Drayton descendent returns to Lowcountry to learn about family

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comOctober 30, 2011 

Though he was born in England and still lives there, Bill Grimke-Drayton feels a sense of familiarity and comfort as he stands on the shores of Port Royal Sound near Mitchellville Beach Park.

Grimke-Drayton, 63, had been to Hilton Head Island only once before returning to the area Saturday to research his family history and become more familiar with the area that was once home to some of the family's plantations.

The retired school teacher got a special tour of the Heritage Library on Hilton Head and visited a secluded Drayton family cemetery located on private property near the end of Beach City Road.

"It's home," Grimke-Drayton said. "It's my second home. I really feel good. The strange thing about this area is that it's a lovely place but it's also a dark place. It seems contradictory, yet it's where my family came from."

A descendant of Thomas Drayton, a wealthy rice farmer who built Drayton Hall and the Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, Grimke-Drayton's family trees has its roots in the Lowcountry.

Grimke-Drayton's great-great grandfather, Theodore Drayton, was a descendant of Thomas Drayton who moved from Charleston to Liverpool, England after meeting and later marrying an English woman. It is believed that Theodore Drayton broke through the Union blockade at least three times during the Civil War to check on the family's rice plantations before returning to England before the end of the war, Grimke-Drayton said.

Grimke-Drayton also has distant ties to Commodore Percival Drayton and Confederate Brig. Gen Thomas Fenwick Drayton, two brothers who famously parted ways at the outbreak of the Civil War and met in combat at the Battle of Port Royal near Hilton Head Island in November 1861.

Despite his family's troublesome history with slavery and their participation in the Civil War, Grimke-Drayton said he feels it's important to understand where he comes from.

"Roots are important," Grimke-Drayton said. "It's more than just the records. It's the knowing where you come from. I'm not responsible for what my ancestors did. I'm responsible for what I did. I have been approached by people who say, 'You owe me.' Why? It just muddies the waters."

He will return to England on Tuesday.

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.

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