The situation is very high & pleasant. …this place is at present in a ruinous state; tho I think a very proper & agreeable situation for a Town.
John and William Bartram
John Bartram’s party, having camped at or near Palmetto Bluff on the west shore of the St. Johns River, packed their gear and on this cold Christmas day in 1765, began rowing upstream towards present-day Palatka. After a brief stop there (at BT Site No. 4), they returned to their boat and proceeded upstream to Squire Roll’s. After camping here for one night, they continued up-river to Stokes Landing (Spaulding’s Lower Store) stopping at Murphys Island along the way (Figure 1). Their return trip, about a month later, brought them to Roll’s town from Dunns Creek and their campsite on the north shoreline of Crescent Lake. After a two night stay at Roll’s town, they headed downstream to explore Rice Creek (Grays Creek – BTS 3) and after crossing the river, camped at Forrester Point (BTS 2) (Figure 2).
The route taken by William nearly ten years later, is less clear. Using his Travels as a guide, it appears that he retraced the upstream route taken nine years earlier with his father save for his departure point from a point on the east shore – perhaps Tocoi Point or Racy Point – rather than Palmetto Bluff on the west shore of the river. From his description of the village at Palatka, it is apparent that he sailed close to shore on his initial passage, exchanging hand signals with the Seminole residents as he passed by, but did not stop. This route would have likely duplicated that traveled in 1765.
The route described in William’s Report to Dr. John Fothergill however, is quite different. In this account, he sailed 30 miles in one day, from a campsite two miles south of Fort Picolata to “Villa Role” at “Charlotia” where he spent the next night with no mention of having passed an Indian village (Page 146). Harper (1958) in his commentary on Travels, suggests that the route followed by William on this day began near Tocoi Creek and coasted the east shore to Racy Point, where he took advantage of the shorter crossing of the broad river to Nine Mile Point on the west shore which he coasted until he rounded Forresters Point. He suggests that the Seminole village mentioned in Travels was at this site in Palatka and that he passed close by it on his sail to Squire Roll’s.
Upon his departure, William set sail for Stokes Landing (BTS 13) stopping, as did he and his father in 1765, at Murphy Island (BTS 11) to pick up supplies that he had shipped ahead. Though no mention is made in Travels of passing an Indian village during this leg of his journey, his Report does make mention of Indian settlements between Charlotia and Murphy Island. This route again, probably retraced that taken with his father in December 1765.
John and William Bartram
At the time of the Bartram’s arrival on Christmas Day 1765, Squire Roll’s “town” consisted of two streets arranged at right angles and some ten log houses scattered about the half mile long town situated on the bluff above the St. Johns River. The bluff was the prominent feature distinguishing this site and remains so today (Figure 3). Other distinguishing characteristics mentioned by John Bartram in his Journal included the unusual depth of the river at this location (over 40 feet) and the sand bar opposite the bluff (Figure 4). This bathymetry of the river remains unchanged as does the “rich extensive marsh” John Bartram observed opposite the bluff.
They returned to this site in January of 1766 after having explored the upstream reaches of the River. They spent two nights here, devoting a full day to the exploration of the town and its surrounding area. Perhaps they found Roll’s “town”, now called Charlottenburgh, lacking in entertainment, as John remarks that they “staid all night” there. Squire Roll’s land grant was extensive, ultimately encompassing almost the entire east shoreline of the St. Johns River from Deep Creek in the north to Crescent Lake in the south.
When William returned to this site in 1774, he found Charlotia in a sad state of disrepair. The log houses had fallen down and were decaying away and only the mansion house, a large frame building made of Cypress wood, remained in “tolerable” repair and was inhabited by an overseer and his family. He also found a black-smith with a shop and family some distance from the mansion house.
There are two Bartram Trail Site Markers for Rollestown. One is located on private property on the northeast shoreline at the powerline crossing of the River in East Palatka and can only be accessed by water. The second is located in a wayside park owned by Florida Power & Light on US 17 in East Palatka, is open to the public and can be reached only by land. This second site also has a Florida Historical marker describing the site of the colony of Denys Rolles
William Bartram Report – May 1774 Page 146
“Next day got about 30 Miles, staid this Night at Villa Role. This place was settled about twelve years ago by D. Role Esqr. The situation is very high & pleasant. St. Johns being much narrower here than any where below, & very deep, here are only a few People that has the care of the houses & Stock belonging to Mr. Role. this place is at present in a ruinous state; tho I think a very proper & agreeable situation for a Town. It is about Ninety miles above the mouth of the River, & 35 Miles by land to St. Augustine. Sett off soon in morning, past by two Indian Settlements on the west side of the River; they observed me as I passt along, but offered no incivilities, called at the Camp on the Island, where the effects belonging to the Store were deposited under the Care of several Traders, got to the lower Store this even where I was friendly received by Mr. McLatchy Agent.”
William Bartram Travels – May 1774
As I continued coasting the Indian shore of this bay, on doubling a promontory, I suddenly saw before me an Indian settlement, or village. It was a fine situation, the bank rising gradually from the water. There were eight or ten habitations, in a row, or street, fronting the water, and about fifty yards distance from it. Some of the youth were naked, up to their hips in the water, fishing with rods and lines, whilst others, younger, were diverting themselves in shooting frogs with bows and arrows. On my near approach, the little children took to their heels, and ran to some women, who were hoeing corn; but the stouter youth stood their ground, and, smiling, called to me. As I passed along, I observed some elderly people reclined on skins spread on the ground, under the cool shade of spreading Oaks and Palms, that were ranged in front of their houses; they arose, and eyed me as I passed, but perceiving that I kept on, without stopping, they resumed their former position. They were civil, and appeared happy in their situation.
THERE was a large Orange grove at the upper
end of their village; the trees were large, carefully pruned, and the ground under them clean, open, and airy. There seemed to be several hundred acres of cleared land, about the village; a considerable portion of which was planted, chiefly with corn (Zea) Batatas, Beans, Pompions, Squash, (Cucurbita verrucosa) Melons (Cucurbita citrullus) Tobacco (Nicotiana) &c. abundantly sufficient for the inhabitants of the village.
AFTER leaving this village, and coasting a considerable cove of the lake, I percieved the river before me much contracted within its late bounds, but still retaining the appearance of a wide and deep river, both coasts bordered, for several miles, with rich deep swamps, well timbered with Cypress, Ash, Elm, Oak, Hiccory, Scarlet Maple, Nyssa aquatica, Nyssa tupilo, Gordonia lasianthus, Corypha palma, Corypha pumila, Laurus Borbonia, &c. The river gradually narrowing, I came in sight of Charlotia, where it is not above half a mile wide, but deep; and as there was a considerable current against me, I came here to an anchor. This town was founded by Den. Rolle, Esq; and is situated on a high bluff, on the east coast, fifteen or twenty feet perpendicular from the river, and is in length half a mile, or more, upon its banks. The upper stratum of the earth consists entirely of several species of fresh water Cochlae, as Cochelix, Coch. labyrinthus, and Coch. voluta; the second, of marine shells, as Concha mytulus, Concostrea, Conc. peeton, Haliotis auris marina, Hal. patella, &c. mixed with sea sand; and the third, or lower stratum, which was a little above the comman level of the river, was horizontal masses of a pretty hard rock, composed almost entirely of the above shell, generally whole, and lying in every direction, petrefied
or cemented together, with fine white sand; and these rocks were bedded in a stratum of clay. I saw many fragments of the earthen ware of the ancient inhabitants, and bones of animals, amongst the shells, and mixed with the earth, to a great depth. This high shelly bank continues, by gentle parallel ridges, near a quarter of a mile back from the river, gradually diminishing to the level of the sandy plains, which widen before and on each side eastward, to a seemingly unlimited distance, and appear green and delightful, being covered with grass and the Corypha repens, and thinly planted with trees of the long leaved, or Broom Pine, and decorated with clumps, or coppices of floriferous, evergreen, and aromatic shrubs, and enamelled with patches of the beautiful little Kalmea ciliata. These shelly ridges have a vegetable surface of loose black mould, very fertile, and naturally produces Orange groves, Live Oak, Laurus Borbonia, Palma elata, Carica papaya, Sapindus, Liquid-amber, Fraxinus exelsior, Morus rubra, Ulmns, Tilia, Sambucus, Ptelea, Tallow-nut, or Wild Lime, and many others.
MR. Rolle obtained from the crown, a grant of forty thousand acres of land, in any part of East Florida, where the land was unlocated. It seems his views were to take up his grant near St. Marks, in the bay of Aplatchi; and sat sail from England, with about one hundred families, for that place; but by contrary winds, and stress of weather, he missed his aim, and being obliged to put into St. Juan’s, he, with some of the principal of his adherents, ascended the river in a boat, and being struck with its majesty, the grand situation of its banks, and fertility of its lands, and at the same time, considering the extensive navigation of the
river, and its near vicinity to St. Augustine, the capital and seat of government, he altered his views on St. Marks, and suddenly determined on this place, where he landed his first little colony. But it seems from an ill concerted plan, in its infant establishment, negligence, or extreme parsimony, in sending proper recruits, and other necessaries, together with a bad choice of citizens, the settlement by degrees grew weeker, and at length totally fell to the ground. Those of them who escaped the constant contagious fevers, fled the dreaded place, betaking themselves for subsistence, to the more fruitful and populous regions of Georgia and Carolina.
THE remaining old habitations, are mouldering to earth, except the mansion house, which is a large frame building, of Cypress wood, yet in tolerable repair, and inhabited by an overseer and his family. There is also a black-smith with his shop and family, at a small distance from it. The most valuable district belonging to Mr. Rolle’s grant, lies on Dunn’s lake, and on a little river, which runs from it into St. Juan. This district consists of a vast body of rich swamp land, fit for the growth of Rice, and some very excellent high land surrounding it. Large swamps of excellent rice land are also situated on the West shore of the river, opposite to Charlotia.
THE aborigines of America, had a very great town in this place, as appears from the great tumuli, and conical mounts of earth and shells, and other traces of a settlement which yet remain. There grew in the old fields on these heights great quantities of Callicarpa and of the beautiful shrub Annona: the flowers of the latter are large, white and sweet scented.
HAVING obtained from the people here, directions for discovering the little remote island, where the traders and their goods were secreted, which was about seven miles higher up, I sat sail again, with a fair wind, and in about one hour and an half, arrived at the desired place, having fortunately taken the right channel of the river, amongst a multitude of others, occasioned by a number of low swampy islands. But I should have ran by the landing, if the centinels had not, by chance seen me drawing near them; and who perceiving that I was a whiteman, ventured to hail me; upon which I immediately struck sail, and came too. Upon my landing they conducted me to their encampment, forty or fifty yards from the river, in an almost impenetrable thicket. Upon my inquiry, they confirmed the accounts of the amicable treaty at St. Augustine, and in consequence thereof, they had already removed great part of the goods, to the trading-house, which was a few miles higher up, on the Indian shore. They shewed me my chest, which had been carefully preserved, and upon inspection I found every thing in good order. Having learned from them, that all the effects would, in a few days time, be removed to the store-house, I bid adieu to them, and in a little time, arrived at the trading-house, where I was received with great politeness, and treated during a residence of several months, with the utmost civility and friendship, by Mr. C. M’Latche, Messrs. Spalding and Kelsall’s agent.
December 25, 1765 Journal Entry
“Cool hazy morning, thermometer 46 in the open air, (in which all my thermometrical observations up the river are taken). After several miles, [passing] by choice swamps near the river, we landed at a point of high ground, which has been an ancient plantation of Indians or Spaniards; many live oak-trees grew upon it near two foot diameter, and plenty of oranges; the soil was sandy but pretty good; we walked back from the river, the ground rising gradually from the swamp on the right-hand, where grow small ever-green-oaks, hiccory, chinquapins, and great magnolia, and in the swamp grows the swamp or northern kind 18 inches diameter, and 60 foot high, liquid-amber and red-maple 3 foot diameter, elm, ash, and bays; the plants were most sorts of the northern ferns, saururus, iris, pancratium, large long flowering convolvulus running 20 foot high, chenopodium as high, and 4 inches diameter, pontedereia and dracontium. Cloudy cool day, arrived at squire Roll’s, a bluff point 17 foot high, more or less, of which 5 foot is composed of snail and muscle-shells, mixed with black mould or rotten vegetables, intermixed with sand, 20 paces distant from the shore, and diminishing all the way to the yellow soil, on which grows large evergreen-oaks, evergreen shrub-oaks, where the pine-lands begin at 50 yards from the river; This shell-Bluff is 300 yards more or less along the river’s bank, gradually descending each way to a little swamp, round the head of which the pine-lands continue down the river a good way, and a little way up it; the bluff seems all soil and shells, but back near the Savanna’s is found some clay; there is a small Spanish intrenchment on the bluff about 20 paces square, and pieces of Indian pots; the river is very deep near the bluff, though there is a great barr opposite to the town, and a very rich extensive swamp.”
December 26, 1765 Journal Entry
“Thermometer temperate, fine day, wind south. Excellent swamps on both sides of the river, some 2 or 3 miles deep; landed on Dunn’s Island on a large snail shell ridge, the adjacent swamp excellent, and the middle ground rich for corn, turkeys and alligators plenty, saw a middling sized Indian tumulus, 20 yards diameter and 6 or 8 foot high; arrived soon at Spalding’s Lower-store, on the west-side of the river, 37 miles from Picolata and 50 from Latchaway, an inland Indian town, near half the way pine-land and palmetto-ground: It is generally affirmed, that the soil at Latchaway is excellent, and produceth good corn and rich pasture; we encamped on a bluff in the pine-land, over-against a rich little island.”
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.”
January 29, 1766 Journal Entry
“Fine clear morning and warm day, like the first of our May; walked all about the town and adjacent woods: near the banks of the river are the remains of an old Spanish entrenchment, 12 yards one way and 14 the other, about 5 foot high; on three sides being open to the river; the town is half a mile long, with half a score of scattered houses in it, built of round loggs; the streets are laid out at right angles, one of them is 100 foot broad, the other 60; the land back is all pine and scrub-oaks; the bluff continues half a mile down the river, which is 7 fathom deep near the town, but towards the opposite shore there is a sand-bar, it is not above half a mile wide here, but soon widens above.”
January 30, 1766 Journal Entry
“Fine morning; set out from Roll’s, whose steward, Mr. Banks, was very kind to us, and seems to be a sober, careful, and agreeable man; we rowed 8 miles, crossing the river to Gray’s creek, which is 60 yards wide, and two fathom and a half deep; we went about 7 miles up it; its general course is west by south, and generally pretty straight, good high swamps on each side, though on the north side the pines come near, especially near the upper part, where the ground is poor; we could not pass near so far, as we had depth of water, by reason of many old trees fallen across the creek at 7 foot deep and 10 to 12 yards broad; great floods certainly come down it, for there were great banks of sand 4 foot, more or less high, drove on its banks; here is very good grass growing in the pine-woods knee high. We rowed down again crossed the river, and encamped at a great orange-grove, where thousands of orange-trees grow as thick as possible, and full of sour and bitter-sweet fruits; this is about four miles by land from Mr. Roll’s, though near 8 by water; he claims it in his 20,000 acres; some of it is good swamp, but mostly pine-land.”
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 “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
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