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History of Early American Landscape Design

Ashley Hall

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Ashley Hall, a plantation on the Ashley River near Charleston, was home to the politically prominent Bull family for two hundred years. Its elaborate landscape and gardens were developed by successive generations of the family.


Site Dates: 1675-1865
Site Owner: Stephen Bull; William Bull, William Bull II, Stephen Bull; William Stephen Bull ... Col. William Izard Bull
Site Designer(s): Stephen Bull, Mark Catesby, William Bull, Jr.
Location: Ashley River, West Ashley, St. Andrew's Parish, Charleston view on Google Maps


The origins of Ashley Hall date to 1670, when Stephen Bull (d. 1706) arrived in America to serve 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 in 1684. [1] Soon after his arrival in Carolina, Bull began accumulating land a few miles miles west of peninsular Charleston along a wide river, later named the Ashley River. An initial grant of 400 acres in 1676 was followed by 100 adjoining acres in 1694. [2] A pioneer in the cultivation of rice, Bull developed a highly lucrative rice plantation, and also conducted some of the earliest agricultural experiments in growing tobacco, indigo, ginger, and potatoes. [3] The small, one-story, tabby-walled house that he built on the property c. 1675 is one of the oldest extant buildings in South Carolina. It was superseded in 1704 by a larger, two-story brick house with a hipped roof. [4] Bull was prominent 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 diplomacy with the native Indian population. [5]

Bull’s son William (1683-1755) resembled his father in serving in a number of important official capacities, including Lord Proprietor’s deputy, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, and lieutenant governor from 1737 to 1755. A trained surveyor, he assisted General James Edward Oglethorpe (1696 -1784) in settling Georgia and selecting the site of Savannah. <Bull Family of South Carolina, January 1900, 77-78> In 1722 the English naturalist Mark Catesby visited him at Ashley Hall and, according to the Charleston artist Charles Fraser, “planted by his hand” an avenue of live oaks leading up to the house. <Fraser, 1854, 68.> 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 [ital.] Carolina [ital], I having never seen it but at Col. [ital]Bull’s [ital] Plantation on [ital] Ashley [ital] River, where it grows in a Bog.” <Laird, 1998, 207.>

In 1770 William Bull’s son, William Bull II (1710-1719), laid out formal gardens at Ashley Hall. Catesby’s oak-lined avenue now led from a pear orchard through an extensive lawn to the plantation house. Gardens laced with serpentine paths framed a second avenue at the back of the house terminating in a vista of the river and city of Charleston beyond. A long lake with a pool surrounded by cypress trees lay to one side of the house, abutting an open park and elk and deer parks. The property also featured a statue of Diana atop a prehistoric Indian mound. <Bull, 1952, 62; Briggs, 1951, ___.>. William Bull II probably developed his keen interest in plants and gardens in Europe. In the early 1730s he had studied at Leiden with the Dutch botanist and physician Herman Boerhave (1668-1738), becoming the first native-born American to graduate with a medical degree from the university in 1735. <Raven, 172> Thereafter, Bull corresponded with the English botanist and plant and seed merchant, Peter Collinson] and amassed a substantial personal library of books on botany and natural history. He introduced the Scottish physician Dr. Alexander Garden to Linnaeus in 1752, lending him Classes plantarum and Fundamenta Botanica, as well as John Clayton’s Flora Virginica. Bull also helped familiarize Garden with plants local to South Carolina. <Berkeley and Berkeley, Dr. Alexander Garden, 35; Raven, 2002, 73, 223> From 1761 to 1767 Bull served as president of the Charleston Library Society, a group notable for its enthusiasm for natural history as well as its extravagant purchases of rare and luxurious botanical folios. <Raven, 2002, 73, 169-70.> In 1773 he appointed a special committee for collecting specimens, establishing a museum (the first of its type in America), and promoting natural history in the province. <Finger and Piccolino, 271>

William Bull II was the last Royal governor of South Carolina, serving as lieutenant-governor from 1759 to 1775, and as acting governor on five separate occasions between 1760 and 1775. An ardent Loyalist, he fled to England in 1777. Two years later, errant British troops ransacked Ashley Hall, destroying a fish dam, scattering Bull’s private papers “over the pasture and garden,” and smashing his “china glass & other crockray.” <Conway, 2013, 126.> In March 1782 Ashley Hall served as the headquarters of the Continental Army general Nathaneal Greene (1742-1786). <Lumpkin, Henry, From Savannah to Yorktown: The American Revolution in the South (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1981), 56; Dwight, C. Harrison, ‘Count Rumford: His Majesty’s Colonel in Carolina ’, The South Carolina Historical Magazine , 57 (1956), 27.> William Bull had returned to Charleston in February 1781, but made a final departure for England with evacuating British troops in 1782. <Meroney, April 1979, 91-104.> Following his death in London in 1791, Bull’s widow, Hannah Beale Bull, erected a monument in his honor. It is in the shape of an obelisk with a portrait of the governor in relief and a commemorative plaque with a length inscription indicating that the memorial.

The last member of the Bull family to own Ashley Hall plantation, Col. William Izard Bull, added a piazza and circular red stone steps to the house in 1853. <”Ashley Hall”, 1975.> 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. < Fitzgerald Ross, ‘A Visit to the Cities and Camps of the Confederate States, 1863-65’, Blackwod’s Magazine, 97 (1865), 31.> 1865 Bull intentionally set the house on fire in 1865, destroying the building and all of its contents, rather than allow his ancestral home to be ransacked by approaching Union troops.

--Robyn Asleson





  1. B. H. Levy, "Savannah’s Bull Street: The Man Behind Its Name," The Georgia Historical Quarterly, 71 (summer 1987): 287-88, view on Zotero; Ashley Hall Plantation (Columbia, S.C.: 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," The Georgia Historical Quarterly, 17 (1933): 113, view on Zotero.
  2. His son, William Bull, would acquire an additional 500 acres in 1707, as well as properties to the south in Granville County from which he derived most of his income. See Henry A. M. Smith, "The Upper Ashley; and the Mutations of Families," The South Carolina Historical and Geneaological Magazine, 20 (July 1919), 193, view on Zotero; Henry DeSaussure Bull, "Ashley Hall Plantation," The South Carolina Historical Magazine, 53 (April 1952): 61, view on Zotero; A. S. Salley, Jr., "The Bull Family of South Carolina," The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, 1 (January 1900): 76-77, view on Zotero.
  3. ”Ashley Hall,” 1975, view on Zotero.
  4. Bull, April 1952: 61-62 view on Zotero; ”Ashley Hall,” 1975, view on Zotero.
  5. Kinloch Bull, Jr., The Oligarchs in Colonial and Revolutionary Charleston: Lieutenant Governor William Bull II and His Family (Columbia, S. C. : University of South Carolina Press, 1991) passim, view on Zotero; Levy, 1987: 286-967, view on Zotero; Gamble, June 1933: 112-13, [https://www.zotero.org/groups/54737/items/itemKey/4PNMDVGW view on Zotero.

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History of Early American Landscape Design contributors, "Ashley Hall," History of Early American Landscape Design, , https://heald.nga.gov/mediawiki/index.php?title=Ashley_Hall&oldid=9195 (accessed May 30, 2023).

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