John and William Bartram
The Bartrams camped at this site on their upstream journey 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. They “came in a few miles” to Mount Hope, an actual distance of 2.85 miles from the bluff at Welaka Spring where they had likely camped the previous night. After exploring the Indian mound that gave this location its name, they continued up-river to Mount Royal, 4.5 miles farther south (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.
After spending the night, they broke camp and proceeded south along the east shore but only rowed another 1.6 miles before going ashore at the north end of Lake George (Figure 1B).
The Journal describes a number of stops along the route from Spalding’s Lower Store to the Upper Store in Astor, all of which were located on the east shore of the river. This was in keeping with their desire to coast the east shore while on the southbound leg of their journey. (Figure 2). On their return voyage they coasted the west or Indian shore and used the River channel south of Drayton Island the following month. Consequently they would not have passed by this site on the return trip.
The Bartrams had already enjoyed a long and productive day of exploration having visited two impressive Indian mounds and embarked on a three mile long hike to Beecher Springs and back before arriving at their chosen campsite on December 28, 1765 (Figure 3). Despite the distance and prior activities, they apparently arrived early and with sufficient energy to continue their explorations of the lands around their camp. After setting up camp, they proceeded to hike back along the river as far as the bend where the river turns from northwest to due north (Figure 4). John cataloged the soil and vegetation in the area as well as the lay of the land with its alternating marsh, swamp and upland areas. It is possible that their hike took them fairly far inland since the Journal describes the shoreline swamps as 2 or more miles deep from the river, however this was probably a general observation rather than specific to this area. An examination of the topography in this immediate vicinity would lead one to believe that is not likely that swamplands of this depth were present at this location.
The Bartrams undoubtedly spent a restless night at this site given that they could hear the roars of a bear from their campsite. It may have been some consolation to know that the sounds came from the island across the river and not from the eastern shore where they slept.
Bartram Trail Marker 23 is mounted on a tree in the River at the northwest end of County-owned property designated, but not developed, as Biggs Park. Because the Park has not yet been developed, the marker can only be visited by water. The Marker can be easily accessed from the Drayton Island Ferry Public Boat Ramp which is located on the same shore less than one half mile east (Figure 5).
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.
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.
Coordinates A: 29° 23.355’N 81° 38.637’W
Coordinates B: 29° 23.148’N 81° 38.282’W
Coordinates A are for the location of the Bartram Trail Site Number 23 Marker and the future site of the soft landing at Putnam County’s Biggs Park. Coordinates B are for the Drayton Island Ferry Public Boat Ramp. There are any number of locations along the narrow, one and a quarter mile reach of the River opposite Drayton Island where the Bartrams may have established their camp. Consequently, these coordinates should be considered possible rather than probable.