THE morning being fair, and having a gentle favourable gale, we left our pleasant harbour, in pursuit of our desired port.
NOW as we approach the capes, behold the little ocean of Lake George, the distant circular coast gradually rising to view, from his misty fringed horizon. I cannot entirely suppress my apprehension of danger. My vessel at once diminished to a nut-shell, on the swelling seas, and at the distance of a few miles, must appear to the surprised
observer, as some aquatic animal, at intervals emerging from its surface. This lake is a large and beautiful piece of water ; it is a dilatation of the river St. Juan, and is about fifteen miles wide, and generally about fifteen or twenty feet deep, excepting at the entrance of the river, where lies a bar, which carries eight or nine feet water. The lake is beautified with two or three fertile islands. The first lies in the bay, as we ascend into the lake, near the West coast, about S. W. from Mount Royal, from whence it appears to form part of the West shore of the bay. The second island seems to ride on the lake before us as we enter, about a mile within it. This island is about two miles in breadth, and three quarters of a mile where broadest, mostly high land, well timbered, and fertile. The third and last, lies at the South end of the lake, and near the entrance of the river; it is nearly circular, and contains but a few acres of land, the earth high and fertile, and almost an entire Orange grove, with grand Magnolias and Palms.
SOON after entering the lake, the wind blew so briskly from the West, and thunder-clouds gathering upon the horizon, we were obliged to seek a shelter, from the approaching tempest, on the large beautiful island, before mentioned. Where, having gained the South promontory, we met with an excellent harbour, in which we continued the remaining part of the day and the night. This circumstance gave me an opportunity to explore the greatest part of it.
THIS island appears, from obvious vestiges, to have been once the chosen residence of an Indian prince, there being to this day, evident remains of
a large town of the Aborigines. It was situated on an eminence, near the banks of the lake, and commanded a comprehensive and charming prospect of the waters, island, East and West shore of the lake, the capes, the bay and Mount Royal, and to the South the view is in a manner infinite, where the skies and waters seem to unite. On the site of this ancient town, stands a very pompous Indian mount, or conical pyramid of earth, from which runs in a strait line, a grand avenue or Indian highway, through a magnificent grove of Magnolias, Live Oaks, Palms and Orange trees, terminating at the verge of a large green level savanna. This island appears to have been well inhabited, as is very evident, from the quantities of fragments of Indian earthen-ware, bones of animals and other remains, particularly in the shelly heights and ridges, all over the island. There are no habitations at present on the island, but a great number of deer, turkeys, bears, wolves, wild cats, squirrels, racoons, and opossoms. The bears are invited here to partake of the fruit of the Orange tree, which they are immoderately fond of, and both they and turkeys are made extremely fat and delicious, from their feeding on the sweet acorns of the Live Oak.
THERE grows on this island, many curious shrubs, particularly a beautiful species of Lantana (perhaps Lant. camerara. Lin. Syst. Veget. p. 473.) It grows in coppices in old fields, about five or six feet high, the branches adorned with rough serrated leaves, which sit opposite, and the twigs terminate with umbeliferous tufts of orange coloured blossoms, which are succeeded by a cluster of small blue berries: the flowers are of various colours, on the same plant, and even in the same cluster. As
crimson, scarlet, orange and golden yellow: the whole plant is of a most agreeable scent. The orange flowered shrub Hibiscus is also conspicuously beautiful (perhaps Hibisc. spinifex of Linn.) it grows five or six feet high, and subramous. The branches are divergent, and furnished with cordated leaves, which are crenated. The flowers are of a moderate size, and of a deep splendid yellow. The pericarpii are spiny. I also saw a new and beautiful palmated leaved convolvulus.*
* Convol. dissectus.
This Vine rambles over the shrubs, and strolls about on the ground, its leaves are elegantly sinuated, of a deep grass green, and sit on long petioles. The flowers are very large, infundibuliform, of a pale incarnate colour, having a deep crimson eye.
THERE are some rich swamps on the shores of the island, and these are verged on the outside with large marshes, covered entirely with tall grass, rushes, and herbacious plants: amongst these are several species of Hibiscus, particularly the Hibiscus coccineus. This most stately of all herbacious plants, grows ten or twelve feet high, branching regularly, so as to form a sharp cone. These branches also divide again, and are embellished with large expanded crimson flowers: I have seen this plant of the size and figure of a beautiful little tree, having at once several hundred of these splendid flowers, and which may be then seen at a great distance. They continue to flower in succession all summer and autumn, when the stems wither and decay; but the perennial root sends forth new stems the next spring, and so on for many years. Its leaves are large, deeply and elegantly sinuated, having six or seven very narrow dentated segments;
the surface of the leaves, and of the whole plant, are smooth and polished. Another species of Hibiscus, worthy of particular notice, is likewise a tall flourishing plant; several strong stems arise from a root, five, six, and seven feet high, embellished with ovate lanciolate leaves, covered with a fine down on their nether surfaces: the flowers are very large, and of a deep incarnate colour.
THE last we shall now mention seems nearly allied to the Alcea; the flowers are a size less than the Hibiscus, and of a fine damask rose colour, and are produced in great profusion on the tall pyramidal stems.
THE Lobelia cardinalis grows in great plenty here, and has a most splendid appearance amidst extensive meadows of the golden Corymbous Jacobea (Senecio Jacobea) and odorous Pancratium.
HAVING finished my tour, on this princely island, I prepared for repose. A calm evening had succeeded the stormy day. The late tumultuous winds had now ceased, the face of the lake had become placid, and the skies serene; the balmy winds breathed the animating odours of the groves around me; and as I reclined on the elevated banks of the lake, at the foot of a Live Oak, I enjoyed the prospect of its wide waters, its fringed coasts, and of the distant horizon.
THE squadrons of aquatic fowls, emerging out of the water, and hastening to their leafy coverts on shore, closed the varied scenes of the past day. I was lulled asleep by the mixed sounds of the wearied
surf, lapsing on the hard beaten shore, and the tender warblings of the painted nonpareil and other winged inhabitants of the groves.
AT the approach of day, the dreaded voice of the alligators shook the isle, and resounded along the neighbouring coasts, proclaiming the appearance of the glorious sun. I arose, and prepared to accomplish my daily task. A gentle favourable gale led us out of the harbour: we sailed across the lake, and, towards evening, entered the river, on the opposite South coast, where we made a pleasant and safe harbour, at a shelly promontory, the East cape of the river on that side of the lake. It is a most desirable situation, commanding a full view of the lake. The cape opposite to us was a vast cypress swamp, environed by a border of grassy marshes, which were projected farther into the lake, by floating fields of the bright green Pistia stratoites, which rose and fell alternately with the waters. Just to leeward of this point, and about half a mile in the lake, is the little round island already mentioned. But let us take notice of our harbour and its environs: it is a beautiful little cove, just within the sandy point, which defends it from the beating surf of the lake. From a shelly bank, ten or twelve feet perpendicular from the water, we entered a grove of Live Oaks, Palm, Magnolia, and Orange trees, which grow amongst shelly hills, and low ridges, occupying about three acres of ground, comprehending the isthmus, and a part of the peninsula, which joins it to the grassy plains. This enchanting little forest is partly encircled by a deep creek, a branch of the river, that has its source in the high forests of the main, South East from us, and winds through the extensive grassy plains which
surround this peninsula, to an almost infinite distance, and then unites its waters with those of the river, in this little bay which formed our harbour. This bay, about the mouth of the creek, is almost covered with the leaves of the Nymphaea nilumbo: its large sweet-scented yellow flowers are listed up two or three feet above the surface of the water, each upon a green starol, representing the cap of Liberty.
THE evening drawing on, and there being no convenient landing place, for several miles higher up the river, we concluded to remain here all night. Whilst my fellow travellers were employing themselves in collecting fire-wood, and fixing our camp, I improved the opportunity, in reconnoitering our ground; and taking my fusee with me, I penetrated the grove, and afterwards entered some almost unlimited savannas and plains, which were absolutely enchanting; they had been lately burnt by the Indian hunters, and had just now recovered their vernal verdure and gaiety.
THE sun passing below the horizon, and night approaching, I arose from my seat, and proceeding on arrived at my camp, kindled my fire, supped and reposed peaceably. And rising early, employed the fore part of the day in collecting specimens of growing roots and seeds. In the afternoon, left these Ellisian springs and the aromatic graves, and briskly descend the pellucid little river, re-entering the great lake; the wind being gentle and fair for Mount Royal, I hoisted sail and successfully crossing the N. West bay, about nine miles, came to at Rocky Point, the West cape or promontory, as we enter the river descending towards Mount Royal:
these are horizontal slabs or flat masses of rocks, rising out of the lake two or three feet above its surface, and seem an aggregate composition or concrete of sand, shells and calcarious cement; of a dark grey or dusky colour; this stone is hard and firm enough for buildings, and serve very well for light hand mill-stones; and when calcined affords a coarse lime; they lay in vast horizontal masses upon one another, from one to two or three feet in thickness, and are easily seperated and broke to any size or form, for the purpose of building. Rocky Point is an airy cool and delightful situation, commanding a most ample and pleasing prospect of the lake and its environs; but here being no wood, I re-embarked and sailed down a little farther to the island in the bay, where I went on shore at a magnificent grove of Magnolias and Oranges, desirous of augmenting my collections. Arose early next morning, and after ranging the groves and savannas, returned, embarked again, and descending, called at Mount Royal, where I enlarged my collections; and bidding adieu to the gentleman and lady, who resided here, and who treated me with great hospitality on my ascent up the river; arrived in the evening at the lower trading house.
The next day sat off in company with the other boat[,] which being larger & having a good sail took me intow, in this maner we set sail leaving M’. Royal one of the finest situations on this River, went about 3 miles & entered the great lake George which is about twelve miles over either way; we set a course streight across for the mouth of the River. at other side, having passt by Draiton Isle, the wind came about a head & blowing a fresh gale from thunder clouds rising up from the S W.[,] we were obliged to put back for a harbour, but before we made the shore the gale carried a way our mast & Sail, which however we saved from going over board[,] & with great danger got into a harbour on the Island where we were detaind all night, but the storm clearing away. a calm & serene morning displayed an agreeable prospect over the wide spread waters of the lake[,] invironed with the high indented shores on every side as far as we could see. We took advantage of the calm repose of the morning & hurried through to the opposite shore & got in the River: The even* being pleasant, & having about 6 miles to the upper Indian Store[,] we amused our selves with fishing with the bob, & took 7 or 8 large trout, & before  Night got to the Store, where were a number of Indians who had taken possession after the Traders left it, they recieved us seemingly in a friendly maner, & having plenty of Bear Oil we drest our fish which made us a good supper[.]
The Next morning early got off[,] padled about 2 Miles & come to the mouth of Johnsons Springs; padled near a mile up & come to a vast Fountain, almost in every respect like the other great Spring that I visited before. I went a shore, mounted very high, hills very steep next the Creek, but fell away more gradually back, & enterd a beautifull grove of Palm Trees[,] large spreading live Oaks & -Vast Laurel Magnolia, mounted a very high ridge, from whence had an almost endless view of a vast baren desart, altogether impenetrable so thickly over grown with short schrubby Oaoks, Bays[,]Yapon[,] Prinos & short laurel bushes (Magnolia Grandaflora) & c. about these hills & open groves, observed abundance of the beautiful Scarlet Sage, the beauti[fu]ll large yellow Malva, A noble, sweet sented Shrub bearing golden clustres of Flowers, Tall Apuntia, breeding plenty of Cochaniel. Returnd to my boat, & with a gentle favourable breese sailed over to Drayton Island; I landed here[,] got some Roots & seeds of some valuable Shrubs & Plants, set off and  By night got over to a Promontary at the mouth of the River. the shore being very rockey & the wind blowing very high[,] found it very dificult & dangerous landing, it being open to the Lake but with great struggle got round a point of Marsh, into a safe harbour by dark, here I camped all Night. Next norming I traversed about this Point[,] came to an Orange Grove, I discovered a most singular & beautifull Species of Convolvulos[.] left this place & within night got safe down to the lower Store very wet & tired, having gone through a very heavey gust of Rain. S’ Johns River[.]
Resources and Links
Bartram, William. Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws; Containing An Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians. Embellished with Copper-Plates. James and Johnson Publishers. 1791. Electronic Edition.
Harper, Francis, ed. The Travels of William Bartram, Naturalist’s Edition. Yale University Press. New Haven. 1958.
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. New World in a State of Nature; British Plantations and Farms on the St. Johns River, East Florida 1763-1784. May 2013
Bruce, F.W. Assistant Engineer, US Army Corps of Engineers. St. Johns River to Lake Harney, Florida. 1908. The Portal to Texas History. University of North Texas. Nautical Chart of the St. Johns River.
Florida Museum of Natural History. Florida Naturalists. William Bartram. Book of Travels. May 2013