John and William Bartram
Although the Bartrams would have passed by these Islands on both their southbound and northbound journeys on the River, no mention of the Islands is made in John’s Journal.
William Bartram left Spalding’s Lower Store with a group of men taking a herd of horses to pasture. The pasture lands were across the river, probably because the store was located on the Indian side of the River and they may have feared that horses pastured there would be perceived as wild and available for capture. The River at the store is, as William observed, above a mile wide if one measures the distance from shore to shore across the Seven Sisters Islands (Figure 1). Consequently the route across the River from the store is, of necessity, circuitous. The route Bartram and his group followed was most likely the most direct between the store and the bluff on the east shore.
Seven Sisters Islands were comprised of seven small islands east of the main River channel. Today, two of the Islands have merged so that there now appear to be only six Sisters. The Islands are composed primarily of low swamp land, located in the St. Johns River between Stokes Landing on the west shore and Buffalo Bluff to the north and east. The Islands did not play a major role in William’s visit to Florida and he neither explored the Islands nor collected any samples of flora or fauna there. However, they are unique in that they are the only site to which William is known to have swum. The island to which he swam is uncertain, but can probably be narrowed down to one of the two closest to the bluff and along the most direct route from the Stokes Landing (Figure 2).
The determination of the location of William’s swim is based on the estimate provided in his Travels. The location where the horses began to jump from the vessel he estimated was about a “quarter of a mile” from the bluff on the eastern shore and the swim to the island he estimated to be about 150 yards. If the proposed route is correct, he would have been equidistant from the Islands to the north and south of the route and consequently could have gone ashore on either one. There is no description of this event in his Report so the location and routes are based solely on the information provided in his Travels.
There are two Bartram Trail Markers for this site (12). One is located in the River at the north end of the Islands and the second is located on a dock on the east shore at Hermit’s Cove Marina about midway through the Islands. While the first marker can only be seen from the water, the second is reachable by both land and water. Hermit’s Cove Marina has a launch site and offers food and beverages and restroom facilities (Figure 3). Despite its unkempt appearance, Hermit’s Cove is open for business and is a local hangout known for its friendly proprietor and patrons. Despite its name, it is more a tavern than a marina. The launch site is a paved ramp but is suitable only for small craft.
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.
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° 34.517’N 81° 40.762’W
Coordinates B: 29° 34.430’N 81° 40.996’W
Coordinates C: 29° 35.108’N 81° 40.939’W
Coordinates A are those of the BTS 12 Marker. It is quite likely that this is near the landing of the horse barge on the east shore. Coordinates B are for the location where William likely went overboard. Coordinates C are for a second BTS marker mounted in the river at the north end of Seven Sisters Islands.