John Drayton

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John Drayton
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina
In office
May 7, 1812 – November 27, 1822
Appointed byJames Madison
Preceded byThomas Bee
Succeeded byThomas Lee
40th Governor of South Carolina
In office
January 23, 1800 – December 8, 1802
LieutenantRichard Winn
Preceded byEdward Rutledge
Succeeded byJames Burchill Richardson
In office
December 10, 1808 – December 8, 1810
LieutenantFrederick Nance
Preceded byCharles Pinckney
Succeeded byHenry Middleton
Member of the South Carolina Senate from St. Phillip's and St. Michael's Parish
In office
November 26, 1804 – December 7, 1808
18th Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina
In office
December 18, 1798 – January 23, 1800
GovernorEdward Rutledge
Preceded byRobert Anderson
Succeeded byRichard Winn
Member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from St. Phillip's and St. Michael's Parish
In office
November 26, 1792 – December 8, 1798
Personal details
Born(1766-06-22)June 22, 1766
Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, South Carolina
DiedNovember 27, 1822(1822-11-27) (aged 56)
Resting placeCharleston, South Carolina
Alma materCollege of New Jersey

John Drayton (June 22, 1766 – November 27, 1822) was a South Carolinian judge and politician; he was Governor of South Carolina from 1800 to 1802 and 1808 to 1810. As governor, he was noted for establishing South Carolina College, and for championing the removal of property restrictions on the franchise. He served as a United States district judge in South Carolina from 1812 until his death.

Early life and career[edit]

Drayton was born on Magnolia Plantation on the Ashley River in St. Andrews Parish near Charleston. He was educated at the College of New Jersey during the American Revolutionary War and afterward read law at Inner Temple in London to prepare as an attorney.

He began private practice in Charleston from 1788 to 1794. He resumed from 1796 to 1798. He also served as a warden of the City of Charleston in 1788.

He also was a Freemason and the Grand Master of Ancient York Masons in Charleston, South Carolina.

Political career[edit]

Early rise[edit]

In 1792, Drayton was elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives and was a member until 1798, when the General Assembly elected him as the 18th Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina. Upon the death of Edward Rutledge on January 23, 1800, Drayton was elected by the General Assembly to become Governor of South Carolina for the remainder of the term. They chose him to serve out a full two-year term in 1800 because of his strong republicanism.

South Carolina College[edit]

The most important act during Drayton's first full term was the establishment of South Carolina College. Drayton had pushed for a state-funded college immediately when he became governor upon the death of Edward Rutledge, but it was not until after his election that the General Assembly created and provide funds for a college. The location of Columbia near the State House was favored by Drayton because it was a central location that would provide an opportunity at higher education for all white male South Carolinians. In addition, he intended for the future leaders of South Carolina to be educated together in order to quell any divisions between the Lowcountry and the Backcountry. The General Assembly followed the direction of Governor Drayton and appropriated $50,000 to construct the college in Columbia and another 46,000 for the salaries of the faculty.

Second time as governor[edit]

Upon leaving the governorship in 1802, Drayton returned to Charleston. The General Assembly elected him to the South Carolina Senate in 1805. After three years, the General Assembly elected Drayton for a second two-year term as governor in 1808. Drayton and the General Assembly continued the Republican reforms by expanding the suffrage to all white men, regardless of status or wealth.

Later life and career[edit]

After leaving the governorship for a final time, Drayton returned to private practice until 1812. On May 5, 1812, he was nominated by President James Madison to a seat on the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina vacated by Thomas Bee. Drayton was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 7, 1812, and received his commission the same day, serving on the bench until his death.

Drayton issued perhaps the earliest judicial decision holding that, under the laws of the United States, slaves captured in time of war on enemy ships could not be claimed as property.[1][2]

A productive writer, Drayton authored several works related to South Carolina:

  • Carolinian Florist
  • A View of South Carolina, as Respects Her Natural and Civil Concerns
  • Memoirs of the American Revolution from its Commencement to the Year 1776.

On November 27, 1822, Drayton died. He was buried in Charleston.


  1. ^ Moore, George H. (1866). Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts. New York: D. Appleton & Co. p. 162. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  2. ^ Almeida v. Certain Slaves, 1 Fed. Cas. 538 (D. S. C. 1814).

Further sources[edit]

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Thomas Bee
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina
Succeeded by
Thomas Lee
Political offices
Preceded by
Robert Anderson
Lieutenant Governor of South Carolina
Succeeded by
Richard Winn
Preceded by
Edward Rutledge
Governor of South Carolina
Succeeded by
James Burchill Richardson
Preceded by
David Deas
Mayor of Charleston, South Carolina
Succeeded by
Thomas Winstanley
Preceded by
Charles Pinckney
Governor of South Carolina
Succeeded by
Henry Middleton