately perceive it to be, we can engage them in conversations with us, and among themselves, and thereby enhance and energize their understanding and enjoyment of history. And isn’t that the purpose of a historic site: To get people to understand, enjoy, and talk about history?
As we think about plantations overall as paradox and focus in on the enslaved community, another paradox emerges. As historian Herbert Gutman has shown in his book The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, or John Blassingame in his book The Slave Community, or Charles Joyner in Down By the Riverside, or Philip Morgan in Slave Counterpoint — within this confined “prison” environment, slaves did manage to create families and communities, a tradition of resistance, and a distinctive culture. They passed on values and strategies to succeeding generations after slavery, as represented in their religion, family life, community life, language, music, foodways, or craft traditions. As Lonnie Bunch, Director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, has declared, slaves “made a way out of no way.” They found ways to make a home and to forge a sense of self. They were supposed to be passive, but they found ways to be active agents instead.
In interpreting plantations as paradox, one has to be careful because such a concept just put out baldly could be perceived as too academic or not interesting to visitors. Thus, we need to answer a key question: What do visitors expect when coming to a Southern historical plantation site. By choosing to visit, they obviously have expectations and questions. In response, we need not to dictate only one interpretation, or set of interpretive lens, but rather to open up opportunities for questions. We need to hear from visitors and then find engaging ways to frame the interpretation with the concept of paradox and to interweave it into the interpretation in organic ways.
Recent informal surveys at Drayton Hall provide important clues of visitor questions. Most of the visitors were white, with some African Americans. What respondents showed was that visitors to plantations expect to hear an interpretation of slavery. If not, they found there to be a “big hole” in the story. Several said that previously they had visited plantation sites where slavery was not discussed, and they had left disappointed. As one explained, “It’s history. You can’t explain plantations otherwise. We wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for slavery.”
The questions they wanted to ask were right in line with those historians have been asking. They wanted to know:
- What was it like to be a slave?
- What was their family life?
- Did their families get divided? Sold?
- What about individual slaves’ biographies?
- Could we trace anyone back to Africa?
- At Drayton Hall, who mowed the lawn?
- Their medicine?
- What gave them hope?
- What happened when freedom came?
Paradox offers ways to answer these questions by giving multiple perspectives, rather than one simple one. Paradox can offer seemingly contradictory answers, which are nonetheless true. For example, what gave them hope? On the one hand, the daily, grinding reality of being a slave took away hope in ways that we today can hardly fathom. And some did give up. On the other hand, most did not give up hope; they found meaning within their family, community, work, or other things that people come to hold on to.
The good news is that these are questions that a number of Southern plantation sites are striving to answer. Monticello, National Trust sites like Drayton Hall, Cliveden, and Montpelier, plus others cited in this session are examples. There’s still a long way to go, and funding is tight. And finding support for, and giving credit to, our funding institutions is something all of us need to take more seriously.
So how might we interpret slavery and paradox at our sites and help get people to want to come and learn at Southern plantation sites? One way is to involve African Americans in the telling of their story. To ask them what questions they would like to ask of plantations? What do they value about such places? How do they connect? And to use that information in the interpretation so that visitors can hear, for example, directly from descendants.
As an illustration, I’m going to conclude with about 14 minutes of clips from over 15 hours of oral history interviews I conducted recently with African American descendants of Drayton Hall and with Charles Drayton, the last owner of Drayton Hall. You might feel the tension of paradox, of this plantation as a place of beauty and of oppression, of individual identity and mass anonymity. These are interviews with Drayton Hall descendants, but please imagine them to be at any plantation site you might know. We hope to use these in mobile apps and on our new web site, with the goal being not to “wrap up” history but rather to open it up and to use our plantation site as an opportunity for cross-racial bridge building. In our discussion period, I hope we can talk further about Drayton Hall and the National Trust’s work and hopes for using sites for such a purpose, a purpose that we as a community and as a nation still deeply need to strive towards.
[ video clip not available at this time - please check back at a later date ]
George W. McDaniel has been, since 1989, executive director of Drayton Hall, a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Charleston, SC. A native of Atlanta, he holds a B.A. in history from Sewanee, an M.A.T. in history from Brown University, and a Ph.D. in history from Duke University. A former Peace Corps Volunteer (Togo, 1968) and a Vietnam veteran, he was a Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution and director of museums and education at the Atlanta History Center. He is the author of numerous publications, including Hearth and Home: Preserving a People’s Culture, which received an Honor Award from the National Trust. At Drayton Hall, George has devoted himself to education, historic preservation, and conservation of the Ashley River Region, and has won awards at local, state, and national levels.
SHEAR – The Society for Historians of the Early American Republic
Established in 1977, the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR) is an association of scholars dedicated to exploring the events and the meaning of United States history between 1776 and 1861. SHEAR’s mission is to foster the study of the early republican period among professional historians, students, and the general public. It upholds the highest intellectual standards of the historical profession and encourages the broad diffusion of historical insights through all appropriate channels, including schools, museums, libraries, electronic media, public programming, archives, and publications. SHEAR cherishes a democratic ethos in scholarship and cultivates close, respectful, and productive exchanges between serious scholars at every level of experience and recognition. SHEAR membership is open to all; most members are professional historians employed in colleges, universities, museums, and historical parks and agencies, as well as independent scholars and graduate students. http://www.shear.org/
Last weekend Drayton Hall participated in the Charleston History Fair at Magnolia Plantation, just next door. There was a great turnout from about 40 local history organizations including the Avery Research Center, Charlestown Landing, and the American College of the Building Arts. Drayton Hall participated under the banner of the Historic Ashley River Plantation District (H.A.R.P.), a partnership launched this year with Magnolia Plantation & Gardens and Middleton Place.
Overall attendance was high, with both local and out-of-town guests visiting the site to learn more about Charleston history. Exhibits ranged from information on 18th century plantation life, including rice, cotton, and indigo cultivation to the Phillip Simmons Foundation that had set up a forge to demonstrate iron working techniques.
We used our Drayton Hall table to share information on the current and ongoing research projects that we are involved with, including investigating the 1765 watercolor painting of the house (pictured below), archaeology in the basement and efforts to stabilize the portico.
We were able to meet many of our fellow Lowcountry history professionals and exchange ideas on research, exhibits, and general information about our sites, all the while expanding our knowledge about our partners. It was great to be able to educate visitors from near and far about Drayton Hall and recruit a number of them to visit us after the fair. We were also pleased to run into many individuals who are already members of the Friends of Drayton Hall and could tell us how much they have enjoyed being a part of the site and learning about it through our Interiors newsletter.
It was a great day to be out talking about Drayton Hall, meeting new friends, and reconnecting with others. We look forward to participating in many more Charleston History Fairs as they continue to be held in years to come.
Betsy Kleinfelder has been an interpreter at Drayton Hall on and off since 2004. She has a BA in Historic Preservation from the College of Charleston and an MS in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania. She has also worked at Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia and the Hermann-Grimma and Gallier houses in New Orleans. Betsy is expecting her first baby at the end of July.
We were delighted to have garnered a mention in Charlene Peters travel column, “Taste of Travel.” Check out the link to read about her experiences in Charleston and get some good tips for your next visit!
Please welcome to the blog Alison Rea, Drayton descendant and longtime supporter of Drayton Hall. Alison’s mother Elizabeth chose to honor her father, Charles deVere Drayton, with a bench at Drayton Hall to show her support and passion for the preservation of the house and her family’s love of this place. Since her mother was one of the original participants in our memorial bench program, we asked Alison to write up a quick blog on her family’s connection to Drayton Hall. Enjoy!
For as long as I can remember, my mother, Elizabeth Drayton Taylor, has spoken about the love that her father and she felt for Drayton Hall. Indeed, I was always told that my grandfather died in his sleep in 1960 the night he returned from a last trip with Mother to Charleston and Drayton Hall. That is why it is so fitting that there should be a bench at Drayton Hall, facing the river, commemorating the love of both my mother and grandfather for the home built by their ancestor.
Charles deVere Drayton was born in Aiken, SC in 1882 and moved up to Washington D.C. with his family as a child. There he practiced law, working for the Southern Railroad, and was an involved civic leader. He married Irma Biscoe Eliason and had three children—Charles, Elizabeth, and Dorothea.
My mother, Elizabeth Drayton Taylor, was born in DC, and lives there still. Before marrying, she was a fashion model, a researcher for Time Magazine and, during the war, an analyst for OSS. Later, during a 14-year interlude in Denver, Colorado, she raised three children: John Drayton Rea, Malcolm Dunbar Rea and me, Alison Bruce Rea. In Denver, she also was active in politics—serving for many years as a Democratic district captain training several future Colorado governors and lobbying in some of the most progressive mental health laws and facilities in the country. She has one grandchild, Nicholas Edwards, who also currently lives in DC and is a filmmaker.
So, the question is, how are we related to John Drayton, the builder of Drayton Hall? We are descended from his oldest son, William Henry Drayton (m Dorothy Golightly). Our line then went through their son, Governor John Drayton (m Hester Rose Tidyman), their son Alfred Rose Drayton (m Martha Rowand Summers), and their son, Charles Elliott Rowand Drayton (m Jessie Elvira Mackay), who was my grandfather’s father.
Interested in the memorial bench program at Drayton Hall? Please contact our Development Assistant Leslie Newman, at firstname.lastname@example.org or give her a call at 843-769-2600.
Although our Executive Director, Dr. George McDaniel, has spent the majority of his career at Drayton Hall, he is the first to tell people that at heart, he’s always been an educator. After college and the Peace Corps, Dr. McDaniel got his first teaching job at his alma mater in Atlanta, The Lovett School. His time there spent teaching young students cemented in him a desire to engage them in topics like art, culture, and most importantly, history. Fast forward a few decades, and that motivation is still just as strong as ever. But over the past few years, Dr. McDaniel had started to notice a troubling trend among students and people of all ages who come to visit Drayton Hall. If you know George, then you’ll know that he couldn’t just observe something that caused him concern and not take some sort of action. He began to talk to friends and colleagues in the fields of history, art, and antiques, and those conversations spurred him to write the article that was featured in the Winter 2013 issue of Fine Art and Antiques Magazine: “America’s Historical Illiteracy and the Future of Art and Antiques.” We hope you enjoy the article, but most importantly, note the things that we all can do to engage our students and teachers so that this trend is reversed.
Click here to read the entire article on Issuu.
Drayton Hall’s multi-talented project assistant Joseph Mester has written an excellent piece in the Charleston Gateway visitor guide about Drayton Hall’s African American Cemetery. The article describes the beginnings of Drayton Hall and the origin of the site’s cemetery, which we refer to as a “Sacred Space.” Enjoy!