Part II, Chapter VIII of Travels describes a brief, 6-day trip from Spalding’s Lower Store to Lake George and back. This is a trip often overlooked even by Bartram aficionados both because of its placement within Travels and its brevity. According to Francis Harper (page 375) in his commentary on Travels suggests that the voyage took place in the latter part of July, 1774. However, in his commentary on Bartram’s Report, (page 192) he says that this “minor excursion” probably took place between September and November. Though William provided no date, he says that this excursion took place while he was waiting for the schooner which was scheduled to return to Georgia in late autumn.
Bartram provided a list of waypoints (some more definitive than others) that, when plotted, enable us to establish a fairly accurate route for his voyage. The first landfall is an overnight stop at Mount Royal. He then sailed “across the lake to the west coast, landing on an airy, sandy beach” (quite possibly somewhere along Yellow Bluff south of Salt Cove which was the site used by the Bartrams during their northbound journey in 1766.) He then visited the Great Springs (most likely Silver Glen Springs though Harper contends that it was Salt Springs) where he stayed until the next day. He then left the Spring, re-crossed the Lake to the east coast of Lake George. He “coasted” the Lake slowly and, although it is not said, his description of abandoned plantations indicates that it was in a northerly direction. He stopped and collected plants along the way until he came to a “long point of flat rocks” near the deserted plantation of Dr. Stork where he established camp for the night. The following day, he set sail, again coasting the east shoreline and making landfall at any convenient location to collect seeds and plants. Along the way, he stopped at another deserted plantation then continued on and, in the evening, made camp on “the beautiful isle (Drayton Island) in sight of Mount Royal.” Next morning, he collected additional plants and then set sail, stopping at Mount Royal before continuing back to Spalding’s Lower Store.
William Bartram first visited Drayton Island during the winter of 1766 with his father, John Bartram, and again on several occasions during his 1774 trip. Each of the previous visits began with landings on the southern end of this three-mile-long Island, but included hikes that extended well away from his landing sites. Consequently, he was familiar with the Island but most familiar with its southern end. During this, his last visit, he undoubtedly was endeavoring to cover more of the Island’s northern end. He describes making camp “in sight of Mount Royal,” however, today Mount Royal cannot be seen from any point on Drayton Island due to the extension of the east shore at Keeths Point which totally blocks the line of sight between the Island and Mount Royal. It is doubtful that Mount Royal could be seen during Bartram’s day either, however it is difficult, at best, even with binoculars, excellent maps and intimate knowledge of the River in this area, to distinguish between Hog Island, Drayton Island, the east shore of Lake George, Black Point and Keeths Point when looking south from Mount Royal. Undoubtedly it was equally confusing to William Bartram’s unaided eye in 1774.
Discounting this claim of a view of Mount Royal and knowing that his approach to the Island was from the east shore of the River, one can assume that William made camp on the north end of the Island on the west side facing towards Mount Royal. A visit to the Island today reveals a low swamp at the Island’s northwest tip that extends around the point and several hundred yards south along the west shore. At this point, the elevation rises dramatically out of the swamp to a wooded bluff overlooking the swamp and the east shore of the River to the north and the River and its west shore and Hog Island (but not Mount Royal) to the west. This bluff, the first high ground along the west shore of the Island, is conspicuous because of its massive live oaks whose branches extend well out over the narrow, shallow shoreline, shading the shelly banks which rise dramatically from the River. It would have provided William with an ideal campsite, high above the surface of the River and out of reach of any large reptiles that may have disturbed his sleep during the night.
This northwestern tip the Island is presently under the ownership of The Archeological Conservancy, is posted and not open to the public. However, paddling the shallows along the shoreline of the Island at this site does afford an impressive view of the massive tree roots and exposed layers of substrate that compose the bluff where, undoubtedly, William Bartram made his final camp on Drayton Island in the autumn of 1774.
Bartram Trail Site 32 is accessible only from the water and can be most easily reached from Putnam County’s Drayton Island Ferry boat ramp located at the end of Drayton Island Ferry Road in Georgetown. From the ramp, cross the St. Johns River to the Island and follow the Island’s shoreline westward and around the northwestern-most point. Continue along the shoreline to the bluff just a few hundred yards south of the Island’s northern tip. Although, as of this writing, no site marker has been erected, the likely site of William’s quarters is easily identified by the abrupt change in elevation of the shoreline. The site, located on private property, is an easy 15 minute paddle from the ramp and boat traffic is nearly non-existent.
Coordinates: 29° 22.593’N 81° 38.799’W
The coordinates given for this site are for the northwestern shoreline of Drayton Island beneath the bluff where it is likely that William Bartram camped. The Bartram Trail Site marker has not yet been placed at this site.