Born in Charleston, South Carolina, Percival Drayton was the son of Anna Gadsden and William Drayton, a prominent lawyer and US Representative. William Drayton was a descendant of what had been a large landholding family in South Carolina. In the 1770s, his father William Drayton Sr had sold his property in South Carolina to his uncle John Drayton, after being appointed in the 1770s as chief justice of the Province of East Florida.
He died after the war in Washington, DC. He had an older brother Thomas F. Drayton. In 1833 the family relocated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania following the Nullification Crisis, as William Drayton was a unionist. He was appointed as president of the Second Bank of the United States.
Thomas, already grown, stayed in South Carolina. John Drayton's branch consolidated the holdings at Magnolia Plantation. After the American Revolutionary War, William Drayton, Sr. returned to South Carolina with his family and became prominent in its politics.
Percival Drayton was appointed a Midshipman in the Navy in December 1827 and initially served in the south Atlantic on board the frigate Hudson. Promoted to Commander in September 1855, Drayton subsequently served as a staff officer during the Paraguay Expedition. At the beginning of the Civil War in 1861, he was stationed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where he directed the construction and renovation of ships for war service.
In the fall of 1861, Commander Drayton was placed in command of the gunboat Pocahontas. He participated in the capture of Port Royal, South Carolina. He was a general of the Confederate army and commanded the forts destroyed in this engagement.
Percival Drayton became commanding officer of the sloop of war Pawnee and was active in inshore operations in the waters of South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida through the summer of 1862. He was promoted to Captain in July of that year. In September 1862, he was given command of the ironclad Passaic, overseeing her outfitting and working with John Ericsson to improve elements of monitor design.
Captain Drayton's next assignment was as Superintendent of Ordnance at the New York Navy Yard. In December 1863 he began a year as Fleet Captain to the commander of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron, Rear Admiral David Glasgow Farragut. Also commanding the squadron flagship, the big sloop of war Hartford, he took part in the August 1864 Battle of Mobile Bay and the following operations within Mobile Bay.
Appointed Chief of the Bureau of Navigation in late April 1865, Drayton died of an obstructed bowel in Washington, D.C., on 4 August 1865. The U.S. Navy has named two destroyers in honor of Percival Drayton, including: Drayton (Destroyer # 23, later DD-23) of 1910-1935. And Drayton (DD-366) of 1936-1946.
Drayton commanded his ship in attacks on Forts McAllister and Sumter in March and April 1863, experiences that reinforced his opinion concerning the limitations of the monitor type when fighting against well-defended fortifications.