IN the evening I took up my quarters in the beautiful isle in sight of Mount Royal.
Part II, Chapter VIII of Travels describes a brief, 6-day trip from Spalding’s Lower Store to Lake George and back. This is a trip often overlooked even by Bartram aficionados both because of its placement within Travels and its brevity. According to Francis Harper (page 375) in his commentary on Travels suggests that the voyage took place in the latter part of July, 1774. However, in his commentary on Bartram’s Report, (page 192) he says that this “minor excursion” probably took place between September and November. Though William provided no date, he says that this excursion took place while he was waiting for the schooner which was scheduled to return to Georgia in late autumn.
Bartram provided a list of waypoints (some more definitive than others) that, when plotted, enable us to establish a fairly accurate route for his voyage. The first landfall is an overnight stop at Mount Royal. He then sailed “across the lake to the west coast, landing on an airy, sandy beach” (quite possibly somewhere along Yellow Bluff south of Salt Cove which was the site used by the Bartrams during their northbound journey in 1766.) He then visited the Great Springs (most likely Silver Glen Springs though Harper contends that it was Salt Springs) where he stayed until the next day. He then left the Spring, re-crossed the Lake to the east coast of Lake George. He “coasted” the Lake slowly and, although it is not said, his description of abandoned plantations indicates that it was in a northerly direction. He stopped and collected plants along the way until he came to a “long point of flat rocks” near the deserted plantation of Dr. Stork where he established camp for the night. The following day, he set sail, again coasting the east shoreline and making landfall at any convenient location to collect seeds and plants. Along the way, he stopped at another deserted plantation then continued on and, in the evening, made camp on “the beautiful isle (Drayton Island) in sight of Mount Royal.” Next morning, he collected additional plants and then set sail, stopping at Mount Royal before continuing back to Spalding’s Lower Store.
William Bartram first visited Drayton Island during the winter of 1766 with his father, John Bartram, and again on several occasions during his 1774 trip. Each of the previous visits began with landings on the southern end of this three-mile-long Island, but included hikes that extended well away from his landing sites. Consequently, he was familiar with the Island but most familiar with its southern end. During this, his last visit, he undoubtedly was endeavoring to cover more of the Island’s northern end. He describes making camp “in sight of Mount Royal,” however, today Mount Royal cannot be seen from any point on Drayton Island due to the extension of the east shore at Keeths Point which totally blocks the line of sight between the Island and Mount Royal. It is doubtful that Mount Royal could be seen during Bartram’s day either, however it is difficult, at best, even with binoculars, excellent maps and intimate knowledge of the River in this area, to distinguish between Hog Island, Drayton Island, the east shore of Lake George, Black Point and Keeths Point when looking south from Mount Royal. Undoubtedly it was equally confusing to William Bartram’s unaided eye in 1774.
Discounting this claim of a view of Mount Royal and knowing that his approach to the Island was from the east shore of the River, one can assume that William made camp on the north end of the Island on the west side facing towards Mount Royal. A visit to the Island today reveals a low swamp at the Island’s northwest tip that extends around the point and several hundred yards south along the west shore. At this point, the elevation rises dramatically out of the swamp to a wooded bluff overlooking the swamp and the east shore of the River to the north and the River and its west shore and Hog Island (but not Mount Royal) to the west. This bluff, the first high ground along the west shore of the Island, is conspicuous because of its massive live oaks whose branches extend well out over the narrow, shallow shoreline, shading the shelly banks which rise dramatically from the River. It would have provided William with an ideal campsite, high above the surface of the River and out of reach of any large reptiles that may have disturbed his sleep during the night.
This northwestern tip the Island is presently under the ownership of The Archeological Conservancy, is posted and not open to the public. However, paddling the shallows along the shoreline of the Island at this site does afford an impressive view of the massive tree roots and exposed layers of substrate that compose the bluff where, undoubtedly, William Bartram made his final camp on Drayton Island in the autumn of 1774.
Bartram Trail Site 32 is accessible only from the water and can be most easily reached from Putnam County’s Drayton Island Ferry boat ramp located at the end of Drayton Island Ferry Road in Georgetown. From the ramp, cross the St. Johns River to the Island and follow the Island’s shoreline westward and around the northwestern-most point. Continue along the shoreline to the bluff just a few hundred yards south of the Island’s northern tip. Although, as of this writing, no site marker has been erected, the likely site of William’s quarters is easily identified by the abrupt change in elevation of the shoreline. The site, located on private property, is an easy 15 minute paddle from the ramp and boat traffic is nearly non-existent.
Bartram’s Travels – Chapter VIII
Part II, Page 253
AS a loading could not be procured until late in the autumn, for the schooner that was to return to Georgia, this circumstance allowed me time and opportunity to continue my excursions in this land of flowers, as well as at the same time to augment my collections of seeds, growing roots, &c.
I RESOLVED upon another little voyage up the river; and after resting a few days and refitting my bark, I got on board the necessary stores, and furnishing myself with boxes to plant roots in, with my fuzee, amunition and fishing tackle, I sat sail, and in the evening arrived at Mount Royal. Next morning being moderately calm and serene, I sat sail with a gentle leading breeze, which delightfully wafted me across the lake to the west coast, landing on an airy, sandy beach, a pleasant, cool situation, where I passed the night, but not without frequent attacks from the musquitoes, and next day visited the Great Springs, where I remained until the succeeding day, encreasing my collections of specimens, seeds and roots, and then recrossed the lake to the Eastern coast. This shore is generally bolder and more rocky than the Western, it being exposed to the lash of the surf, occasioned by the W. and N. W. winds, which are brisk and constant from nine or ten o’clock in the morning till towards midnight, almost the year round; though the S. winds are considerable in the spring, and by short intervals during the summer and winter; and the N. E. though sometimes very violent in the spring
and autumn, does not continue long. The day was employed in coasting slowly, and making collections. In the evening I made a harbour under cover of a long point of flat rocks, which defended the mole from the surf; having safely moored my bark, and chosen my camping ground just by, during the fine evening I reconnoitred the adjacent groves and lawns; here is a deserted plantation, the property of Dr. Stork, where he once resided. I observed many lovely shrubs and plants in the old fields and Orange groves, particularly several species of Convolvulus and Ipomea, the former having very large, white, sweet scented flowers; they are great ramblers, climbing and strolling on the shrubs and hedges. Next morning I re-embarked and continued traversing the bold coast North-Eastward, and searching the shores at all convenient landings, where I was amply rewarded for my assiduity in the society of beauties in the blooming realms of Florida. Came to again, at an old deserted plantation, the property of a British gentleman, but some years since vacated. A very spacious frame building was settling to the ground and mouldering to earth; here are very extensive old fields, where were growing the West-Indian or perennial Cotton and Indigo, which had been cultivated here, and some scattered remains of the ancient Orange groves, which had been left standing at the clearing of the plantation.
I HAVE often been affected with extreme regret, at beholding the destruction and devastation which has been committed, or indiscreetly exercised on those extensive, fruitful Orange groves, on the banks of St. Juan, by the new planters under the British government, some hundred acres of which, at a
single plantation, has been entirely destroyed to make room for the Indigo, Cotton, Corn, Batatas, &c. or as they say to extirpate the musquitoes, alledging that groves near their dwellings are haunts and shelters for those persecuting insects; some plantations have not a single tree standing, and where any have been left, it is only a small coppice or clump, nakedly exposed and destitute; perhaps fifty or an hundred trees standing near the dwelling-house, having no lofty cool grove of expensive Live Oaks, Laurel Magnolias and Palms to shade and protect them, exhibiting a mournful, sallow countenance; their native perfectly formed and glossy green foliage as if violated, defaced and torn to pieces by the bleak winds, scorched by the burning sun-beams in summer, and chilled by the winter frosts.
IN the evening I took up my quarters in the beautiful isle in sight of Mount Royal. Next day, after collecting what was new and worthy of particular notice, I sat sail again and called by the way at Mount Royal, in the evening arrived safe at the stores, bringing along with me valuable collections.