John and William Bartram
John Bartram’s party, having camped at or near Palmetto Bluff on the west shore of the St. Johns River, packed their gear and on this cold Christmas day in 1765, began rowing upstream towards present-day Palatka. After a brief stop there (at BT Site No. 4), they returned to their boat and proceeded upstream to Squire Roll’s. After camping here for one night, they continued up-river to Stokes Landing (Spaulding’s Lower Store) stopping at Murphys Island along the way (Figure 1). Their return trip, about a month later, brought them to Roll’s town from Dunns Creek and their campsite on the north shoreline of Crescent Lake. After a two night stay at Roll’s town, they headed downstream to explore Rice Creek (Grays Creek – BTS 3) and after crossing the river, camped at Forrester Point (BTS 2) (Figure 2).
The route taken by William nearly ten years later, is less clear. Using his Travels as a guide, it appears that he retraced the upstream route taken nine years earlier with his father save for his departure point from a point on the east shore – perhaps Tocoi Point or Racy Point – rather than Palmetto Bluff on the west shore of the river. From his description of the village at Palatka, it is apparent that he sailed close to shore on his initial passage, exchanging hand signals with the Seminole residents as he passed by, but did not stop. This route would have likely duplicated that traveled in 1765 shown in Figure 1.
The route described in William’s Report to Dr. John Fothergill however, is quite different. In this account, he sailed 30 miles in one day, from a campsite two miles south of Fort Picolata to “Villa Role” at “Charlotia” where he spent the next night with no mention of having passed an Indian village (Page 146). Harper (1958) in his commentary on Travels, suggests that the route followed by William on this day began near Tocoi Creek and coasted the east shore to Racy Point, where he took advantage of the shorter crossing of the broad river to Nine Mile Point on the west shore which he coasted until he rounded Forresters Point. He suggests that the Seminole village mentioned in Travels was at this site in Palatka and that he passed close by it on his sail to Squire Roll’s.
Upon his departure, William set sail for Stokes Landing (BTS 13) stopping, as did he and his father in 1765, at Murphy Island (BTS 11) to pick up supplies that he had shipped ahead. Though no mention is made in Travels of passing an Indian village during this leg of his journey, his Report does make mention of Indian settlements between Charlotia and Murphy Island. This route again, probably retraced that taken with his father in December 1765 (Figure 1).
John and William Bartram
At the time of the Bartram’s arrival on Christmas Day 1765, Squire Roll’s “town” consisted of two streets arranged at right angles and some ten log houses scattered about the half mile long town situated on the bluff above the St. Johns River. The bluff was the prominent feature distinguishing this site and remains so today (Figure 3). Other distinguishing characteristics mentioned by John Bartram in his Journal included the unusual depth of the river at this location (over 40 feet) and the sand bar opposite the bluff (Figure 4). This bathymetry of the river remains unchanged as does the “rich extensive marsh” John Bartram observed opposite the bluff.
They returned to this site in January of 1766 after having explored the upstream reaches of the River. They spent two nights here, devoting a full day to the exploration of the town and its surrounding area. Perhaps they found Roll’s “town”, now called Charlottenburgh, lacking in entertainment, as John remarks that they “staid all night” there. Squire Roll’s land grant was extensive, ultimately encompassing almost the entire east shoreline of the St. Johns River from Deep Creek in the north to Crescent Lake in the south (Figure 5).
When William returned to this site in 1774, he found Charlotia in a sad state of disrepair. The log houses had fallen down and were decaying away and only the mansion house, a large frame building made of Cypress wood, remained in “tolerable” repair and was inhabited by an overseer and his family. He also found a black-smith with a shop and family some distance from the mansion house.
There are two Bartram Trail Site Markers for Rollestown. One is located on private property on the northeast shoreline at the powerline crossing of the River in East Palatka and can only be accessed by water. The second is located in a wayside park owned by Florida Power & Light on US 17 in East Palatka, is open to the public and can be reached only by land. This second site also has a Florida Historical marker describing the site of the colony of Denys Rolles. (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
Coordinates: 29° 37.863’N 81° 35.449’W
The coordinates given for this site as the location of Squire Roll’s are for the Bartram Trail Site (BTS) marker located on the shoreline of the St. Johns River between present day East Palatka and San Mateo. This site is located on private property.