John and William Bartram
The Bartrams visited this site on both their upstream and downstream journeys on the St. Johns River. On December 28, 1765, John Bartram’s party left their campsite at Johnson’s Bluff and continued up the St. Johns. After a brief stop at Mount Hope a few miles south of their campsite, they continued up-river to a second mound here at Mount Royal (Figure 1A). After exploring the area, they returned to their battoe and proceeded south to present-day Georgetown and set up camp opposite Drayton Island another 4 miles along the eastern shoreline (Figure 1b).
Although the upstream route from Mount Hope to Mount Royal passes by Mud Creek and its source Mud Spring which enters the river on eastern side of Little Lake George between Beecher Point and Orange Point, no mention is made in the Journal of their having seen this noteworthy spring. This suggests that instead of hugging the shoreline of Little Lake George, they undoubtedly made a direct crossing from Mount Hope to Orange Point without bothering to enter Mud Creek Cove (Figure 2). This may well have been due to the northeast wind mentioned in John’s Journal, or their desire to reach Mount Royal expeditiously.
On January 25, 1766 the Bartrams again stopped at Mount Royal having completed their southern explorations of the St. Johns River. They had camped the previous night on Bryan’s Island – present-day Drayton Island – and by noon, arrived at Mt. Royal five miles to the north. After spending some time exploring the mound and the surrounding area, they returned to their vessel and proceeded to row downstream to Spalding’s lower Store, a distance of 12.6 mile (Figure 3).
Mount Royal received its name from the tall Indian mound the Bartram’s witnessed at this site. It was an impressive sight; sufficient to lure the group back for further exploration and surveys on their return trip. A mound still exists and, to this day, rises high above the surrounding terrain. Despite the mound having been completely excavated and then recreated during the 19th Century, mature oaks grow from the top of the mound as they did when the Bartrams visited two and a half centuries ago. There is an historical marker and an information kiosk at the site and can be reached easily by road. Unfortunately, despite the presence of a State-designated historical site, a locked gate at the entrance of the Subdivision prevents public access of the historical site. Likewise, there is a boat ramp on the River near the mound, however it is a private ramp for the exclusive use of the residents of Mount Royal Airpark Subdivision. The hike from the boat ramp near the mouth of Beecher Spring Run to the information kiosk is half a mile (Figure 4). It is not unlikely that the Bartrams went ashore near the designated coordinates (A) for this location near the mouth of the spring run would have made a handy landmark for the River travelers. Although it is possible that the Bartrams went ashore to find the source of the discharge, it is more likely that they had previous knowledge of the impressive mound (Coordinates B) and had gone ashore in search of it since it is not visible from the River.
William visited Mt. Royal several times during his travels up and down the St. Johns River both with his father and during his solo trip. Travels describes two upstream trips with stops at Mount Royal. In this account he describes his first stop at Mt. Royal during his upstream journey to Lake Beresford. He camped for the night and spent some time in meditation atop the mound which he describes as having been remarkably preserved by its current resident (Mr. Kean). In this account, he describes the mount as being fifty yards from the river, however in his Report (p. 151), the distance given is twice that. Presently, the mound is nearly three hundred yards from the River’s closest approach. Upon his return trip north, he said that he again called at Mt. Royal but makes no mention of having camped or made any further exploration of the site.
He also describes two stops at Mount Royal during his six-day jaunt up the River from Spalding’s Lower Store late in the autumn just prior to his departure from Florida. This brief account is contained in Chapter VIII, Part II of Travels. On this occasion, William again camped at Mount Royal during his southbound journey but only “called” at the site on his return trip. There is no detailed discussion of the site or his activities there in this chapter of the book.
Bartram’s Report describes having stayed the night at Mt. Royal on three occasions. In that document, he describes spending nights at Mt. Royal on both of his southbound trips up the St. Johns and on his first return trip north to the Lower Store (Pages 150, 154 and 161). On his first trip he describes spending two consecutive nights at Mt. Royal due to a storm which made continuing upstream impossible on the second day.
The routes William took to and from Mt. Royal most likely followed that of his father on his return trip from the St. Johns River’s Upper Basin in January of 1766 (Figure 3) which passed both east and west of Drayton Island.
Bartram Trail Marker 21 is situated at the end of the privately owned dock of the Mount Royal Airpark Subdivision on the east shore of the St. Johns River. The Marker is clearly visible from the water and the River provides its only public access. Access to the mound is presently limited to prearranged group visits. The Bartram Trails of Putnam County Committee is working to secure individual routine public access by both land and water. At present, the most convenient access to the marker by water is from two publicly accessible commercial boat ramps, the first is one mile north at the Fort Gates Ferry landing and the other at Renegades on the River .6 mile south (Figure 4).
Links and References
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 A: 29° 25.788’N 81° 38.993’W
Coordinates B: 29° 25.974’N 81° 39.264’W
The first set of coordinates (A) given for this site are for the Mount Royal Bartram Trail Site Marker. The second (B) are those of the Indian mound visited by the Bartrams.