Florida Museum of Natural History

William Bartram

Book of Travels

Published in 1791, Bartram's Travels is a book of four different parts. Part one outlines preparations for his trip and describes his journey in 1773 from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to the Georgia colony. Part two recounts to Bartram's travels in British East Florida in the year 1774. Part three describes his investigations in the territories of the Cherokees and Choctaws, or West Florida, Alabama, and the region west to the Mississippi River in 1775. Part four contains Bartram's valuable accounts of Southeastern Indian groups at the time of the American Revolution. Besides the Creeks and Seminoles, Bartram discussed three other Indian groups living between the Savannah and Mississippi rivers: (1) Cherokees occupying in the mountain valleys of the Carolinas, Tennessee and Georgia, (2) Choctaws controlling lands from the Tombighee to Mississippi rivers, and (3) Chickasaws to the north of the Choctaws.

Bartram in Florida: Arrival in East Florida, 1774:

In March 1774, William Bartram sailed from St. Simons Island, Georgia, to the St. Johns River. His host on St. Simons Island was James Spalding, senior partner in the firm of Spalding and Kelsell, which traded goods with the Creeks. Spalding, an in-law of Bartram's traveling companion, John McIntosh, gave Bartram letters to his agents instructing them to furnish guides, horses and other assistance.

Bound for Spalding's Lower Store on the St. Johns River, Bartram forwarded his trunk with Spalding's traders. The Lower Store, managed by Charles McLatchie served as a distribution point for the Upper Store, under the direction of Job Wiggens and his Indian wife, and inland trading houses at Alachua and Talahasochte.

Amelia Island

As the vessel on which Bartram and McIntosh had passage rounded Cumberland Island, it met a trading schooner returning from stores on the Sr. Johns River. Passengers told of recent Indian raids, and Bartram's vessel turned back. Bartram prevailed upon the captain to put him and McIntosh ashore on Cumberland Island, uninhabited except for Fort William. After "harsh treatment from thorny thickets and prickly vines," the two men proceeded by boat to Amelia Island.

Fernandina Beach

Bartram and his companion landed on the north end of Amelia Island and crossed Egan's Creek (now Clark's Creek) to Lord Egmont's plantation, an estate of 8000-9000 acres with a town laid out in 1770. They remained for several days with Mr. Egan, the agent or manager. Having failed as a planter, Bartram was impressed with the indigo growing in the northeastern sector, present-day Fernandina Beach. He also observed four large mounds called the "Ogeeche mounts," remnants of one still evident in 1940 on the grounds of Public School #1 on the north side of Atlantic Avenue near 12th Street.

Cowford Ferry

Bartram and a party left the Egmont plantation by boat via Kingsley Creek and across Nassau Sound and probably camped on the north end of Talbot Island. Bartram reported orange trees "in full bloom" and air filled with "fragrance." Before proceeding by way of Sawpit and Sister creeks to the public ferry in Cowford, Bartram procured a small boat and fitted it with sails for his journey up the St. Johns River. He and McIntosh parted company. Bartram probably made his first camp in or near Ortega.

The next day, he re-crossed the river and visited the Marshall plantation known to him from earlier travels with his father. Abraham Marshall, a slave owner, presented Bartram with a sample of fine indigo blue dye "of his own manufacture." At the next plantation, a hospitable host assured him that the Indian trouble was over and to proceed without fear.

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Up the St. Johns River to Palatka

Bartram continued south and landed at the old Spanish fort at Picolata. In 1765, he and his father had attended the congress held there by Governor James Grant and Creek representatives. Traveling up river, Bartram was impressed by "incredible numbers of small flying insects" a number "greater than the whole race of mankind." He camped near the mouth of Clark's Creek, Clay Co. Recording large "floating islands" of water lettuce and "majestic" cypress trees, Bartram followed the western shore of the St. Johns River. This part of Bartram's account inspired French writer Rene' de Chateaubriand to write of "floating islands" and "young crocodiles" taking "passage on these floral vessels" in Atala, a popular novella published 1801.

After "doubling a long point of land" (Forrester's Point), Bartram proceeded to a Creek village near Palatka. Youths were fishing and shooting frogs with bows and arrows, as women hoed corn. Bartram admired the llarge, carefully tended orange grove and "several hundred acres cleared" for corn, beans, "batatas" (potatoes), "pompions" (pumpkins), squashes, melons, and tobacco. By 1875, Palatka was a resort for consumptives and terminus of the steamer line from Charleston, South Carolina.

The Lower Store

Between present-day East Palatka and San Mateo, Bartram stopped at Carlotia, an experimental community founded by Denys Rolle in 1764 with British vagrants, debtors and social outcasts. Ten years later, only the overseer, blacksmith, and their families remained. Bartram described the "beautiful shrub" paw paw at this site, now the Rollestown location of a Florida Power and Light generating plant. Having secured directions to Murphy's Island where the trading party had secured goods and his gear, Bartram continued up river to the Lower Store at or near present-day Stokes Landing.

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The Alachua Savanna

In April, Bartram and a party set out for an inland trading house near Lochloosa Creek (at the northwestern corner of Orange Lake) and the River Styx. The Creeks, Bartram learned, had recently moved from their village at the edge of the great Alachua Savanna to Lake Tuscawilla (near present-day Micanopy), because of the "stench of putrid fish and reptiles." Again, the French writer Rene' de Chateaubriand borrowed this town from Bartram's Travels for the Seminole "capital" in Atala, a story of ill-fated Indian love.

Return to the Lower Store

The traders continued on to the trading store near Chacala Pond, while Puc Puggy the Flower Hunter, as the Creek mico Cowkeeper called Bartram, explored the beautiful Alachua Savanna. In early May, he rejoined the trading party on their return to the Lower Store. They probably crossed the old Spanish Highway about 1.5 miles south of Prairie Creek and continued northwest to Rochelle. Following the path to Lochloosa Creek, the party camped at Cowpen Lake and returned the next day to the Lower Store.

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Lake George

In mid May, traders went ahead with goods to the Upper Store at present-day Astor. Bartram followed in his small boat, passing Mount Hope, a large shell mound "named by my father" and now demolished for road-fill. Bartram mentioned that the British residents had converted older Spanish orange groves into a large indigo plantation. At Mount Royal (Fruitland Cove), the party spent a night with a former "Indian trader," Mr. Kean. On Lake George, they camped at the south end of Drayton's Island near remains of a large mound and "grand avenue." Crossing Lake George (15 miles wide), they spent one night at Cedar Point (Zinder Point), where the lake joins the St. John's River. Here Bartram described lantana, an orange hibiscus, and bears. The following day, they reached the Upper Store. Bartram remained only a few days.

Lake Dexter

En route to a plantation 60 miles up river, Bartram was accompanied by a Mustee youth who soon tired of his labors and quit. Bartram's first camp was near Manhattan, some 3 miles from the Upper Store on the west side of the Sr. Johns River. He crossed Lake Dexter and camped at a shell mound. Fishing for his supper, he encountered the alligators so vividly described as "crocodiles" in Chapter V of his Travels: "two very large ones attacked me closely, at the same instant, rushing up with their heads and part of their bodies above the water, roaring terribly and belching floods of water over me. They struck their jaws together so close to my ears, as almost to stun me." Bartram spent two or three days exploring this rich natural area and observed the snake bird, anhinga.

Yamassee Burial Ground (St Francis)

Setting up camp in the dark on the second night, Bartram found that he had "unwittingly taken up my lodging on the borders of an ancient burying ground; sepulchres or tumuli of the Yamassees, who were here slain by the Creeks in the last decisive battle." In attendance at the Creek town of Cuscowilla, Bartram had earlier observed Yamassees who spoke Spanish.

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New Smyrna

Having weathered a violent early June storm, Bartram reached the plantation owned by Lord Beresford, about 30 miles from the Minorcan colony of New Smyrna founded in 1767. For more than a century, this region, with particularly rich soil, produced large quantities of sugar and syrup, in addition to esteemed Indian River citrus. Tourists today can enjoy Sugar Mill Gardens at Daytona Beach and the New Smyrna Sugar Mill Historical Memorial at New Smyrna Beach.

Blue Springs

Mr. Bernard, the manager of the Beresford Plantation, took Bartram to Blue Springs, visited with his father John Bartram on 4 January 1766. "This tepid water," Bartram reported, "has a most disagreeable taste, brassy and vitriolic, and very offensive to the smell, much like bilge water or the washings of a gun barrel." The largest spring in the St. Johns River Basin, Blue Springs, the southernmost point of his journey, is now a state park and manatee sanctuary in Volusia County.

Arrival at the Upper Store

Returning to the Upper Store via St. Francis, Spring Garden Creek, and Orange Bluff (Bluffton), Bartram observed many birds-the sandhill crane, limpkin, curlew, and wood stork. Bartram stopped and spent another night on the eastern bank of the St. Johns River to prepare his natural history collections before arrival at the Upper Store. There he bid "adieu" to Job Wiggens and set out again for the Lower Store.

Second Trip to the Lower Store

Bartram camped again at Cedar Point and touched on a small island he called "The Isle of Palms." Two miles south of Silver Glen Springs (Bartram's Johnson Springs), a beautiful spot in the Ocala National Forest, wolves made off with fish hanging over Bartram's sleeping head. Bartram followed the run of Salt Springs (Bartram's Six Mile Springs) to its source and continued northwest to Rocky Point of Lake George. He and again visited Mr. Kean at Mount Royal and reached the Lower Store in early June 1774.

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Return to the Alachua Savanna

In mid June, Bartram set out for the "Little St. Juan" (Suwannee River). The first day's journey took the party about 25 miles to Cowpen Lake. Bartram recorded the Creek's use of garfish teeth to tip their arrows and provided the first scientific description of the gopher tortoise. Near Cuscowilla, the party divided. Cowkeeper's people greeted Bartram's group and offered them the "thin drink" of casual hospitality.

Lake Kanapaha

Live oaks that Bartram described still stand at Lake Kanapaha, and a trail marker notes his charming campsite at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens. En route, the party observed wolves, small black color variants of the southern red wold, feeding on the carcass of a horse. Archer Road (S.R. 24) approximates the old trail, and the landscape of little lakes and sinkholes which Bartram noted en route to present-day Bronson, Levy Co., are characteristic of the limestone (karst) typology.

Manatee Springs

Having camped near the Big or Little Waccasassa River, Bartram's group traveled to Long Pond, 2 miles south of Chiefland. Their destination, the store at Talahasochte, has been identified with Ross Landing, a bluff 6 miles upstream from Manatee Springs, today a state park. There, Bartram described the "boil" of the spring and accurately recorded eruptions every 34 seconds. Bartram observed manatee bones along the banks. Today, the manatee, Florida's official marine mammal, is an endangered species.

Suwannee River

Bartram described the Suwannee River as the most beautiful river he had ever seen. His excursion apparently followed a trading path for 1.5 miles. Turning west to California Creek headwaters, he proceeded north 8 or 9 miles towards present-day Oldtown, before returning to Talahasochte. After completing their business with the coordial Creek mico, White King, who gave Bartram permission to collect in lands under his control. Although Bartram did not explore as far south as the true Florida scrub, in the company of a guide, he noted the "clamorous" Florida scrub jay, now an endangered species.

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Return to the Lower Store

The trade party returned to the Lower Store by way of Cowpen Lake. Late in July 1774, Bartram made one last "little voyage" to a favorite spot, Salt Springs, today a popular recreation site. On his return to the Lower Store, he found a very large party of Creeks encamped in the grove. Led by Long Warrior, whose portrait Bartram later published in the Travels, these rowdy warriors were setting out to fight their traditional enemies, the Choctaws. Angry that the store manager Charles McClatchie denied their leader credit, some young braves frightened Bartram with a truth test involving a rattlesnake, an animal taboo for them to kill. After their departure, McClatchie soothed Bartram's shaken nerves with an invitation to a watermelon festival at a Creek village nearby.

Departure from East Florida

Having enjoyed the festival, Bartram returned to the Lower Store as a trading schooner was preparing to leave for St. Simons Island, Georgia. Before the vessel sailed, Bartram crossed the St. Johns River with a party turning out the horses to range on the western bank. Bartram's Travels refers to his departure in September, but other sources indicate early November 1774.

Pensacola, 1775

While waiting for a ship to take him west from Mobile, Alabama to the Pearl River in 1775, Bartram decided to embark for the Perdido River "for the purpose of securing the remains of a wreck." Although his subsequent arrival in Pensacola was "merely accidental and undesigned," the naturalist was soon introduced to Governor Peter Chester of West Florida who "commended my pursuits, and invited me to continue in West Florida in researches after subjects of natural history." Chester offered to pay Bartram's expenses and put him up with his own family. Already committed to collect specimens for the British Quaker physician, Dr. John Fothergill, Bartram declined the governor's offer to survey West Florida. Although his visit to Pensacola was brief (less than 24 hours), he gave detailed descriptions of the city in his Travels.

During the next century, there was talk of ceding the sparsely settled Florida panhandle to Alabama. In 1875, poet and composer Sidney Lanier similarly praised the beauty of the gulf coastal bays and "fine fish and oysters" in his tourist guide, Florida: Its Scenery, Climate and History.

Return to Mobile

Anxious to continue his trip to the Mississippi River, Bartram returned by boat to Mobile. He was beginning to feel the effects of lingering fevers.

Spring and Summer, 1776

Bartram's Travels does not give derails for the spring and summer of 1776, and his field journals from this period have been lost. While other colonists were consumed by the events of the American Revolution, Bartram revisited "several districts" of "the East borders of Florida." Although a Quaker by background and a pacifist, at this time he joined a revolutionary force in Georgia for the purpose of repelling a rumored British invasion that never materialized.

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Kingsessing, Pennsylvania, 1777

Bartram returned to Kingsessing, a community outside Philadelphia, in January of 1777. Shortly before his father's death that year, the Battle of Brandywine occurred dangerously near the family property along the Schuykill River. The John Bartram Society has opened the house and gardens to the public. Following the War of Independence, William Bartram and his brother John Jr. developed their father's garden into a successful nursery business. A sales catalog for 1783 lists many Florida trees and shrubs including live oak, magnolia, Andromeda (illustrated here by William Bartram), azalea, and for some reason, poison oak. William passed the rest of his long life in Kingsessing. He worked with students and colleagues and continued to publish. His records and drawings became part of a second book, Elements of Botany, in 1803, the first botanical textbook published in the United States by Benjamin Smith Barton.


Kings Essing Garden

On hearing the news of Bartram's death in 1823, Thomas Jefferson wrote Bartram's grieving niece: "he is not gone . he remains everywhere around you. When you wish to find him, you bate only to look in his garden, and in his work, and in his green world.

Unless otherwise noted, William Bartram's drawings are housed at the British Museum (Natural History), London, UK

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