…we encamped where we did the night before, on a bed of long tree-moss, to preserve us from the very low damp ground, which is very unpleasant and dangerous.
John and William Bartram
The route from the Lower Store to Crescent Lake covers about 14.5 miles if measured in the mainstem of the River to Dunns Creek and 16 miles if Murphys Creek is included. The entire trip took only a few hours since they entered the Lake around noon. After spending two nights on the shore of Crescent Lake, the Bartrams returned to the Creek, and headed to Squire Roll’s, now called “Charlottenburgh “ in John’s Journal.
The likely routes to and from the Bartram’s Crescent Lake campsite are shown in Figure 1.
Once in the Lake, they made camp on the north shore. The orientation of the lake is properly described in the Journal as generally NW to SE and, since it is long and narrow, the north shore is only about one and a half miles long. It is therefore likely that the Bartram’s campsite was quite close to the mouth of Dunns Creek.
The camp was in a cypress swamp on land that was marshy since the bank was only a foot above the Lake’s surface. They resorted to building a bed of moss to preserve themselves from the “very low damp ground, which is very unpleasant and dangerous.” Despite these seemingly unpleasant conditions, the group spent two nights at this campsite. During the intervening day, they rowed south to a small island, present-day Bear Island, and explored it finding evidence of Indian habitation.
The estimated dimension of the lake described as “about 15 miles long” is fairly accurate if one includes present day Dead Lake as the eastern extension mentioned in the Journal entry on January 26. The plat map of the settlement of Denys Rolle (Figure 2) shows this as the configuration of Crescent Lake, labeled Lake Rolle. Today, Lake Rolle is divided into Crescent Lake and Dead Lake, separated by wetlands but connected by a half-mile-long creek.
Bartram Trail Marker 9 is located on the north shore of Crescent Lake only a hundred and fifty yards east of the mouth of the Creek. The marker is on public property however the shoreline is as inhospitable today as it was during the Bartram’s visit. The most convenient access is provided by the soft launch at Dunns Creek State Park (Figure 3). From this launch the site is a pleasant 2 mile paddle in the sheltered waters of Dunns Creek. The Creek is tidal and the current can be significant in both directions.
January 26, 1766 Journal Entry
“Fine morning, warm and pleasant; observed a plum-tree in full blossom; here I saw many pine-trees, that had lately been cut down, and though 18 inches in diameter, they were the greatest part sap; I counted their years growth, and found some to be about 50, some 40, and others 30, but one large tree two foot in diameter, had only four inches of sap, and I counted 130 years growth or red circles; here was a well dug on declining ground, the water, which was sweet, rose to within 5 or 6 foot of the surface of the ground, at the distance of 100 yards from the river, and perhaps eight foot above it.”
“We rowed four miles down the river to Dunn’s Island, which Lord Adam Gordon has petitioned for; it contains about 1500 acres more or less of good swamp, and some hammock. We then took the right-hand creek up to Dunn’s lake, observing much good swamp on both sides, the creek being generally 150 yards broad, and two fathom deep; on the west side there is two points of low land, which comes close to the creek: About noon we entered the lake, whose general course is N.W. and S.E. and about 15 miles long, the upper end turns towards the east: We encamped on the north side in a cypress-swamp, part of it marshy, its bank next the lake was a foot above the water, but back was lower until the pine-lands began within half a mile; this north side is generally a narrow cypress-swamp to the pines, widening a little in some branches.”
January 27, 1766 Journal Entry
“Fine pleasant morning. Set out early, and landed on a small island of near 100 acres, part cypress-swamp, part marsh, and piney palmetto, a very rotten black soil, mixed with white sand: We landed on a low bluff of muscle and snail-shells, generally broken and powdered by the surges of the lake; here, as well as in most other places on any high dry bank on the river or its branches where the soil is good, are found fragments of old Indian pots and orange-trees, which clearly demonstrates, that the Florida Indians inhabited every fertile spot on St. John’s river, lakes, and branches; now the ash, maple, elm, and pavia, are all green, and shot out several inches, the cypress is in full bloom, the water-oak begins to look yellow, and the sweet-gum just casting its leaves: the north end of this island is pine and palmetto, then high swamp; the east end low. Leaving the island, we encamped where we did the night before, on a bed of long tree-moss, to preserve us from the very low damp ground, which is very unpleasant and dangerous.”
January 28, 1766 Journal Entry
“Fine morning; set down Dunn’s lake, the west side of which is generally pine-land, but at the head westward are some very good swamps, which hold generally down the river; squire Roll claims all the north or north-east side from his town to the head of the lake; from the lower end of which ‘tis reckoned 13 miles to the river, thence down to Roll’s 4; on the west side of the river is a very rich extensive marsh, which colonel Middleton claims; about one o’clock we arrived at Charlottenburgh, Roll’s town, and staid all night.”
Resources and Links
Bartram, William. Annotated by Francis Harper. Travels in Georgia and Florida, 1773-74; a report to Dr. John Fothergill. Annotated by Francis Harper. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., Vol. XXXIII, Pt. II. Philadelphia, PA, 1943.
Florida History Online “John Bartram’s Travels on the St. Johns River, 1765-1766.” May 2013.
Bartram, John. Diary of a Journey through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, from July 1, 1765, to April 10, 1766, annotated by Francis Harper. Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., Vol. XXXIII, Pt. I. Philadelphia, PA, 1942.
Florida History Online. New World in a State of Nature; British Plantations and Farms on the St. Johns River, East Florida 1763-1784. May 2013
Florida Museum of Natural History. Florida Naturalists. William Bartram. Book of Travels. May 2013