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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 landscape and gardens were developed by successive generations of the family.


Site Dates: 1675-1865

Site Owner: Stephen Bull; William Bull; William Bull II; William Stephen Bull; William Izard Bull

Site Designer(s): Stephen Bull; Mark Catesby; William Bull II

Location: West Ashley, SC
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The origins of Ashley Hall date from 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 ten years later. [1] 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. [2]

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. [3] 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. [4] The small, one-story, tabby-walled house that he built ca. 1675 — one of the oldest extant buildings in South Carolina — was succeeded in 1704 by a larger, two-story brick house, possibly built by Bull's son, William (1683-1755). [5] William Bull resembled his father in serving 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. [6] In 1722 the 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 through an orchard of pear trees to the house. [7] 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.” [8]

Ashley Hall next passed to William Bull’s son, William Bull II (1710-1791), who in 1770 laid out formal 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 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. [9] Bull probably developed his keen interest in plants and gardens in Europe. Educated at Westminster school in England, he continued his studies in the early 1730s at Leiden with the Dutch botanist and physician Herman Boerhave (1668-1738), becoming in 1735 the first native-born American to graduate with a medical degree from the university. [10] 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 works of Carolus Linnaeus to the Scottish physician Dr. Alexander Garden in 1752, lending him Classes plantarum and Fundamenta Botanica, as well as John Clayton’s Flora Virginica. Bull also helped familiarize Garden with the native plants of South Carolina. [11] For many years Bull served as president of the Charles Town Library Society, a group notable for its enthusiasm for natural history as well as its extravagant purchases of rare and luxurious botanical folios. [12] In 1773 Bull proposed the formation of a special Library committee "for collecting materials for promoting a Natural History of this Province," which resulted in the establishment of the Charleston Museum, one of the earliest public museums in America. [13]

William Bull II served as lieutenant-governor of South Carolina from 1759 to 1775 (and as acting governor on five separate occasions during that period). An ardent Loyalist, he fled to England in 1777 and was still there two years later when rampaging British troops "plundered and greatly damaged" his plantation at Ashley Hall, destroying a fish dam, tossing his private papers into the garden, and smashing china and glass. The greatest loss may have been Bull's library, which he reported "was scattered and mostly carried away."[14] Bull returned to America in February 1781, but when British troops evacuated Charleston a year later, he returned with them to England, whereupon the Continental Army general Nathaneal Greene (1742-1786) commandeered Ashley Hall as his headquarters. [15] Bull died in London in 1791. The following year his wife, Hannah Beale Bull, erected an obelisk honoring his memory on the grounds of Ashley Hall. The monument bears a portrait of the governor in relief and a commemorative plaque with a lengthy inscription reading in part: "This obelisk was erected, sacred to his virtues and her grief, with duty and affection by his disconsolate widow." [16]

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. [17] 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. [18] 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. [19]

--Robyn Asleson


"[William Bull], the first Governor, had entertained Catesby, teh celebrated naturalist, at the family seat, at Ashley river, where tehre is now a majestic avenue of oaks, said to have been planted by his hand."



South Carolina Plantations

South Carolina Department of Archives and History

Alfred O. Halsey Map Preservation Research Project, Preservation Society of Charleston



  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 (June 1933): 113, view on Zotero.
  2. 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: 286-96, view on Zotero; Gamble, 1933: 112-13, view on Zotero.
  3. Bull's son, William Bull, 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," 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. S. Salley, Jr., "The Bull Family of South Carolina," The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, 1 (January 1900): 76-77, view on Zotero.
  4. "Ashley Hall," 1975, view on Zotero.
  5. Bull, 1952: 61-62 view on Zotero; "Ashley Hall," 1975, view on Zotero.
  6. Salley, 1900: 77-78 view on Zotero.
  7. Charles Fraser, Reminiscences of Charleston (Charleston, S.C.: J. Russell, 1854), 68, view on Zotero
  8. 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 and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 207, view on Zotero.
  9. Bull, 1952: 62, view on Zotero; Loutrel Winslow Briggs, Charleston Gardens (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1951), ___, view on Zotero
  10. James Raven, London Booksellers and American Customers: Transatlantic Literary Community and the Charleston Library Society, 1748-1811 (Columbia, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 2002), 172, view on Zotero.
  11. Edmund Berkeley and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, Dr. Alexander Garden of Charles Town (Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press, 1969), 35, view on Zotero; Raven, 2002, 73, 223, view on Zotero.
  12. Raven, 2002, 73, 169-70,view on Zotero.
  13. Albert E. Sanders and William Dewey Anderson, Jr., Natural History Investigations in South Carolina: From Colonial Times to the Present (Columbia, S. C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1999), 18-19, view on Zotero.
  14. Bull, 1952: 63,view on Zotero; Stephen Conway, A Short History of the American Revolutionary War (New York: I. B. Tauris, 2013), 126, view on Zotero.
  15. Geraldine M. Meroney, "William Bull’s First Exile from South Carolina, 1777-1781," The 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, S.C.: University of South Carolina Press, 1981), 56, view on Zotero; C. Harrison Dwight, "Count Rumford: His Majesty’s Colonel in Carolina," The South Carolina Historical Magazine, 57 (January 1956): 27, view on Zotero.
  16. Bull, 1952: 66, view on Zotero.
  17. ”Ashley Hall”, 1975, view on Zotero.
  18. 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.
  19. Bull, 1952: 66, view on Zotero.
  20. Charles Fraser, Reminiscences of Charleston (Charleston, S.C.: J. Russell, 1854), 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=9246 (accessed December 8, 2023).

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