Bartram’s Travels Pages 159 – 163
THE morning being clear, I sat sail with a favourable breeze, coasting along the shores; when on a sudden the waters became transparent, and discovered the sandy bottom, and the several nations of fish, passing and repassing each other. Following
this course I was led to the cape of the little river, descending from Six mile Springs, and meanders six miles from its source, through green meadows. I entered this pellucid stream, sailing over the heads of innumerable squadrons of fish, which, although many feet deep in the water, were distinctly to be seen; I passed by charming islets of flourishing trees, as Palm, Red Bay, Ash, Maple, Nussa and others. As I approached the distant high forest on the main, the river widens, floating fields of the green Pistia surrounded me, the rapid stream winding through them. What an alluring scene was now before me! A vast bason or little lake of chrystal waters, half encircled by swelling hills, clad with Orange and odoriferous Illisium groves. The towring Magnolia itself a grove, and the exalted Palm, as if conscious of their transcendent glories, tossed about their lofty heads, painting, with mutable shades, the green floating fields beneath. The social pratling coot enrobed in blue, and the squeeling water-hen, with wings half expanded, tripped after each other, over the watery mirror.
I PUT in at an ancient landing place, which is a sloping ascent to a level grassy plain, an old Indian field. As I intended to make my most considerable collections at this place, I proceeded immediately to fix my encampment but a few yards from my safe harbour, where I securely fastened my boat to a Live Oak which overshadowed my port.
AFTER collecting a good quantity of fire-wood, as it was about the middle of the afternoon, I resolved to reconoiter the ground about my encampment: having penetrated the groves next to me, I came to the open forests, consisting of exceedingly
tall strait Pines (Pinus Palustris) that stood at a considerable distance from each other, through which appeared at N. W. an almost unlimited plain of grassy savannas, embellished with a chain of shallow ponds, as far as the sight could reach. Here is a species of Magnolia that associates with the Gordonia lasianthus; it is a tall tree, sixty or eighty feet in heighth; the trunk strait; its head terminating in the form of a sharp cone; the leaves are oblong, lanciolate, of a fine deep green, and glaucous beneath; the flowers are large, perfectly white and extremely fragrant; with respect to its flowers and leaves, it differs very little from the Magnolia glauca. The silvery whiteness of the leaves of this tree, had a striking and pleasing effect on the sight, as it stood amidst the dark green of the Quercus dentata, Nyssa sylvatica, Nys. aquatica, Gordonia lasianthus and many others of the same hue. The tall aspiring Gordonia lasianthus, which now stood in my view in all its splendour, is every way deserving of our admiration. Its thick foliage, of a dark green colour, is flowered over with large milk-white fragrant blossoms, on long slender elastic peduncles, at the extremities of its numerous branches, from the bosom of the leaves, and renewed every morning; and that in such incredible profusion, that the tree appears silvered over with them, and the ground beneath covered with the fallen flowers. It at the same time continually pushes forth new twigs, with young buds on them; and in the winter and spring the third year’s leaves, now partly concealed by the new and perfect ones, are gradually changing colour, from green to golden yellow, from that to a scarlet, from scarlet to crimson; and lastly to a brownish purple, and then fall
to the ground. So that the Gordonia lasianthus may be said to change and renew its garments every morning throughout the year; and every day appears with unfading lustre. And moreover, after the general flowering is past, there is a thin succession of scattering blossoms to be seen, on some parts of the tree, almost every day throughout the remaining months, until the floral season returns again. Its natural situation, when growing, is on the edges of shallow ponds, or low wet grounds on rivers, in a sandy soil, the nearest to the water of any other tree, so that in drouthy seasons its long serpentine roots which run near or upon the surface of the earth, may reach into the water. When the tree has arrived to the period of perfect magnitude, it is sixty, eighty or an hundred feet high, forming a pyramidal head. The wood of old trees when sawn into plank, is deservedly admired in cabinet-work or furniture; it has a cinnamon coloured ground, marbled and veined with many colours: the inner bark is used for dying a redish or sorrel colour; it imparts this colour to wool, cotton, linnen and dressed deer skins, and is highly esteemed by tanners.
THE Zamia pumila, the Erythryna corallodendrum and the Cactus opuntia grow here in great abundance and perfection. The first grows in the open pine forests, in tufts or clumps, a large conical strobile disclosing its large coral red fruit, which appears singularly beautiful amidst the deep green fern-like pinnated leaves.
THE Erythryna corallodendrum is six or eight feet high; its prickly limbs stride and wreathe about with singular freedom, and its spikes of crimson flowers have a fine effect amidst the delicate foliage.
THE Cactus opuntia is very tall, erect and large, and strong enough to bear the weight of a man: some are seven or eight feet high: the whole plant or tree seems to be formed of great oval compressed leaves or articulations; those near the earth continually encrease, magnify and indurate as the tree advances in years, and at length lose the bright green colour and glossy surface of their youth, acquiring a ligenous quality, with a whitish scabrous cortex: every part of the plant is nearly destitute of aculea, or those fascicles of barbed bristles which are in such plenty on the common dwarf Indian Fig. The cochineal insect were feeding on the leaves: the female of this insect is very large and fleshy, covered with a fine white silk or cottony web, which feels always moist or dewy, and seems designed by nature to protect them from the violent heat of the sun. The male is very small in comparison to the female, and but very few in number, they each have two oblong pelucid wings. The large polypetalus flowers are produced on the edges of the last years leaves, are of a fine splendid yellow, and are succeeded by very large pear shaped fruit, of a dark livid purple when ripe: its pulp is charged with a juice of a fine transparent crimson colour, and has a cool pleasant taste, somewhat like that of a pomegranate; soon after eating this fruit the urine becomes of the same crimson colour, which very much surprises and affrights a stranger, but is attended with no other ill consequence, on the contrary, it is esteemed wholesome, though powerfully diuretic.
ON the left hand of those open forests and savannas, as we turn our eyes Southward, South-west and West, we behold an endless wild desert, the upper stratum of the earth of which is a fine white sand, with small pebbles, and at some distance appears entirely covered with low trees and shrubs of
Bartram’s Travels Pages 164 – 169
various kinds, and of equal heighth, as dwarf Sweet Bay (Laurus Borbonia) Olea Americana, Morus rubra, Myrica cerifera, Ptelea, Æsculus pavia, Quercus Ilex, Q. glandifer, Q. maritima, foliis obcunciformibus obsolete tribobis minoribus, Q. pumila, Rhamnus frangula, Halesia diptera, & Tetraptera, Cassine, Ilex aquifolium, Callicarpa Johnsonia, Erythryna corallodendrum, Hibiscus spinifex, Zanthoxilon, Hopea tinctoria, Sideroxilum, with a multitude of other shrubs, many of which are new to me, and some of them admirably beautiful and singular. One of them particularly engaged my notice, which, from its fructification I take to be a species of Cacalia. It is an evergreen shrub, about six or eight feet high, the leaves are generally somewhat cuniform, fleshly and of a pale whitish green, both surfaces being covered with a hoary pubescence and vesiculae, that when pressed feels clammy, and emits an agreeable scent; the ascendent branches terminate with large tufts or corymbes of rose coloured flowers, of the same agreeable scent; these cluster of flowers, at a distance, look like a large Carnation or fringed Poppy flower (Syngenesia Polyg. Oqul. Linn.) Cacalia heterophylla, foliis cuniformibus, carnosis, papil. viscidis.
HERE is also another species of the same genus, but it does not grow quite so large; the leaves are smaller, of a yet duller green colour, and the flowers are of a pale rose; they are both valuable evergreens.
THE trees and shrubs which cover these extensive wilds, are about five or six feet high, and seem to be kept down by the annual firing of the desarts, rather than the barrenness of the soil, as I saw a few large Live Oaks, Mulberry trees and Hickories,
which evidently have withstood the devouring flames. These adjoining wild plains, forests and savannas, are situated lower than the hilly groves on the banks of the lake and river, but what should be the natural cause of it I cannot even pretend to conjecture, unless one may suppose that those high hills, which we call bluffs, on the banks of this great river and its lakes, and which support those magnificent groves and high forests, and are generally composed of shell and sand, were thrown up to their present heighth by the winds and waves, when the bed of the river was nearer the level of the present surface of the earth; but then, to rest upon such a supposition, would be admitting that the waters were heretofore in greater quantities than at this time, or that their present channels and receptacles are worn deeper into the earth.
I NOW directed my steps towards my encampment, in a different direction. I seated myself upon a swelling green knoll, at the head of the chrystal bason. Near me, on the left, was a point or projection of an entire grove of the aromatic Illisium Floridanum; on my right and all around behind me, was a fruitful Orange grove, with Palms and Magnolias interspersed in front, just under my feet was the inchanting and amazing chrystal fountain, which incessantly threw up, from dark, rocky caverns below, tons of water every minute, forming a bason, capacious enough for large shallops to ride in, and a creek of four or five feet depth of water, and near twenty yards over, which meanders six miles through green meadows, pouring its limpid waters into the great Lake George, where they seem to remain pure and unmixed. About twenty yards from the upper edge of the bason,
and directly opposite to the mouth or outlet to the creek, is a continual and amazing ebullition, where the waters are thrown up in such abundance and amazing force, as to jet and swell up two or three feet above the common surface: white sand and small particles of shells are thrown up with the waters, near to the top, when they diverge from the center, subside with the expanding flood, and gently sink again, forming a large rim or funnel round about the aperture or mouth of the fountain, which is a vast perforation through a bed of rocks, the ragged points of which are projected out on every side. Thus far I know to be matter of real fact, and I have related it as near as I could conceive or express myself. But there are yet remaining scenes inexpressibly admirable and pleasing.
BEHOLD, for instance, a vast circular expanse before you, the waters of which are so extremely clear as to be absolutely diaphanous or transparent as the ether; the margin of the bason ornamented with a great variety of fruitful and floriferous trees, shrub and plants, the pendant golden Orange dancing on the surface of the pellucid waters, the balmy air vibrates the melody of the merry birds, tenants of the encircling aromatic grove.
AT the same instant innumerable bands of fish are seen, some cloathed in the most brilliant colours; the voracious crocodile stretched along at full length, as the great trunk of a tree in size, the devouring garfish, inimical trout, and all the varieties of gilded painted bream, the barbed catfish, dreaded sting-ray, skate and flounder, spotted bass, sheeps head and ominous drum; all in their seperate bands and communities, with free and unsuspicious intercourse performing their evolutions: there are no signs of enmity, no attempt to devour each other; the different bands seem peaceably and complaisantly to move a little aside, as it were to make room for others to pass by.
BUT behold yet something far more admirable, see whole armies descending into an abyss, into the mouth of the bubbling fountain, they disappear! are they gone forever? is it real? I raise my eyes with terror and astonishment,–I look down again to the fountain with anxiety, when behold them as it were emerging from the blue ether of another world, apparently at a vast distance, at their first appearance, no bigger than flies or minnows, now gradually enlarging, their brilliant colours begin to paint the fluid.
Now they come forward rapidly, and instantly emerge, with the elastic expanding column of chrystaline waters, into the circular bason or funnel, see now how gently they rise, some upright, others obliquely, or seem to lay as it were on their sides, suffering themselves to be gently lifted or born up, by the expanding fluid towards the surface, sailing or floating like butterflies in the cerulean ether: then again they as gently descend, diverge and move off; when they rally, form again and rejoin their kindred tribes.
THIS amazing and delightful scene, though real, appears at first but as a piece of excellent painting; there seems no medium, you imagine the picture to be within a few inches of your eyes, and that you may without the least difficulty touch any one of the fish, or put your singer upon the crocodile’s eye, when it really is twenty or thirty feet under water.
AND although this paradise of fish, may seem to exhibit a just representation of the peaceable and happy state of nature which existed before the fall, yet in reality it is a mere representation; for the nature of the fish is the same as if they were in lake George or the river; but here the water or element in which they live and move, is so perfectly clear and transparent, it places them all on an equality with regard to their ability to injure or escape from one another; (as all river fish of prey, or such as feed upon each other, as well as the unwieldy crocodile, take their prey by surprise; secreting themselves under covert or in ambush, until an opportunity offers, when they rush suddenly upon them:) but here is no covert, no ambush, here the trout freely passes by the very nose of the alligator and laughs in his face, and the bream by the trout.
BUT what is really surprising, that the consciousness of each others safety or some other latent cause, should so absolutely alter their conduct, for here is not the least attempt made to injure or disturb one another.
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.
Page 161 TRANSACTIONS OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIEITY
Some days after my arival at the Store, I began  My second trip up S’. Johns River, I prepared my little Vessell fit for the Voyage, & procured company to assist me over the great Lake. We set off in two Conoes, got to M’. Royal where we stayed this night & Next morning push’t out early in to the lake; The wind rising very fresh[,] we put into a large swift Tuning Creek, that come from a vast Spring five or 6 miles up to it, finding the wind to rise there was little probability of our crossing the Lake[,] I prevaild upon my companion to continue up the Creek, the water at the
Page 162 TRANSACTIONS OF THE AMERICAN PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIEITY
mouth of the Creek and some distance in the lake was warm & of a seagreen colour, but as we continued up; it became warmer & extreamly transperant, & difused about us a very disagreable smell. when we came towards the head The Creek widened, the water became very shallow and so full of Water grass we could hardly by any means push through it, wet [ = yet] at last came to the head of the Creek, an immense fountain four or 500 Yards over where were, a great number of boiling holes throwing the water up in prodigious ebulitions, where it was a great depth & in these holes the water look’t of the collour of the S[k]ye above, & so exceedingly transparent could see the fish, Alegators & Turtle as plain as if they had been in our hands; I continued somewhat higher up to the principle  Fountain which, boild up in an incredible maner out of the Chasms of deep Rock between tow [ = two] steep high hills[.]
I landed near this place, & spent some time in traversing these hills & Forests[.] beyond them observed some curious shrubs & plants, some of their roots & seeds I procured, & sent down to the Store by the return of the Boat that came with me. This evening we sat off & returnd down the Creek & by Sun set got to the mouth again where We found a good harbour & took up Camp, next day we got to the upper Store, where we staid all night.
January 24, 1766 Journal Entry
“Moderate clear morning; rowed early by a bank of pine-land for several miles and some cypress-swamps, then came to a large creek called Johnson’s Spring, the west end of the lake about 80 yards near broad, but after it widens to about 200; the pine-land comes pretty close to its banks, then a narrow low marsh interposes, and after we rowed higher up we saw narrow cypress-swamps, loblolly-bays, and some few oak hammocks; the creek abounds with fish, many stingrays near its mouth; it is supposed to run 7 miles from its head to the lake, where the bar is about 18 inches deep, but the creek is 3, 4, and 5 foot up to the spring, which is nearly level with the lake, and full of grass and weeds at the bottom, many of which reach to the top of the water, and are a great obstruction to boats in going up, without they keep directly in the channel; on the north side towards its head a large marsh brancheth out; we came at last to where the cat-tails and bull-rushes grew so thick, that we could not force the battoe through them, though it was 100 yards broad, and 3 or 4 foot deep, so clear that we could see the muscle-shells on its shelly bottom in patches 3 or 4 foot diameter between the great patches of grass and weeds; we landed to search the head springs, and passed through an orange-grove and an old field of the Florida Indians, then came to the main springs, where a prodigious quantity of very clear warm brackish water boiled up between vast rocks of unknown depth, we could not reach the bottom by a very long pole; this was on the north bank, about 12 foot high above the water, which spreads immediately 50 or 60 yards broad: We walked round the west end towards the south bank, where the bare flat rocks appeared above water, and a great stream boiled up of a salt and sourish taste, but not near so loathsome as several before-described, nor had it any bad smell, or whitish sediment as they; we examined the composition of the rocks, and found some of them to be a concrete redish sand, some whitish mixed with clay, others a ferruginous irregular concrete, and many a combination of all these materials with sea-shells, clams, and cockles; we found in the bank an ash-coloured tenacious earth, and a strata of yellow sand beneath; near here my son found a lovely sweet tree, with leaves like the sweet bay, which smelled like sassafras, and produce a very strange kind of seed-pod, but the seed was all shed, the severe frost had not hurt it; some of them grew near 20 foot high, a charming bright evergreen aromatic: We saw near the spring numbers of large garr, cats, mullets, trouts, and several other kinds unknown to us, some in chance of others, which run into the grass to hide them from their enemies; in going down to the lake the fish were continually jumping; we observed on the north end of the lake a hammock of oak.
We then steered our course to Bryan’s Island, on which there is some good land and rich swamp, with pretty much pine-land, it is supposed to contain about 1500 acres; here we encamped on a rocky rising ground, and found numbers of great and small oyster-shells, clams, perriwinkles, sea-muscles, and cockles, all cemented together with broken fragments, some ground as fine as coarse sand; they were all confusedly mixed and jumbled together as upon our sea-coast; first a strata of shells, then a strata of shells and fragments fill up the least cavity; it is remarkable that we never found any scallops to the south of Carolina, either on the coast or up in the country.”
Links and References
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
Salt Springs Recreation Area website:
Salt Springs Run Marina and Landing website: