John and William Bartram
The Bartrams spent the night of December 23, 1765 at Picolata. When they arose on the morning of the 24th, it was a cold 50 degrees and the wind was blowing fresh out of the NW. With the wind at their backs, they rowed south for an unspecified distance and landed to hunt for food and survey the land along the east shore. They returned to their boat and crossed the river into today’s Putnam County, landing at a point on the west shore where they set up camp for the night of the 24th (Figure 1). The following morning, described as “cool and hazy”, the Bartrams continued south describing a route of several miles that passed by “choice swamps by the river” and made a stop at the site of an ancient plantation of Indians or Spaniards before proceeding on to “squire Roll’s.” The upstream route to and from this site is fairly well described in the Journal. It is likely that the hunting trip occurred a little past the halfway point between Picolata and Palmetto Bluff, in the neighborhood of today’s Riverdale in St. Johns County, just north of Racy Point. It is also likely that the Bartram’s camped near that same location on their return trip on the night of January 31, 1766 as Picolata, the departure point on the morning of the 24th, was reached by noon on February 1st.
John Bartram’s Journal describes the campsite in one sentence. The presence of large rocks of congealed snail and muscle-shells may be useful in locating the site where pine uplands are close to the river and transition down a gentle slope of palmetto to a patch of swamp.
Nine Mile Point is the most prominent point of land on the west shore south of Picolata (Figure 2). It is located just shy of 11 miles upstream from the likely site of the old fort. Allowing for a fresh tail wind this distance could have been covered easily even with the lengthy hunting stop described in the Journal. Harper (Bartram 1942) contends that the campsite was established at this point, however the entire point is comprised of wetlands and given the description contained in the Journal was more likely passed by for the next most prominent point of land at Palmetto Bluff which is comprised of higher ground (Figure 3, Putnam County GIS contour map).
They passed this site again on the 31st of January on their return trip down river but did not mention stopping here, but rather rowed along the east shore of the river and into what was described as a “great cove, on the north side of which is a fine rich high swamp” (Journal entry January 31, 1766) and camped on the opposite shore. This later description fits the cove between Racy and Federal points at the mouth of Deep Creek. This lends some credence to the location of this site (Palmetto Bluff) as the camp of December 24 since they would likely have wanted to see the land on the opposite shore missed during the upstream passage.
William Bartram returned to Putnam County sometime shortly after the middle of April 1774. His mode of travel was a small boat or canoe fitted with a sail. Because of the small size of his boat, he preferred to stay close to the shoreline in the broad lower St. Johns River, a preference which also afforded him a good view of shoreline flora and fauna. William’s Travels describes arriving at the site of Fort Picolata at noon and, after spending some time examining the remains of the dismantled fort, proceeding on his upstream voyage. By early evening he reached a “little lagoon” on the west shore (Figure 1).
Florida History Online suggests that this site described in the Journal is also the likely site described by William in Travels upstream of Fort Picolata. It makes sense that William would purposely revisit this campsite used during his trip up the St. Johns with his father, nearly ten years earlier. His description of a “little lagoon” on the west shore within a few hours sailing distance of Picolata (where he arrived at noon), fits this location, and fits nicely with the elevated situation at Palmetto Bluff (Figure 2) and the little lagoon between the Bluff and Nine Mile Point.
It was on his voyage to this site where he observed the mayfly emergence which led to his famous oratory on the Ephemera. After spending a pleasant night here, William, according to the account in Travels, awoke to a strong southerly breeze and decided to spend most of the day at the site surveying and describing the vegetation before setting sail in the evening, only to cross the river to a good harbor on the east shore where he camped the following night.
It is interesting to note that these two sites were not mentioned in William’s report to Dr. John Fothergill (Report). Rather, that account describes a one-day sail of 30 miles from a campsite two miles south of Fort Picolata, past this site and on to Villa Role (Rollestown) where he spent the next night (Page 143).
Harper (1958) in his commentary on Travels, suggests that this site described by William was the same as that described in his Report, and therefore located two miles south of Picolata on the west shore at the mouth of Clarks Creek in Clay County. He further suggests that the subsequent campsite described in Travels was across the river between Tocoi Creek and Racy Point.
If Harper is correct and William’s entry into Putnam County is more accurately described in his Report than in his Travels, then it makes sense that the description of a site on the west shore south of Picolata included in the latter document may, in fact, be based on his observations made at this campsite during his visit in 1765 as recorded in John Bartram’s Journal.
Batram Trail Site marker number 1 is located adjacent to the Palmetto Bluff boat ramp and can be reached by land or water via a short canal that flows under Cedar Creek Road to the River (Figure 4).
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 “John Bartram’s Travels on the St. Johns River, 1765-1766.” May 2013.
John Bartram’s Journal Entries for December 24 and 25, 1765:
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: 29° 45.950’N 81° 33.810’W