John and William Bartram
The Site and the Routes
The Bartrams passed by Dunns Creek just east of Murphy Island on their journey up the St. Johns River in December of 1765 (Figure 1). However, on their return trip a month later they ventured up the Creek for a two night stay on the shores of Crescent Lake.
On the morning of January 26, 1766, they departed from Spalding’s Lower Store and headed towards Murphy Island. The 4 mile distance given in John’s Journal from the Lower Store to the Island is accurate only if one uses the location of the landing as the reference point. This is entirely likely since the distance from the store to this point would have been well known to the traders and the relevant distance to the Island.
Once they reached the Island, there are two possible routes the Bartrams could have taken to Dunn’s Creek; they could have remained in the main river channel and gone around Murphy Island to the north, or taken the downstream entrance to Murphy Creek and passed the island on the south. The mention of having taken “the right hand creek up to Dunn’s Lake” could pertain to either route. However, if taken literally, the mention of having rowed “to” the Island and taking the right hand creek” rather than past the Island, could indicate that the Murphy Creek route was chosen. The use of Murphy Creek adds one and a half miles to the trip but would have given the Bartrams the opportunity to circumnavigate the island and assess shoreline heretofore unseen (Figure 2). Once in Dunns Creek the route is easily traced. Just as in Bartram’s day, the creek is “generally 150 yards broad, and two fathom deep”.
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 Murphy Creek is included. The entire trip took only a few hours since they entered the lake around noon. Once in the lake, they made camp in a swamp 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 Bartrams spent two nights at their campsite on the north shore of Crescent Lake before returning to Dunns Creek, this time heading back to Squire Roll’s, now referred to as “Charlottenburgh” in John’s Journal. The distance estimates provided in the Journal on this return trip are problematic. While the distance from Dunns Creek to Squire Roll’s village is indeed 4 miles, the Creek is only 8 miles long. Consequently, John Bartram’s Journal entry saying “from the lower end of which ‘tis reckoned 13 miles to the river” appears to be an obvious over-estimate of the length of the Creek. However, it may be that the 13 miles figure was intended to refer to the total distance they traveled between their campsite on Crescent Lake and Roll’s town, which is almost exactly that distance (Figure 3).
The Bartram’s explorations of the river and shorelines of Dunns Creek and Crescent Lake occurred at the time that Denys Rolle was acquiring land that would ultimately total 78,000 acres. John Bartram’s Journal entry on January 28 makes it clear that these lands along the eastern shores of the Creek, Crescent Lake and the St. Johns River extending from the village to the southern end of Crescent Lake were already under his ownership (Figure 4).
Bartram Trail Marker 8 is located on the shoreline of Murphy Island at the confluence of the Creek with the River. It can only be accessed by water, however there are two public boat ramps within .8 miles of the Maker; one on the west side of the River and the other on the east. The Browns Landing Public Boat ramp is an improved ramp located at the end of Browns Landing Road. There is also a public boat ramp (though unimproved) located at the southwest foot of the US 17 Dunns Creek Bridge that provides easy access to the Creek and the Marker which is a .7 mile paddle from the launch. Dunns Creek State Park provides excellent access to Dunns Creek (Figure 5).
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
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
Coordinates A: 29° 35.292’N 81° 37.915’W
Coordinates B: 29° 31.989’N 81° 33.416’W
The coordinates given for this site are those of the BTS 8 Marker at the confluence of Dunns Creek and the St. Johns River (A) and for the Creek’s mouth at Crescent Lake (B).