Join Drayton Hall for an Exclusive Trip to Bermuda

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Exploring the Colonial Transatlantic World: A Curated Tour of Bermuda with Drayton Hall


Join us as we depart Charleston for another influential colonial destination: Bermuda. First settled in the early 17th century, this “jewel of the sea”, with its turquoise waters, pink sand beaches, vibrant cultural heritage, and refined hospitality, continues to beckon visitors 400 years later. This very special six-day excursion includes tours of private homes and collections, exclusive access to Parliament, luxury accommodations at a private beach resort, and much more. An extraordinary immersion in Bermuda’s rich history that will be led by the staff of Drayton Hall, A Curated Tour of Bermuda offers a unique opportunity to pursue your passion for historic architecture, breathtaking landscapes, and unique material culture. We hope to see you there!

Price Per Person:
$4,199 for Friends of Drayton Hall (based on double occupancy)
$4,699 for Non-members
Single supplement available upon request.
Space is strictly limited. Priority responses by Friday, July 31st.

What’s Included:
5 breakfasts, 2 lunches, and 4 dinners (11 meals total)
Accommodations, land transportation, tour fees, daily breakfast, and four dinners.
Air Transportation not included.

The exclusive Coral Beach Club, 5 nights
This trip requires a passport.

For booking and more information, contact Bryan Buck, AAA Travel at 843-766-2394, x12014, or 

Space is strictly limited (maximum of 30 guests). Priority responses by July 31st.

To download a sample itinerary (subject to change), click here.

Coral Beach Club

The Coral Beach Club

Sunset at St. Georges and Coral Beach Club

TOP: Historic St. George’s Island, an UNESCO World-Heritage site. BOTTOM: Private beach at the Coral Beach Club


TERMS & CONDITIONS: AAA Travel Agency and Drayton Hall Preservation Trust reserve the right to cancel this tour prior to departure for any reason, including insufficient number of participants.  A $1500 non-refundable deposit per person is required at time of reservation to secure your space on the trip.  The final balance of your trip is due to AAA Travel Agency no later than January 29th, 2016.  Any cancellations after February 1st, 2016 will incur full penalty and no refunds will be issued.  Passports are required for travel.  AAA Travel Agency, its parent corporation, subsidiaries and its travel agents along with Drayton Hall Preservation Trust (herein collectively  “Travel Agency”) are acting as an intermediary for Suppliers in selling travel-related products or services, or in accepting reservations or bookings for services that are not directly supplied by this Travel Agency (such as air and ground transportation, hotel accommodations, meals, tours, carriers, wholesalers, transportation companies, tour operators, service companies etc.). Travel Agency maintains no control over the action of these Suppliers and, therefore, shall not be responsible for the actions of these Suppliers, their breach of contract, their failure to comply with any laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or any intentional or negligent actions or omissions on the part of such Suppliers or Suppliers’ subcontractors, which result in any loss, damage, delay, inconvenience or injury to travelers or travelers’ companions or group members. AAA Travel Agency and Drayton Hall Preservation Trust shall not be responsible for any injuries, losses or damages in connection with terrorist activities, social or labor unrest, mechanical or structural integrity of air, sea, and ground transportation and accommodations, diseases, local laws, terrorists’ acts, climatic conditions, Acts of God, delays, changes or cancellation of travel due to weather conditions, hotel services, accidents or health related problems before or while in-transit to (e.g., an accident on the way to a tour), during, and after a tour, or any other actions, omissions, or conditions outside of AAA Travel Agency’s and Drayton Hall Preservation Trust’s control. By embarking upon his/her travel, the traveler voluntarily assumes all risks involved in such travel, whether expected or unexpected. Traveler is hereby warned of the above risks as well as possible travel industry bankruptcies and medical and climatic disruptions, and the possibility traveler may be unable to travel as scheduled because of personal emergency.  Travel Insurance (medical and cancellation) is strongly encouraged and recommended and is available through AAA Travel Agency.

#PrayForCharleston #CharlestonUnited

Emanuel AME Church - Photo:

Emanuel AME Church – Photo:


We are all saddened by the terrible events that took place at Emanuel AME Church when a gunman opened fire, killing nine innocent victims.  We are touched as individuals and as a community. Amidst this sadness and questioning, people are responding with full hearts. This morning, messages of concern, comfort, and support arrived from friends and colleagues in Washington, Savannah, New York, and as far away as Paris—and they are still coming in. Earlier, I spoke with Liz Alston, former member of our advisory council and long-time member of Emanuel, and expressed to her our deep condolences.

As we see in this incident and in the attacks on schools, movie theaters, and market places, there are forces that seek to divide us and to blind us to our common humanity. It is our responsibility to respond as best we can and to do so not with hate, but with light. And to do so as individuals, both in our life and in our work. In this way, we honor not only the victims, but the loved ones who must carry on

For now, it is our hope that healing will come swiftly to all those touched by this senseless tragedy.


 GWM signature0712

George W. McDaniel
President and Executive Director
Drayton Hall Preservation Trust

Final Phase of the Portico Project Is Now Underway!

A view of the great lawn from the portico.

A view of the great lawn from the portico.

Anticipation has been building at Drayton Hall as we gear up for the final phase of the portico rehabilitation project, which includes preservation contractors from Richard Marks Restorations, Inc., beginning the careful demolition and removal of modern concrete that has compromised the structural integrity of the portico for years. An extensive research and planning process was carried out to ensure that the new building materials will meet the present day demands placed on the house without negatively impacting the historic building materials that survive from the 1740s.

Last week, our Curator of Historic Architectural Resources Patricia Lowe Smith shared the good news with Drayton Hall staff:

I am excited to tell you that I just received the official Notice to Proceed for the portico project. (Cue champagne corks!) You may have already noticed some materials being delivered to the house in recent days, and you will see more of that through the end of the week. Before any demolition takes place the workers will be implementing a very thorough protection plan that will include lots of foam, plastic sheeting and plywood to protect the house. A plywood wall will be erected in the basement to shield visitors from flying dust and debris, and the view will be obscured from the great hall(s) by plastic sheeting and plexi glass that will be used to keep dust and flying objects from damaging anything.

We are working to schedule a meeting for the guides to discuss the project and its potential impact on tours in detail. All staff are welcome to attend this meeting. At this point I can tell you that the contractors are being as careful as they can to plan for the most noisy and potentially disruptive work during early morning or evening hours. I hope to have meeting details to you shortly, but in the meantime you are welcome to contact me with any questions.



Visitors can expect to see preservation in progress through October 2015. The house will remain open for tours during this time, and we hope you will pardon our dust as we carry out this important preservation work. Watch for frequent updates on our blog, Facebook, and Instagram pages, and you’ll also be able to see the project unfold hour by hour on our website where we’ll be posting time-lapse photographs of work underway. When the dust settles it will be our pleasure to welcome you onto Drayton Hall’s iconic portico once again.

Jenny with kids in house2

Job Announcement: Historical Interpreters

Drayton Hall is seeking creative, enthusiastic, and innovative individuals to serve as part-time historical interpreters, presenting three centuries of history to diverse audiences. DUTIES

  • Contribute to the overall success of Drayton Hall in achieving its mission.
  • Serve as a point-of-contact for visitors in their experience at the site, providing clear and accurate information in a pleasant, effective, and positive way.
  • Present guided house tours of Drayton Hall and Connections: From Africa to America programs on a daily basis to diverse audiences of all ages.
  • Conduct educational and special interpretive programs for adult and student groups of all ages. Assist with program preparation and clean-up.
  • Provide coverage for Drayton Hall admissions and museum shop as needed.
  • Participate actively in interpreter training or enhancement programs in order to expand knowledge of the property and/or interpretive skills.
  • Assist with special events and programming as needed.
  • Assist with basic site operations, including monitoring security of historic resources and visitor safety, responding calmly and professionally to emergencies and promptly notifying supervisor of incidents.
  • Work as a cooperative member of a team, and be willing to lead, follow, and support colleagues in a tactful, positive way.


  • Bachelor’s degree; studies in history, public history, museum studies, museum education, architecture, historic preservation, anthropology, or similar fields preferred.
  • Must have strong oral and written communication skills, and be able to synthesize information into clear, effective presentations.
  • Basic math and cash handling skills required; experience with point-of-sale retail systems, cash registers, and ticketing systems a plus.
  • Ability to work outdoors; some lifting and manual labor required. Some weekend, evening, and holiday work required!  Hours vary by season. 

Please send a resume and cover letter addressed to:
Drayton Hall Preservation Trust
Attn: Shelia Harrell-Roye
3380 Ashley River Road Charleston, SC 29414
Or you may email a resume and cover letter to

The Drayton Hall Preservation Trust is an equal opportunity employer.

The End of an Era at Drayton Hall

Dr. George W. McDaniel

Dr. George W. McDaniel

George McDaniel, the driving force behind the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust for more than 25 years, has announced he’ll be stepping down at the end of the month. It’s bittersweet news for Drayton Hall staff and supporters, all of whom will miss George’s leadership but pleased he’ll have the opportunity to spend more time with family, research and writing. Here’s more from the official announcement:

Drayton Hall Preservation Trust (DHPT), a privately funded nonprofit organization responsible for the operation and administration of Drayton Hall, A National Trust Historic Site, today announced that President and Executive Director George W. McDaniel, Ph.D. would be stepping down on June 30.

“Drayton Hall has been my passion and purpose for more than 25 years,” said McDaniel, “and I can’t imagine a better or more fulfilling vocation. But the time has come to turn over leadership responsibilities so I can focus on family, research, writing and other projects. I thank the Drayton family, whose vision made all of this possible, and the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust board of trustees, our outstanding staff and the thousands of Friends and visitors who have supported us during my tenure.”

Under McDaniel’s leadership, Drayton Hall earned international acclaim for its preservation policies and projects and for expanding the research and interpretation of the site to tell a more complete story. Such programs have won awards at the local, state, and national levels.

“With George at the helm, Drayton Hall became a nationally recognized leader in historic preservation,” said DHPT board chair Steve Gates. “He expanded its educational programming, grew its staff and resources and engineered its co-stewardship model with the National Trust. His contributions over the past 26 years have been vital to Drayton Hall and its important mission.”

McDaniel spearheaded conservation of the Ashley River region as well as outreach to both Drayton and African American family descendants, efforts that now serve as models for other historic sites across the nation. He enhanced both the quantity and stewardship of archival, archaeological and museum collections and was instrumental in securing a firm financial future for DHPT by producing either a balanced budget or a surplus every year during his tenure.

“For more than a quarter century, George has been the face of Drayton Hall, and he has represented the very best in historic site leadership,” said Stephanie K. Meeks, president and CEO of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “He has strengthened Drayton Hall’s connections to the community, created a transformative experience for visitors, and led the exemplary preservation of the site and the surrounding landscape of the Ashley River corridor. George is widely recognized for his work in interpreting African American history at Drayton Hall. His innovative approaches have become models for engagement and interpretation that have influenced the way this important work is done across the National Trust’s portfolio of sites and many other properties around the country.  George’s legacy and impact will be felt for years to come.”

Joseph P. Riley, Jr., Mayor of the City of Charleston, added: “George McDaniel has given extraordinary and invaluable service to Drayton Hall, to the City of Charleston, and to the historic preservation movement. He has served as a local and national spokesperson for historic preservation, history education, and historic sites, and leaves a permanent and positive mark on our region and on the preservation of our historic and architectural treasures nationwide.”

In July, McDaniel will transition to President Emeritus, a consultative position that will advise DHPT board and staff. McDaniel will also take a well-deserved (and long deferred) sabbatical commencing July 1 through September 30. Vice President and Deputy Director Carter C. Hudgins, Ph.D. will serve as interim executive director until a permanent selection is made.  A search committee, led by Gates, has already begun its research and evaluation process to find new leadership.

“I think that George has done an absolutely wonderful job as executive director since he’s been at Drayton Hall,” said Charles Henry “Charlie” Drayton, III, 7th-generation descendant of the Drayton family. “I hope that he enjoys his well-deserved sabbatical. He has built remarkable bridges of friendship, for my family continues to feel so much a part of Drayton Hall.” Catherine Braxton, a descendant of the African American Bowens family, and a member of the DHPT board, agreed and said, “George is a bridge builder. He sees our common humanity.”


Free admission for Active-Duty Military – Memorial Day through Labor Day!


Drayton Hall is one of more than 2,000 museums across America to offer free admission to active-duty military personnel and their families this summer in collaboration with the National Endowment for the Arts, Blue Star Families, and the Department of Defense. The program provides families an opportunity to enjoy the nation’s cultural heritage and learn more about their new communities after a military move.

“We thank the Blue Star Program for this opportunity to again be part of this wonderful effort to show appreciation for our active-duty military and their families,” said Kristine Morris, director of communications at Drayton Hall. “We look forward to welcoming them to Drayton Hall for a day of discovery as they tour this cultural and architectural icon of colonial America and the oldest preserved plantation house in the nation still open to the public”

Active-duty Military receive up to 3 Free Admissions to Drayton Hall, which includes extensive access to the property:
    • A professionally guided tour of the house*
    • The interactive “Connections: From Africa to America” program presented twice daily
    • The 18th-century African-American cemetery, one of the oldest documented African-American cemeteries in the nation still in use
    • Self-paced nature walks
    • Our popular Museum Shop with a collection of signature merchandise inspired by Drayton Hall’s history and architecture.

*All guests are placed on the next available house tour – please check our website for hours and tour times. Please note that a $2.00 discount on adult admission is still available to retired military during this period.
Who is Eligible & What I.D. is Required:
The free admission program is available to any bearer of a Geneva Convention common access card (CAC), a DD Form 1173 ID card (dependent ID), or a DD Form 1173-1 ID card, which includes active duty U.S. military – Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, as well as members of the National Guard and Reserve, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, NOAA Commissioned Corps. Some special or limited-time museum exhibits may not be included in this free admission program. To find all participating museums, visit


Remembering Janie Clayton

a - JANIE IN SHOP AT COUNTER - brightened

Janie welcoming visitors to the Museum Shop.

Janie Clayton, beloved friend and colleague, passed away last week. On Wednesday evening, May 13th, her family and friends, including the staff of Drayton Hall, gathered here for her memorial service along the banks of the Ashley River. As her daughter, Natalie Bell, who had also worked at Drayton Hall, said, “Drayton Hall was in her soul.”

Since our President and Executive Director Dr. George W. McDaniel was out of town speaking at the annual meeting of the Historic Mobile Preservation Society, he prepared these remarks, which were read aloud by a member of the senior staff. Afterwards, family, friends, and colleagues stepped forward to remember Janie in their own words.

Greetings to all of you, who are Janie’s family and friends and who are gathered this evening in honor of her wonderful life. I wish I could be there with you, but please know that I am there with you in spirit. Since I could not be with you in person, I would like to take an opportunity to share with you a few of my thoughts about Janie. I say “a few” thoughts, because there are many thoughts, and they are good ones because Janie was a good person. All of you who were friends of hers know that, and all of you who worked with her know that too — and many people who are not here, but who visited Drayton Hall and were greeted by her warm smile, surely know that too.

Janie had a welcoming smile, a twinkle in her eye, and a warm heart. When visitors arrived in our museum shop for the first time, she made them feel at home. She had an artistic flair, which so many of us appreciated, for she could turn something seemingly ordinary into something distinctive and always tasteful. There was a simplicity to it that made the change almost magical.

Janie was devoted to Drayton Hall and was one of that wonderful and early set of devotees to this site, who established the attributes we still love today: the integrity of the place; the warmth of its staff; the excellence of its tours and educational programs for people of all ages; and, quite simply, the fun of working here. Bob Barker was among that early set, as was Nancy Ryan Huggins, John Kidder, Meggett Lavin, and many others.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Robert Penn Warren, in describing our quest for significance, wrote that “it is basic to our human nature that each person strive for significance, to make his or her life count for something.” Janie found her significance in giving to people — in the giving of her talents, of her artistic skills, of her warm heart and winning smile, her twinkle in her eye. She made you feel better. All of that is a significant gift — and as a result, we are better, whether we be her friends, her fellow staff members, or her family. And so we mark this day with deep sadness at the loss of Janie, and at the same time, we give thanks for Janie, and for her having given us, a well lived life.


George W. McDaniel

GWM presenting Janie with a special Drayton Hall Memory Book  10-15-14

Janie’s retirement party in October 2014. Dr. McDaniel presents her with a special Memory Book of her many years at Drayton Hall.

Janie Clayton's Going Away Party Oct. 15, 2014_26

Well wishes for Janie, front row center, at her retirement party, October 2014.

Janie, right, was a real animal lover and was always prepared with a surprise treat for visiting pups.

Janie, right, was a real animal lover and was always ready with a surprise treat for visiting pups.

Janie as she prepares for Smithsonian Museum Day, 2013.

Janie as she prepared for Smithsonian Museum Day, 2013.

Janie, Bob

Janie, left, with her good friend and former Drayton Hall interpreter, Bob Barker, at our Holiday Oyster Roast, December 2012.

Janie at a Summerville Community Event, July 2012.

Janie at a Summerville Community Event, July 2012.

One of Janie's "Pop-Up Shops" for visiting school children.

One of Janie’s “Pop-Up Shops” for visiting school children.

Janie was a very talented artist. Look closely behind the books and you'll see her mural of a tree with one of her favorite subjects, birds. 2013

Janie was a very talented artist, too. Look closely behind the books and you’ll see her mural of a tree with one of her favorite subjects: birds.

Janie at home, hosting a birthday party for one of her Drayton Hall colleagues. We will miss you, Janie!

Janie at home, hosting a birthday party for one of her Drayton Hall colleagues. We will miss you, Janie!

Towards Truth and Reconciliation at Drayton Hall

By Dr. Dale Rosengarten, Founding Director of the Jewish Heritage Collection at the College of Charleston Library

Students listening to Drayton Hall's preservation department staff introduce them to the site.

Students listening to Drayton Hall’s preservation department staff introduce them to the site. Photograph courtesy of Dr. Dale Rosengarten.

On a cold afternoon at the end of February, I accompanied 20 first-year students at the College of Charleston on a field trip to Drayton Hall. The class I am teaching, “Charleston as a Classroom,” features a field trip every Thursday, with an extra hour added to the schedule so we have plenty of time. As we boarded the bus for Drayton Hall, I was happy to see we had 100% attendance, despite the frigid temperatures and the fact that we were just one day away from spring break.

We were greeted at the edge of the parking lot by Cameron Moon, a recent College of Charleston grad who works for Drayton Hall as the Preservation Coordinator. She was soon joined by Carter C. Hudgins, Deputy Director, and Rosemary Giesy, the interpreter who would lead our tour. Cameron and Carter talked about the history of the property and their professional involvement. We headed across the lawn and Rosemary began to tell us about the history of Drayton Hall and the people who lived there.

Drayton Hall Historic House Interpreter Rosemary Giesy, who was described at the

Drayton Hall Historic House Interpreter Rosemary Giesy, who was described as the “cutest tour guide ever” by student Lawson Thompson. Photograph courtesy of Lawson Thompson.

The house and grounds were as spectacular as ever, but what made the place come to life was Rosemary’s animation and deep knowledge of the subject. As the mother of a C of C alum her appreciation of her young audience was palpable. We explored the house from top to bottom, finishing up on the ground floor (as the temperature continued to drop!) with a slide show about Drayton Hall’s African American history.

“The scenery was beautiful but the house was even more beautiful, if not for the view, for its elaborateness. The fine detail that went into the wood-carving and crafting of the estate was amazing. There was such precision and small detail to observe. I found it amazing that the original paint was still there, if not a little worn. I loved hearing the story of what each room was used for whether it be a bedroom or a room to entertain guests, a dining room, another living room, or even a “VIP” sort of room used for entertaining the finest of visitors. I loved hearing about the last Drayton to live in the house and about her many, many dog paintings in the front room.

Learning about the slaves who worked there and their relationship to the Draytons was interesting. The basement was dark and colder than the rest of the house and if that wasn’t sad enough, the site of their unmarked graves with the beautiful arch and peaceful scenery did it for me. Our guide was so warm, welcoming and knowledgeable about everything there was to know about the plantation. She was so memorable with her big red coat and excited talk.”
—Haley Olds, student

(For additional student responses, visit the class’s blog.)

Shortly after our visit, Dr. George W. McDaniel, president and executive director of Drayton Hall, made an offer I couldn’t refuse: to bring a group of descendants of Drayton Hall—both heirs of the owners and descendants of the enslaved—to the college for a panel presentation. We scheduled the program for March 18 and invited not only my students, but also Grant Gilmore’s historic preservation majors, Simon Lewis’s English class, and Ruth Ellen Gruber, the Jewish Studies Program’s Distinguished Visiting Scholar this term.


Shown above and below: sixty-plus people packed into Room 227 in Addlestone Library, and McDaniel started the session by introducing our guests: Catherine Brown Braxton, Rebecca Campbell, and Annie Meyers—all relations of Richmond Bowens, whose ancestors were brought by the Draytons from Barbados in the 1670s —and Shelby Nelson, grandson of the last Drayton to own Drayton Hall.


George McDaniel introduces the descendants.

Dr. George W. McDaniel introduces the descendants.

First we watched a short and powerful video, after which the four panelists spoke about their connections to Drayton Hall and the way that race relations have changed in their lifetimes. Annie Meyers said her cousin Richmond Bowens helped her overcome the negative feeling she had toward Drayton Hall, where her ancestors were enslaved. Richmond’s fondness for the place and close friendship with Charles Drayton gave her a different sense, and she began to feel comfortable and positive.

Rebecca Campbell. left foreground.
Rebecca Campbell, left foreground.

“I see a change in generations,” said Rebecca Campbell. “Now we hang out together, go to conferences together—it was not always so. We’ve learned to love and forgive. We are now seeing the light. To make America grow we got to work together.”

Shelby Nelson, left center in green shirt.
Shelby Nelson, left center in green shirt.

Shelby Nelson described his feeling of “coming home” when he reconnected with Drayton Hall. He called the house “a real treasure” and said that in 1974, when his grandfather Charles Drayton and great-uncle Frank Drayton decided to sell the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, “it was the best thing we ever did.”

Catherine Braxton turned the discussion in a historical direction. She and her sister Rebecca own the Borough Houses, historic properties at the foot of Calhoun Street in Charleston that are remnants of a largely African American neighborhood. Catherine declared: “Drayton Hall is my roots.” After emancipation, the freed people stayed and worked to earn something to live on. “My family left a legacy there. My grandfather was born there as a free man.”

Catherine Braxton, far right.

Catherine Braxton, far right.

“Coming to the table,” Catherine said, is what meetings of descendants of slave owners and of the enslaved are called, and they are happening in many places. “We’ve been wounded and need to heal.” She welcomes opportunities to confront the demons of slavery. In 1978 she visited Gorée Island, off the coast of Dakar, Senegal, where captives were once bought and sold. “I could smell, feel the pain.”

Annie Myers, second from left.

Annie Meyers, second from left.

While Annie did not go to Africa, she found deep roots at Drayton Hall, where her grandmother worked, sewing and cooking and sweeping the yard. With the help of genealogist Toni Carrier, she has made progress tracing her lineage. She is now “doing my DNA,” to get further clues about where her people came from. With some prompting from George, Annie also described how she got involved in the sit-in at Kress’s on King and Wentworth Street in 1960. She joined the picket line demanding the right to sit at the lunch counter. “Something needed to be done,” she said, “and we did it.” For more on the sit-in, check out this article by the Post and Courier: “A Lunch Unserved: How the 1960 Kress sit-in changed Charleston.”

The Drayton descendants made a profound impact on my students, adding a layer of understanding to what they learned on the field trip. I asked them to write down their reactions to the panel and here’s what they had to say:

“It was the most beautiful act of forgiveness I have ever seen. Never before had I witnessed history resolved in such an elegant and hopeful manor. There was so much love between them all that I felt as if we too were being welcomed into the family.” —Emma Lieberman

I found the entire presentation quite moving. I got chills [watching the video] as one of the descendants of the Bowens family started singing in the graveyard of her ancestors. The connection between the Draytons and the Bowens today is heartwarming and is a perfect example of the impacts of history, time, and understanding. They say they are like a family, but it is clear the relationship and respect for one another goes much deeper.” —Kristen Kita

“It was really special to me to have descendants of the former slaves that worked at Drayton Hall and Shelby Nelson, a descendant of the Draytons, come talk to everyone. I found it fascinating to see them sit together at a table sharing what one house means to them. It warmed my heart to see how close the families have somewhat become considering their history so long ago. I am even more thankful for the fact that Drayton Hall is open to the public and we are able to appreciate and admire such a beautiful home that holds many memories along with untold stories.” —Lawson Thompson

“The video and presentation explaining the history of the Drayton Plantation brought the site to life through the stories and experiences of those closely connected to the families who lived there, and most especially, those who worked as slaves. I was delighted to see that the descendants of those who lived on Drayton are still very involved with the plantation and keep close contact with one another.” 
—Mattie Rogers

“The discussion and video about Drayton Hall were fantastic and inspiring. It was great being able to ask the panelists my questions and they did a very good job providing detailed answers. The way they are able to share their personal feelings and stories with us is amazing.” —Owens Morgan

“The presentation was a great experience for many reasons including actually meeting descendants of Drayton Hall. It was also enjoyable and interesting to hear them out on their own perspective of their historic lineage. Their perspectives were invaluable and appreciated. It was awesome to see the complete reconciliation of the Draytons on behalf of the descendants of their slaves because it really highlights the long way we’ve come in race relations.” —Mikey Bishof

“First of all, I want to thank each and every member of the panel for coming and speaking to us. I feel that the best way for us to learn is by hearing the stories first hand, and I think the way it was structured allowed us to hear from all sides. . . . We are most likely the last generation to be able to hear these stories from a first or second hand account, and so in order to keep these viewpoints alive we need to listen and in turn share their stories.” —Paige Claire Mesher

Drayton Hall's upper great hall. Photograph by P.C. Mescher.

Drayton Hall’s upper great hall. Photograph courtesy of Paige Claire Mescher.

“It was a great experience getting to hear stories from people who are directly related to Drayton Hall. They had very interesting things to say and they made Drayton Hall easier to understand. It was a great opportunity that not many people get to experience. I thought it was very nice and thoughtful of the presenters to take time out of their day to come talk to us.” —Caroline Whitaker

“The Drayton Hall descendants who came to speak to us were very interesting. I thought that it was very cool and would have loved to stay longer.” —Allie Garland

While the take-away message was one of reconciliation, the Q&A session broached a number of thorny issues facing the field of public history. Can plantation site interpretation do justice to the lives of the slaves as well as the masters? How can reluctant descendants be persuaded to “come to the table?” How can the field of historic preservation and museum studies attract more African American practitioners? What can be learned from examples of “Dark Tourism” elsewhere? I asked my colleague Ruth Gruber, as a specialist in Jewish heritage tourism in Eastern Europe, to ponder this question.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Dale Rosengarten unless otherwise noted.

Dark Tourism: A Comparative Perspective

By Ruth Ellen Gruber, Norman and Gerry Sue Arnold Distinguished Visiting Chair at the College of Charleston

In March, descendants of Drayton Hall—both Drayton family members and descendants of the enslaved—participated in a panel discussion at the College of Charleston. Standing (l to r): Ruth Ellen Gruber, Lainie Lesser-Mark, Dale Rosengarten, George McDaniel, Grant Gilmore. Seated (l to r): Annie Meyers, Rebecca Campbell, Shelby Nelson, Catherine Braxton.

In March, descendants of Drayton Hall—both Drayton family members and descendants of the enslaved—participated in a panel discussion at the College of Charleston. Standing (l to r): Ruth Ellen Gruber, Lainie Lesser-Mark, Dale Rosengarten, George McDaniel, Grant Gilmore. Seated (l to r): Annie Meyers, Rebecca Campbell, Shelby Nelson, and Catherine Braxton.

More than 20 years ago I wrote a book called Upon the Doorposts of Thy House: Jewish Life in East-Central Europe, Yesterday and Today. The title referred to the mezuzah—the encased prayer scroll Jews place on their doorposts, indicating a house as the home of a Jew.

In post-Holocaust Europe you could often find the grooves or scars where mezuzahs had been removed or painted over during or after the Shoah—thus forming symbolic mezuzahs that indicated a house where Jews once lived. In my book, I extrapolated further, suggesting that the surviving physical relics of pre-war Jewish life—synagogue buildings, Jewish cemeteries, even if abandoned, in ruined condition or transformed for other use, also served as symbolic mezuzahs to mark towns, villages, cities, and even countries where Jews once lived and do not live now.

My intent was to show how buildings and other physical sites can be talismans and touchstones, opening the way into memory and history.

George McDaniel made this same idea explicit in his introduction to the panel of Drayton Hall descendants. “History did not happen to someone, somewhere else, but to you,” he said. “You grow up a product of history. Preserving buildings means also preserving the story behind the buildings, making a connection with people. Why is a place important? How do you feel connected?”

From the Jewish perspective, visiting Jewish historical sites in post-Holocaust, post-Communist Europe can be a very positive experience, emphasizing Jewish life, history and culture; but the experience also falls under what is now known as Dark Tourism—tourism to sites of what we can call “negative” history, “negative” experience: death, destruction, war.

Sites of slavery also fall under Dark Tourism, though this aspect of a historic site (such as a plantation or genteel antebellum home) often becomes masked, elided, or simply footnoted in the presentation of beautiful buildings and gardens for tourist consumption.

Much of this boils down to “who controls the narrative”—and to whom is the narrative directed: issues that we have been dealing with in the class I have been teaching, “Memory, Heritage, Renewal.” Although the main focus of our class is Jewish heritage and memory and their role and representation in Europe, we have been able to draw parallels with the way that African American heritage, history, and culture are presented here in Charleston and the Lowcountry.

I was delighted that students from my class were in attendance at the panel presentation featuring the descendants of Drayton Hall, as the discussion clearly demonstrated the parallels we have been dealing with, touching on issues such as the point of view of interpretation and interpreters; messages and signage; how the same place can have different symbolic meanings and generate different memories for different people.

I found particularly compelling a part of the film about Drayton Hall’s African American descendants that parallels the post-Holocaust Jewish experience in Europe. People were filmed sitting in the African American cemetery at Drayton Hall, speaking about how many of the deceased buried there had no markers for their graves, no one to talk about their history. In Eastern Europe, when I visit an abandoned Jewish cemetery, I often ponder the fact that most of the thousands and thousands of people buried in these places are also forgotten, with no descendants to tend their graves or even remember who they were.

Drayton is not alone in trying to present a more inclusive past in the plantation context. Boone Hall has installed an extensive presentation on slavery and African American history centered on the nine preserved slave cabins there. Magnolia Gardens features special programs to bring to life its recently renovated row of cabins. And Middleton Place, which I have not yet visited, presents a permanent exhibit titled “Beyond the Fields” in a two-family tenant residence called Eliza’s House, in memory of Eliza Leach, a South Carolina African American born in 1891, and the last person to live in the building. The much less elaborate Hampton Plantation also incorporates the site’s slave history in well researched text panels, both in the Big House and along the path leading to it.

After the Drayton Hall panel, I was excited to visit McLeod Plantation with Mary Battle, public historian at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture, and her class. McLeod, which served as local headquarters of the Freedman’s Bureau following the Civil War, has the potential to interpret not only slave life but the postwar experience of the newly freed men and women. McLeod’s signage uses a phrase that could be the site’s “slogan”—describing it as a place of both “tragedy and transcendence.” I found it interesting that this formulation echoes what we sometimes call sites of Jewish heritage in Europe—“sites of tragedy and sites of triumph.”

National Volunteer Week Spotlight: Stan and Joan Younce

“Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.” -Albert Camus, French philosopher

Joan and Stan Younce volunteers at DH This April during National Volunteer Appreciation Week, Drayton Hall is celebrating the contributions and accomplishments of our dedicated and talented volunteers. If it were not for the time, support, and energy that each of our volunteers has graciously given, Drayton Hall’s success and entire mission to preserve and interpret Drayton Hall and educate the public would begin to unravel. The help and generosity of each of our passionate volunteers enables Drayton Hall to continue this mission to inspire people to embrace historic preservation for generations to come.

Joan and Stan Younce are two of the many champions in our organization who have donated countless hours to Drayton Hall, and this month we want to shine a special light of thanks on this dedicated duo!

Stan first got involved with Drayton Hall when long-time friend and Drayton Hall volunteer, Ian Purches, encouraged him to participate in the Preservation Department’s 2008 Archaeology Institute where he learned the skills associated with excavation, recording, artifact identification, and laboratory work. With his newly honed skills and interest, Stan was able to continue on as a volunteer for our Archaeologist and Curator of Collections, Sarah Stroud Clarke, assisting with more excavations, including the 2009 Archaeological Institute. Stan has been volunteering in the Preservation Department on a weekly basis and has logged over 1,500 hours since 2008. Stan Younce, archaeology volunteer “I enjoy everything at Drayton Hall- the people, the setting, the work. This is a great place to spend my time because it is more rewarding to me than sitting at home reading a book or watching TV,” said Stan. Stan eventually recruited his wife, Joan Younce, to start volunteering at Drayton Hall’s front desk once a week answering the phones, greeting visitors, and assisting with various other special projects, as needed. Since 2009, Joan has volunteered over 1,200 hours. Joan enjoys volunteering at Drayton Hall because of the people. “I love everyone here. You’re always so appreciative and I’ve always felt valued,” said Joan. Joan and Stan Joan and Stan also volunteer at our special events throughout the year, including our Annual Spirituals Concerts in December. In their free time, Joan and Stan both enjoy bird watching and this August, they will be celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

Thank you to each and every one of our volunteers for your amazing dedication and support—we are a better organization because of you!