The 2015 Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series begins this month with an insightful presentation focused not so much on the place of Drayton Hall, but rather, its people. Please join us on Thursday, Feb. 19 for “Memories and Meanings: Reflections on Drayton Hall by Charles H. Drayton, III, and Other Descendants.” An interactive panel discussion will feature descendants of those who once lived at Drayton Hall, and reflect upon the significance of preserving the past at one of Charleston’s most historic sites. The discussion will bring together eight descendants to answer thoughtful questions and prompt audience participation, all moderated by Dr. George W. McDaniel, president and executive director of the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust.
This session will give the audience the rare opportunity to discuss perennial questions about Drayton Hall, family history, and the importance of preservation with Drayton Hall descendants. Questions such as the following: What prompted Charles and Frank Drayton to sell Drayton Hall to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the State of South Carolina in 1974? What are Charles Drayton’s present thoughts about that decision? What are the thoughts of other descendants, both from the Drayton family and from the African American community whose ancestors had also lived there for generations?
Charles “Charlie” H. Drayton III, now 96 years old and one of the last private owners of Drayton Hall, will be reflecting on his family’s decision to sell the house in 1974. His nephew, Frank B. Drayton, Jr., who serves on the Drayton Hall Board of Trustees, will also offer perspective. Other Drayton participants include three of Charlie’s grandchildren: Charles Heyward Drayton, Greg Osteen Joseph, and Shelby Nelson.
Rebecca Campbell, Catherine Braxton, and Annie Meyers, descendants of the Bowens family, will also participate in the panel discussion. According to their family’s oral history, their ancestors were brought from Barbados to the Carolina colony by the Draytons in the 1670s as enslaved people. Braxton also serves as a member of the Drayton Hall Preservation Trust Board of Trustees.
“Our advice to people interested in learning about their family’s past is to first commit to family, learn their roots, ask questions of their elders, and become engaged with their communities to promote and preserve their history,” said Rebecca Campbell. “We think that it is important to preserve one’s family history because much can be learned to assist in moving forward to bridge the divide between the ancestors and descendants of the enslaved and the slaveholders.”
This enhancement of Drayton Hall’s historic fabric is only made possible by the enthusiastic participation of its descendants. The descendants presented together at the National Preservation Conference last November and the South Carolina Historic Preservation Conference in April. “I am personally thrilled to be a part of a movement like this that seems so far overdue, and I am motivated to continue to participate in discussions like this so that we can spread the concept to other historic sites where the shared histories of English and African descendants have remained separate,” said Charles Heyward Drayton.
These oral histories further advance our understanding of the history of Drayton Hall, by combining myriad vantage points in one place. “The point is that we preserve historic buildings and places, to be sure, but the power of those places is enriched all the more by the stories and memories, good and bad,” said McDaniel. “At the same time, those stories and memories are given a reality by the preservation of place that they might not have in the abstract. History happened there.”
“Memories and Meanings” will very much be a forward step in the continuation of bridging the interpretation of Drayton Hall’s complex history. There will be ample opportunity for the audience to ask questions and to hear more memories and reflections the descendants have and what preservation means to them.
The Drayton Hall Distinguished Speakers Series is held on Thursday nights at South Carolina Society Hall, 72 Meeting Street. Doors open at 5:30 pm with a wine and cheese reception, with presentations starting promptly at 6:30 pm. Presented by the Friends of Drayton Hall, admission is free and no advance reservations are necessary. Seating is limited. The 2015 Distinguished Speakers Series is sponsored by Richard and Jill Almeida, the Francis Marion Hotel, and the Chipstone Foundation. For other questions and sponsorship inquiries please contact Tara White, development events coordinator, at 843-769-2627 or firstname.lastname@example.org.