John and William Bartram
On December 26, 1765, John Bartram’s party, having camped at Squire Roll’s village in present-day East Palatka, boarded their vessel and headed up river. Along the way, they stopped briefly at Murphy Island which they explored before returning to the River for the four mile journey to their next campsite at Spalding’s Lower Store. The store was situated on the banks of the River opposite a small island on the Indian or west shore of the St. Johns. The route most likely followed the east shoreline of the mainstem of the river until they reached present day Buffalo Bluff (train crossing) (Figure 1). As can be seen from the 1908 navigation map in Figure 2, there are numerous smaller creeks or channels around Murphy Island and Seven Sisters Islands the group may have taken as they approached Stokes Landing.
After spending the night here, they departed the next morning and, after rowing only a few more miles upstream, went ashore at present-day Saratoga Harbor, which John Bartram called Johnson’s Spring. They left their battoe and hiked, most likely not too far distant from the shoreline, to Welaka Spring, just north of present-day Welaka. They returned to their vessel and proceeded by water back to Johnson’s Bluff where they established their camp – probably in close proximity to Welaka Spring which was the terminus of their hike.
The Bartrams returned to the Lower Store a month later, on January 25, 1766, having explored the River as far south as Puzzle Lake east of present-day Titusville. They had spent the night on Drayton Island and, after making a lengthy stop at Mount Royal, proceeded down the River to the Store. The following morning, they left the Store for a side trip past Murphy Island and up Dunns Creek to Crescent Lake where they camped on the night of the 26th.
Bartram’s party landed at Spalding’s Lower Store located at present-day Stokes Landing (Figure 3). They made camp on a bluff underneath some pine trees opposite Stokes Island. Unlike many of the stops they made along the River, they seem to have spent little or no time surveying the surrounding countryside as no mention the soil characteristics or vegetation around the Store is made in the Journal entries for this first visit. The Journal does contain descriptions of other areas more distant that were accessible from the Store but the information was obviously obtained second-hand from the traders and others they encountered and talked with at the Store.
On the return trip a month later, the Bartrams stopped again and established camp at the Store. This time, before departing on January 27, 1766, they spent some time exploring the site around the Store. John made some observations regarding a dug well at the site and some characteristics of some recently felled pine trees near the Store.
John Bartram’s Journal makes little mention of the Store and its importance to the area. Whether this topic was merely outside of the scope of his Journal or because the Store had not yet ascended to its later preeminence is difficult to say. However, by the time of William’s subsequent visit nearly ten years later, the Store was the hub of travel and commerce among and between Europeans and Native Americans throughout the region.
William Bartram left Rollestown and made a brief stop at Murphy Island, four miles distant from Spalding’s Lower Store where he discovered his chest of supplies which he had shipped ahead and were now secreted on the Island. He then continued up the River, past Buffalo Bluff and Seven Sisters Islands to Stokes Landing, the site of Spalding’s Lower Store.
William ventured out from the Store in all directions, both on foot and by boat. His Travels and Report describe the various journeys in great detail, though they differ in the sequence of the events. It is presumed that the Report presents a more accurate account of the timing and that in this regard, Travels suffered at the hands of its editors who combined the accounts of some trips in order to improve the “flow” of the book for its readers.
The Florida Museum of Natural History website provides an excellent and concise compilation of the various routes taken and locations visited by William Bartram as presented in his Travels. A link to the relevant web page is provided under Resources and Links.
Spalding’s Lower Store is undoubtedly the most important of all the Bartram Sites in Putnam County and, in fact, of all of the St. Johns River sites visited by William Bartram. He made numerous visits to the Store and developed a close friendship with the Store director with whom he traveled extensively during his visits. Both of his publications contain descriptions of the Store and the characters he encountered here and his accounts paint a vivid picture of life in frontier Florida (Figure 4).
The site of the Lower Store was the subject of an archeological dig performed by the University of Florida during the mid-1900s and artifacts and records of the dig can be seen at the Florida Museum in Gainesville. Photographs of the exhibit and some of the artifacts recovered during the excavation are shown in Figure 5 below.
Bartram Trail Marker 13 is located on private property on the shoreline of the River opposite Stokes Island. Because the road leading to the site provides limited access reserved for the few residents living near this site, it can only be viewed from the water. There is a Bartram Trail Kiosk located on Stokes Landing Road a short distance from the location of the Store and it can be reached only by land (Figure 6).
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
Figure 4 Map. Library of Congress. East Florida Papers. Correspondence between the Governor and Subordinates on the St. John’s and St. Mary’s Rivers, 1784-1821 Box 195 Reel 47 Bundle 122E10 1792 (2 folders).
Coordinates A: 29° 34.329’N 81° 41.921’W
Coordinates B: 29° 34.438’N 81° 42.160’W
Coordinates A are those of the BTS 13 Marker. This would have been where the Bartrams came ashore during their many visits mentioned in the Journal, the Report and Travels. This site is well documented and the actual location is among the most accurate of any of the known sites visited by the Bartrams along the Bartram Trail.
Coordinates B are those associated with the Bartram Trail of Putnam County’s Spalding’s Lower Store Kiosk. This kiosk is located on the east shoulder of Stokes Landing Road adjacent to the St. Johns Shipbuilding facility. There is no parking area, however the shoulder at the kiosk is firm and level.