Site Dates: 1675–1865
Associated People: Mark Catesby 1683–1749, naturalist;
Ashley Hall, a plantation on the Ashley River near Charleston, was home to the politically prominent Bull family for two hundred years. Its landscape and gardens were developed by successive generations of the family.
The origins of Ashley Hall date from 1670, when Stephen Bull (d. 1706) arrived in Carolina with the intention of trading British millinery goods with Native Americans. He also served as deputy to Lord Ashley (1621—1683), one of the eight Lords Proprietor of the Province of Carolina. Among the earliest English settlers in the colony, Bull assisted in selecting the site of Charles Town (later, Charleston), and helped found the first permanent European settlement there. Appointed surveyor of South Carolina in 1673, he laid out new fortification lines around Charleston in 1674 and was appointed surveyor general ten years later. Bull played a prominent role in many aspects of Carolina government and military affairs, establishing a precedent followed by subsequent generations of his family. He also paved the way for them in his enthusiastic pursuit of science, engineering, agriculture, exploration, and diplomatic relations with the Indian population.
Bull settled on land a few miles west of peninsular Charleston along a wide river, later named the Ashley. In 1676 he received a formal grant of 400 acres there, and an additional 100 acres of adjoining property in 1694. Bull pioneered the cultivation of rice on his plantation, and also conducted some of Carolina’s earliest agricultural experiments in growing tobacco, indigo, ginger, and potatoes. The small, one-story, tabby-walled house that he built c. 1675—one of the oldest extant buildings in South Carolina—was succeeded in 1704 by a larger, but still quite modest two-story brick house, built for his son, William (1683—1755) [Fig. 1]. William Bull’s activities resembled those of his father in that the younger Bull served in a number of important official capacities, including Lord Proprietor’s deputy (1719), Commissioner of Indian Affairs (1721), and lieutenant governor (1737—1755). A trained surveyor, he assisted General James Edward Oglethorpe (1696—1784) in settling Georgia and selecting the site of Savannah.
In 1722 English naturalist Mark Catesby visited him at Ashley Hall, and, according to the Charleston artist Charles Fraser, Catesby “planted by his hand” an avenue of live oaks leading from an orchard of pear trees to the house [Fig. 2]. In the first volume of his Natural History, Catesby illustrated the evergreen dahoon holly (illex Cassine L.), which he described as “a very uncommon Plant in Carolina, I having never seen it but at Col. Bull’s Plantation on Ashley River, where it grows in a Bog” [Fig. 3]. Fifteen years later, the Anglican divine John Wesley noted other rarities at Ashley Hall. Declaring the estate “the pleasantest place I have yet seen in America,” he observed that the orchard and garden abounded with “those sorts of trees and plants and flowers which are esteemed in England,” but which American colonists rarely took the trouble to cultivate (view text).
In 1742 William Bull transferred much of the Ashley Hall property (including the two houses) to his son, William Bull II, who in 1770 laid out gardens interlaced with serpentine paths between the house and the water’s edge. A long, straight avenue bisected the garden, affording an uninterrupted vista of the Ashley river and the city of Charleston beyond. It may have been at this time that broad lawns were planted on either side of Catesby’s oak-lined avenue. A lake bounded by cypress trees lay to one side of the house, abutting an open park and elk and deer parks. The property also featured a pool encircled by cypress trees and a statue of Diana atop a prehistoric Indian mound. Following Bull’s death in 1791, his widow erected a monumental obelisk in his memory on the grounds [Fig. 4].
Ashley Hall’s strategic riverine location exposed it to abuse during the Revolutionary War. Errant British troops “plundered and greatly damaged” the property in June 1777. Five years later, the Continental Army general Nathaneal Greene (1742—1786) commandeered Ashley Hall as his headquarters. The last member of the Bull family to own Ashley Hall, Col. William Izard Bull, added a piazza and circular red stone steps to the house in 1853. An English visitor reported spending “a delightful day” with Col. Bull at Ashley Hall in 1863, “roaming over cotton-fields and rice plantations, woods, and ‘park-like meadows,’ studded with the most magnificent live oaks,” and sampling the indigenous Scuppernong grapes that grew in the garden. Bull intentionally set the house on fire during the winter of 1865, destroying the building and all of its contents, rather than allow his ancestral home to be desecrated by approaching Union troops.
- Wesley, John, April 15, 1737, journal entry (1909: 1:348)
- “I walked over to Ashley Ferry, twelve miles from Charlestown, and thence, . . . to Colonel Bull’s seat, two miles farther. This is the pleasantest place I have yet seen in America; the orchard and garden being full of most of those sorts of trees and plants and flowers which are esteemed in England, but which the laziness of the Americans seldom suffers them to raise.” back up to History
- “[William Bull], the first Governor, had entertained Catesby, the celebrated naturalist, at the family seat, at Ashley river, where there is now a majestic avenue of oaks, said to have been planted by his hand.”
Charles Fraser, Another View of the Same (Ashley Hall), 1803.
Henrietta Augusta Drayton, “Ashley Hall,” rear view and outbuildings, c. 1820.
- Geraldine M. Meroney, Inseparable Loyalty: A Biography of William Bull (Norcross, GA: The Harrison Company, 1991), 6—8, view on Zotero.
- Michael O. Hartley, The Ashley River: A Survey of Seventeenth Century Sites, Research Manuscript Series, Book 184 (Columbia, SC: South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of South Carolina, 1984), 57, view on Zotero.
- B. H. Levy, “Savannah’s Bull Street: The Man Behind Its Name,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 71 (Summer 1987): 287–88, view on Zotero; Ashley Hall Plantation (Columbia, SC: United States Department of the Interior National Park Service, 1975), view on Zotero; Thomas Gamble, “Colonel William Bull—His Part in the Founding of Savannah,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 17 (June 1933): 113, view on Zotero.
- Kinloch Bull Jr., The Oligarchs in Colonial and Revolutionary Charleston: Lieutenant Governor William Bull II and His Family (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1991), view on Zotero; Levy 1987, 286–96, view on Zotero; Walter B. Edgar and N. Louise Bailey, Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives, 5 vols. (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1977), 2: 115–16, view on Zotero; Gamble 1933, 112–13, view on Zotero.
- Bull’s son William would acquire an additional 500 acres in 1707, as well as properties in nearby Granville County, which yielded his principal source of income. See Henry A. M. Smith, “The Upper Ashley; and the Mutations of Families,” South Carolina Historical and Geneaological Magazine 20 (July 1919): 193, view on Zotero; Henry DeSaussure Bull, “Ashley Hall Plantation,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 53 (April 1952): 61, view on Zotero. S. Salley Jr., “The Bull Family of South Carolina,” South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine 1 (January 1900): 76—77, view on Zotero.
- Ashley Hall 1975, view on Zotero.
- Meroney 1991, 2 and 11, view on Zotero; Bull 1952, 61—62, view on Zotero; Ashley Hall 1975, view on Zotero.
- Edgar and Bailey 1977, 2: 120–22, view on Zotero; Salley 1900, 77—78, view on Zotero.
- Charles Fraser, Reminiscences of Charleston (Charleston, SC: J. Russell, 1854), 68, view on Zotero; Hartley 1984, 59, view on Zotero.
- Mark Laird, “From Callicarpa to Catalpa: The Impact of Mark Catesby’s Plant Introductions on English Gardens of the Eighteenth Century,” in Empire’s Vision: Mark Catesby’s New World Vision, ed. Amy R. W. Meyers and Margaret Beck Pritchard (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 207, view on Zotero.
- Meroney 1991, 2 and 11, view on Zotero.
- For a reconstruction of the garden, based on “considerable data and a few sketches,” see Loutrel Winslow Briggs, Charleston Gardens (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1951), 106–7, view on Zotero. See also Bull 1952, 62, view on Zotero.
- Bull 1952, 66, view on Zotero.
- Geraldine M. Meroney, “William Bull’s First Exile from South Carolina, 1777—1781,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 80 (April 1979): 91—104, view on Zotero; Henry Lumpkin, From Savannah to Yorktown: The American Revolution in the South (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1981), 56, view on Zotero; C. Harrison Dwight, “Count Rumford: His Majesty’s Colonel in Carolina,” South Carolina Historical Magazine 57 (January 1956): 27, view on Zotero.
- Ashley Hall 1975, view on Zotero.
- Fitzgerald Ross, “A Visit to the Cities and Camps of the Confederate States, 1863—65,” Blackwood’s Magazine 97 (January 1865): 31, view on Zotero.
- Bull 1952, 66, view on Zotero.
- John Wesley, The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., Sometime Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, ed. Nehemiah Curnock, 8 vols. (New York/Chicago: Eaton & Mains/Jennings & Graham, 1909), view on Zotero.
- Fraser 1854, view on Zotero.