Ties That Bind
Magnolia, Old St. Andrew’s partner on John Grimke Drayton celebration
By Charlie Morrison
Magnolia Plantation and Gardens and the Old St. Andrew’s Parish Church have been neighbors along the meandering west bank of the Ashley River for more than three centuries. For all their collective years working alongside one another in West Ashley, however, formalized efforts between the two to work together have been few and far between. This year marks a break from that trend, as the two institutions have come together to host a six-event, yearlong commemoration program in the honor of the Rev. John Grimke Drayton.
The connection between the plantation and the oldest church in the state of South Carolina traces directly back to Rev. Drayton, who owned Magnolia Plantation for the better part of seven decades, as well as serving as the pastor of Old St. Andrew’s for 40 years.
“The biggest thing we’re trying to do is bring the Rev. John Drayton to the forefront of the public and let people know what a great, progressive person he was,” says Rev. Marshall Huey, current pastor of Old St. Andrews. “It’s just odd to have a link like this between a historic church and a neighboring plantation. I think it’s unique to us and to the West Ashley area. It’s something that I think a lot of people don’t know about, and we want to increase public awareness, not only of the relationship between these two historic places, but also what Old St. Andrew’s and Magnolia have contributed to this area over a 300-year period.”
For Magnolia Plantation and Gardens Executive Director Tom Johnson, the feeling is mutual. “We’ve had an ongoing relationship. We knew that the Rev. Drayton had served as pastor at Old St. Andrew’s, but the timing worked out just right, that they were working on the history of their church at the same time we were working on the Drayton family history,” says Johnson. “We both ran into the same problem too, that the Rev. Drayton was actually a very low-key individual. There’s not all that much out there about him, so that’s when we starting meeting to combine what they were finding in their church’s history with what we were finding in Magnolia’s history.”
In researching that history Johnson and the team at Magnolia decided to take a significant step in rounding out the research performed on the property. They hired on a team of five historians to perform that task. The team is led by Drayton family historian Preston Cooley. It was the Plantation’s newfound commitment to a complete history that led to the focus on Rev. John Grimke Drayton.
“We’d never spent a lot of effort on doing the research. In doing that, we crossed paths with Old St. Andrew’s, who was also working on history of their church. Obviously, the common denominator was the Rev. John Drayton, so we decided to start working to merge the telling of our two histories together,” Cooley says.
The story of Rev. John Grimke Drayton is both fascinating and educational. In 1843, it was Rev. Drayton who planted the camellias and azaleas that became the world famous Magnolia Gardens. While his contributions at Magnolia were significant, it was his ministerial work that signified Drayton’s historic relevance. Drayton served as eleventh rector at Old St. Andrew’s, from 1851-1891 – to this date the longest tenure in the church’s history, which began in 1706. Before the Civil War, Drayton devoted the bulk of his ministerial work to the enslaved African-American community. After the war, his focus remained on the newly freed African-Americans.
The life of Rev. John Grimke Drayton was a life well lived. His contributions to not only West Ashley, but also Charleston and the American South, continue on today. That the ties he forged a century-and-a-half ago still stand today is a tribute to his lasting message, that part of being a good Christian was the tolerance and acceptance of all peoples.
Over the next several months, the two Ashley River institutions will co-host several events. The next will be an Easter sunrise service at Magnolia Plantation on the banks of the Ashley River on Sunday, April 8. A Fourth of July celebration at Magnolia to highlight Drayton’s contributions at Magnolia and Old St. Andrew’s is also planned. As well as a Feast Day of St. Andrew dinner at the Carriage House at Magnolia on
Nov. 30. And finally, a special Sunday service on Dec. 2 at Old St. Andrew’s to celebrate Drayton’s life and accomplishments. A tour of the church and graveyard will follow the service.
For more information about the celebration or Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, go to http://www.magnoliaplantation.com. For information about the Old St. Andrews Parish Church, go to http://www.oldstandrews.org.