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A modern story of family, preservation, and archaeology at Drayton Hall

Archaeology, Carter C. Hudgins, General
historic preservation charleston sc

Above: Dr. Carter C. Hudgins and Dr. Carter L. Hudgins photographed at Drayton Hall, May, 2021.

Carter C. Hudgins Ph. D is, as many of our readers know, the President and CEO of Drayton Hall Preservation Trust. In January of 2021, he began overseeing a new project on the site and during this process, I began taking pictures to provide our audience with updates. One morning, I realized Carter’s Dad, Dr. Carter L. Hudgins, was working at his side. It struck me then, how very special their story, and their shared commitment, is. They were both out there, deep in the woods and bramble, covered in leaves and dirt, trying to cut a path to answers for the descendents of Drayton Hall’s enslaved and for all of us, so that we will have a more accurate understanding of American history: the project is the search for the homes of  Drayton Hall’s enslaved and the goal is to allow archaeology to better inform an accurate narrative of their lives and circumstances.

Charleston is a city with a long and deep respect for historic preservation. It was at the front of the preservation movement in the country and is home to the oldest community-based historic preservation organization in the United States. If you study historic preservation, sooner or later, you will come to Charleston. And once you do, at meetings and events in Charleston preservation circles, it will not be uncommon to hear, “Which Carter?” or “Which Dr. Hudgins?” asked when discussion turns to particular sites, preservation, or archaeology in the city.

The Doctors Hudgins’ tireless pursuit of historic preservation is more than a family business. Charleston’s economy, driven by tourists charmed by Charleston’s historic beauty owes to professionals in historic preservation like the Hudgins family who have protected and preserved many of the buildings so familiar to visitors to Charleston. Dr. Carter Hudgins “the elder”, is the Director Emeritus of the Clemson University/ College of Charleston Graduate Program in Historic Preservation and formerly the Executive Director of Historic Charleston Foundation. Dr. Carter Hudgins “the younger”, as President and CEO of Drayton Hall (ca. 1738), directs the oldest plantation house museum open to the public in the United States, and is an Advisory Member of Historic Charleston Foundation and The American College of the Building Arts among several others.

When I found both in the woods at Drayton Hall persevering through brush, fallen trees, and years of the earth’s soil and debris movement, they were immersed, side-by-side, in what may be the most important project of both of their callings to historic preservation: the search for the homes of the enslaved at Drayton Hall.

Both Dr. Hudgin’s began their careers in archaeology and it is that science they’ve returned to in guiding the project to uncover the 18th and 19th century houses of Drayton Hall’s enslaved. The location of the homes of Drayton Hall’s enslaved had remained a mystery until this project began, disappearing from the landscape in the early 20th century. Since the start of 2021, fourteen probable foundations of these homes have been discovered along with a well and trash pit.

In watching them and talking with them, it becomes clear they are not just a father and son with a common career path. In their quiet, determined ways they are going to provide better accuracy in history for each young mind that will pick up a history book to learn from their work. The importance of their contributions and those like them to our children’s understanding of American history cannot be overstated.