John and William Bartram
John Bartram’s party, having stayed the night at Squire Roll’s, proceeded up river towards Stokes Landing, the location of Spalding’s Lower Store. Along the way, they stopped briefly at Murphy Island, about which John made some entries in his Journal (Figure 1). Their route from Roll’s town to Spalding’s lower store most likely hugged the east shoreline of the river during this upstream trip (Figure 2).
Their return trip, a month later, brought them back to the Island however there is no mention of having stopped there. 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 Murphy Island 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. On this return trip, they passed by the Island (either in the main channel of the River or via Murphy Creek) and turned their battoe south proceeding up Dunn’s Creek towards the north shore of Crescent Lake where they camped.
Upon his departure from Roll’s town (BTS 7), William set sail for Spalding’s Lower Store located at present-day Stokes Landing (BTS 13) stopping, as did he and his father in 1765, at Murphy Island (BTS 12) to pick up supplies he had shipped ahead. William’s route was not as likely to have followed the shoreline since he under sail “with a fair wind” rather than rowing. This being the case, he probably stayed in open water tacking to and fro according to the wind direction. Though no mention is made in Travels of passing any Indian villages along the way, his Report does make mention of Indian settlements between Charlotia and Murphy Island.
John and William Bartram
When the Bartrams visited Murphy Island, it was called Dunn’s Island (Figure 3). John and his party stopped at this site and explored the Island and made a few observations before returning to their boat for the short trip to Spalding’s Lower Store, just upstream around present-day Buffalo Bluff, where the train bridge crosses the St. Johns. At their landing point on the Island was a large shell ridge adjacent to a swamp; a description which remains valid to this day. They observed a medium sized Indian mound and noted that the center of the island possessed good soil and an abundance of wildlife.
Murphy, or Dunn’s Island, is not specifically mentioned by William in either his Report or Travels, however he does mention making a stop at an island upstream of Squire Roll’s town on his way to Spalding’s Lower Store in both documents. The island he visited is described as being “about seven miles” distant from Squire Roll’s town and “a few miles” shy of Spalding’s Lower Store. The present day landing on Murphy Island is just under 6 miles upstream from the site of Roll’s village and nearly four miles downstream of the store site. He describes looking for a “little remote island” where “traders and their goods were secreted.” While it is a stretch to call Murphy Island “little”, it is remote and the only island downstream of the site of the Store that is sufficiently high and dry to be used as a storage area and camp. The entrance of Dunns Creek and several smaller creeks on the east shore of the river downstream of Murphy Island could cause some navigational confusion mentioned by William, though it is unlikely that any of these creeks could be confused with the mainstem of the river in this location. Farther upstream, a group of seven smaller islands (Seven Sisters) could also fit the description provided in “Travels” however their distances from both Squire Roll’s and the Store don’t match William’s estimates as well, nor do they have the high dry ground of Murphy Island.
Bartram Trail Site Marker 11 is located at the dock on the north side of Murphy Island and can only be reached by water. The nearest launch site is Putnam County’s Browns Landing Boat Ramp located one mile east of the Site Marker on the west (albeit north at this location) shore of the River. A second launch site is located on the east shore of the River at the foot of the US17 Bridge at Dunns Creek. This launch is unimproved and is approximately a 2.5 mile paddle from the site (Figure 4). BTS 11 is within the Murphy Creek Conservation area, owned and maintained by the St. Johns River Water Management District. The public dock provides easy River access and the shoreline is a suitable soft landing for paddle craft. There is a primitive campsite and crude bathroom near the dock and landing. The Island has more than six miles of hiking trails. If planning a hike on the Island, it is advisable to apply insect repellant to discourage tick infestations. More information about the Conservation Area can be found in the District’s Recreation Guide and online at: http://floridaswater.com/recreationguide/murphycreek/
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.
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° 35.752’N 81° 39.290’W
The coordinates given for this site as the location of the Bartram’s visit of Murphy Island are those of the BTS 11 Marker at the public landing and dock constructed and maintained by the St. Johns River Water Management District within the Murphy Creek Conservation Area.