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Drayton Hall Introduces New House Tour to Address the Life and Work of the Enslaved

African American history, Archaeology, Architecture, Breaking News, Education, Preservation, Tours

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July 31, 1797 “The waiting boy Billy returned from a visit to his father Jack, [Thomas Drayton’s] driver at the Ocean Plantation.”

September 12, 1803 “Billy absconded last night taking with him shirts – a new Jacket & overall of corduroy thickset. & white vest. & long blue coat.”

September 15, 1803 “George thinks as I do, that [Billy] would make an excellent Driver, as his father Jack.”

March 31, 1804 “Left Billy at Jehosse as a learning Driver.”

August 31, 1808 “Billy sent to Savanna – to learn carpentry under Quash.”

These entries from Charles Drayton’s diaries (1784-1820) provide insight into the life of Billy, an enslaved man who once lived and worked in Drayton Hall. The diaries reveal how Billy’s life was intertwined with those of other enslaved people and members of the Drayton family, and how drastically his life changed over time as he was forced to move from one plantation to another. He lived on at least three different plantations owned by Charles over his lifetime, learning and performing various jobs.

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Billy’s story is just one of many that is now being told at Drayton Hall everyday.  A new audio tour of the main house uses curators’ latest research regarding Palladian architecture, archaeology, and documentary evidence to explore how enslaved people like Billy and George experienced Drayton Hall.

Drayton Hall has long been regarded as an icon of American architecture. Since opening to the public, most tours of Drayton Hall have focused primarily on the house itself. But recent architectural research has focused on the social language on display in the architecture: namely, how John Drayton used it to control how people experienced his home and to direct who had access to certain areas of the house and landscape. The architecture displays how enslaved laborers worked in different spaces in the house, and the primary documents reveal the very different ways Blacks and Whites used the building.

Continuing multidisciplinary research has come together to create a new tour that places greater emphasis on the realities faced by enslaved people while embracing both social and architectural history. The tour, a 45-minute audio tour that guests download or stream at no additional cost, begins after guests view the site’s orientation film. After leading guests from the McDaniel Education Center to the main house, the audio tour begins in the cellar, the architectural and social foundation for this historic house. The tour progresses through the cellar and the main floor, all the while revealing fascinating details about life at Drayton Hall through various perspectives.

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