John and William Bartram
On December 27, 1765, John Bartram’s party, having camped at Spalding’s Lower Store, boarded their vessel and continued up-river. After rowing an estimated five miles, they stopped beneath a tall bluff which John identified as Johnson’s Spring. They left their battoe and proceeded to hike as far south as Welaka Spring, crossing a number of lesser seeps and springs along the way. After reaching Welaka Spring, the Bartrams retraced their steps to retrieve their vessel and continued to proceed down river to “lodge” to a location that John Bartram called Johnson’s Bluff. The following day, the Bartrams broke camp and proceeded “a few miles” to Mount Hope which is present-day Beecher Point (Figure 1).
Johnson’s Bluff extends approximately one mile south along the St. Johns River from Welaka Spring to the town of Welaka. While the Bartrams may have camped anywhere along this bluff, it is quite likely that the group camped at the north end of the bluff on the shore of the Welaka Spring run (Figure 2). They had discovered the Spring at the end of their 3 to 4 mile hike south from their landing at Johnson’s Spring. After hiking back to retrieve their vessel and supplies, they rowed 2.6 miles back to the bluff and established their camp for the night. This site is 2.85 miles north along the shoreline, from Beecher’s Point (Mount Hope) which lends additional support to this location as the campsite for the night of the 27th since the Journal describes the distance between these two sites as “a few miles” (Figure 3).
The point south of Welaka Spring which is present-day Sportsman Harbor, is extensively developed and is a cross hatch of canals. The land is well below the elevation of the bluff and though presently developed as home sites it is probably only because of the volume of fill provided by the construction of the canals. Consequently, this point, though present when the Bartrams visited here, was likely passed up as a campsite in favor of the high bluff near the Spring’s run.
Bartram Trail Site Marker 18 is located on the east side of the River on the south shoreline of Welaka Spring Run below the bluff which was the likely site of the Bartram’s camp on the night of January 27. It is not visible from the River but can be plainly seen after entering a short distance up the Spring Run. There are two launch points that afford access to the marker by water. The first is from the north at the Shell Harbor Public Boat Ramp (2.6 miles – Figure 4) and the second is from Welaka Bryans Landing soft launch (1.8 miles) and Welaka Public Boat Ramp (1.84 miles) south of the marker (Figure 5). The marker and the bluff here is on private property presently owned by the Floridian Sports Club of Welaka. Although the site cannot be accessed, its BTS Markers can be seen from both the Floridian Club Road (a public roadway) and from the River.
Resources and Links
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.
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.
Coordinates: 29° 29.567’N 81° 40.507’W
The coordinates given for this site are for the Trail Marker located below the bluff on the shoreline of the Welaka Spring Run to the St. Johns River.