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About Bartram - An Introduction

  • Introduction
  • The Bartram Trail
  • Background
  • Putnam County's Bartram Trail
  • Resources & Links

William Bartram’s exploration of Florida is familiar to people throughout the world, thanks to the publication of his Travels in 1791.  His florid and vivid descriptions of his encounters with the indigenous people and nature at its best and at its worst, his discovery and illustrations of hitherto undocumented tropical flora and fauna and his eloquent musings made his book a worldwide sensation.  Although many people are aware that William came to Florida and quite a few may even have read his Travels, few are aware that he made two trips to Florida and several trips up the St. Johns River.  Fewer still are aware of the importance of his explorations and subsequent writings to the settlement and later development of Florida.

It is understandable that his writings would serve as a catalyst for tourism in Florida, for few that have read Bartram’s Travels have not longed to follow in the wake of William’s small boat as it made its way up the St. Johns River.  Although his wake is long dissipated and the Florida of Bartram’s Travels is vastly different today, the path still remains. Much of the flora and fauna described so vividly by William can still be seen along the banks of the River and, thanks to those confining banks, even today we can follow with some certainty, if not the identical route, closely to it.


While the travels of William in Florida are well known, amazingly few are aware of the nearly identical journey made by his father, John Bartram, and that William had accompanied him on this trip up the St. Johns River nearly a decade earlier.  As scholars, historians and Bartram aficionados throughout the world have read and studied the many records and documents generated during and after these trips, it has been generally agreed that Bartram’s Travels is actually a compilation of descriptions of places, people and events that occurred during both trips.  Consequently, the chronology of the Travels is so sadly confused as to have misled practically all who have attempted to cite his dates. (Harper 1943) The Bartram Heritage Report (1979) concurs with Harper’s assessment. It says: “When reading the Travels, we must remember that it is not a literal rendition of experience, but a story that manipulates time, point of view, theme, imagery, and other narrative devices to make its impression.  Despite its occasional lapses in accuracy, Travelsremains an orderly, well organized account. A glance at a map of Bartram's actual travels reveals a meandering and repetitious itinerary. “ (Page 25)

The existence of a second account of William’s second journey up the St. Johns further complicates matters, at least insofar as providing clues as to the locations of the various sites he visited in his subsequent trip.  This second account was crafted much earlier than his Travels in the form of a report to his benefactor Dr. John Fothergill, who funded his expedition.  This Report, along with an excellent commentary, was published in 1942 by Francis Harper. It was Harper’s conclusion that though both Travels and the Report to Fothergill cover the same general ground, they are far from being mere duplicates and, that the Report may be considered more reliable than the Travels on at least most of the points where the two are at variance.  (Harper 1942, page 123)  That the Report was penned many years before Travels and thus the author’s memory fresher, and that Travels was professionally edited and not a duplicate of the manuscript provided by the author lends a great deal of credence to Harper’s conclusion.

Consequently, retracing the actual route and identifying the exact locations of the various sites and events described by William in his Travels is, to say the least, a challenge.  Our inability to exactly retrace the routes taken by both Bartrams and to pinpoint many of their stopping places and campsites is, strangely, not so much daunting as it is stimulating.  For it is this uncertainty that gives us each the challenge of retracing the path with our copies of William’s Travels and the Report and John’s Journal in hand and determining for ourselves the locations that even today, may bear close resemblance to their natural state as described by the Bartrams.

The sites chosen for inclusion in Putnam County’s Bartram Trails reflect this philosophy.  The locations are based on the information and descriptions provided in the three documents, the Journal, the Report and Travels, collectively.  Other resources that were used to establish the locations include the many online tools and documents that were not available to earlier researchers like Francis Harper, as well as information contributed by Putnam County residents and River experts that have first-hand and intimate knowledge of the St. Johns River and Putnam County.  The routes shown in the various maps and figures and the locations provided are based on the best information available at the time they were drafted.  The commentary provided for each site presents the rationale for the chosen location, descriptions of the likely routes to and from the site and any conflicting arguments that may arise from comparing the information provided in each of the Bartram documents.  In this way, the individual reader can determine for themselves where they are indeed following in the wake and walking in the footsteps of the Bartrams as they explored Putnam County. 

The experience of following in the wake of the Bartrams is more than just knowing the routes taken and sites visited.  Knowledge and appreciation of these important aspects of their visits can be enhanced by knowing the “who, when, why and how” that accompany the “where” of each site.


In 1763, the Treaty of Paris officially ended the French and Indian or Seven Years War.  The terms of the Treaty resulted in France ceding all lands east of the Mississippi (excluding New Orleans) to Great Britain and Western Louisiana (including New Orleans) to Spain. The Spanish gave up East Florida to Great Brittan in exchange for Cuba.  The trade of Spanish Florida for Cuba ("the Pearl of the Antilles") was not popular with the English citizenry who considered Florida unfit for agriculture and lacking any natural wealth (gold and silver) for which the French and Spanish had searched in vain.  However, British diplomats considered the exchange a good one. Not only did it provide an impressive acquisition of new land on the map; it also eliminated the long-threatening Spanish foothold on the American east coast, once and for all.  In order to solidify the claim to this new territory Great Brittan needed to attract settlers and to accomplish this, they needed to catalog and make known its many virtues.  To this end, John Bartram, Botanist to the King, was commissioned to explore East Florida and draft a report of his findings.  

John and his twenty-six year old son William, began their journey up the St. Johns River on December 19, 1765 and returned to their starting point on February 13, 1766.  The entire trip was chronicled in the sixty-six year old John Bartram’s Journal and, as the Journal is a day-by-day account of that journey, a specific date is attached to each entry and site visited.  The two month long journey extended 215 miles up the St. Johns before leaving the River into an easterly chain of lakes and then returning to the River and following it back to its mouth at the Atlantic Ocean. 

The authors of the Florida History Online version of John Bartram’s Journal describe the vessel used for the Bartram’s 1765 journey up the St. Johns River as a large "dugout" canoe shaped from a cypress log.  John Bartram however, described the vessel as a “battoe”.  According to Joseph F. Meany Jr., Ph.D., Senior Historian at the New York State Museum, the batteau was a flat-bottom, double-ended, shallow-draft, all-purpose cargo boat and oars the primary means of propulsion. During the eighteenth century, Bateaux were the most common and most important cargo carrier found on the inland waters of colonial North America. The names, from the French batteau, "boat," and Bateaux, "boats," were commonly rendered in English as "battoe" and "battoes." Thousands of these crafts were constructed by British, French, and American forces operating in North America.  While John Bartram may have used “battoe” as a generic term for a long, narrow and shallow draft vessel, such as a dugout canoe, it may be that he indeed had one of these common craft available for his journey.  Regardless, his journal entries make it clear that whatever the material or construction, their vessel was sufficiently large to carry five individuals, in addition to their camping gear, scientific equipment and personal items.  Propulsion was provided by oars and, according to John’s Journal entry for December 20, 1765, Mr. Davis’ “Negro was to row and cook for us all.”  Estimates of their speed and distances traveled under various weather conditions should take all of information into consideration.

William Bartram returned to the St. Johns in mid-April of 1774 and concluded his second tour of the river in November of the same year.  William’s journey too was commissioned, however instead of a government sponsor, his was private.  Dr. John Fothergill, a wealthy Englishman commissioned the naturalist to explore the southeastern colonies and to catalog the flora and fauna and to collect and send back reports and samples for his examination and enjoyment.  In exchange, he received a generous stipend. 

William did not venture quite as far up the River during this second trip; proceeding only as far as present-day Lake Berresford 148 miles upstream then a bit farther overland to Blue Springs.  However, during this period he made two shorter trips from about the mid-point of his journey at Spalding’s Lower Store, to its southern extent; the first in June and the second in August or September. He also ranged more widely departing from the River’s corridor to explore the country side. 

William’s 1774 journey up the St. Johns River was made in a much smaller vessel than that used during the earlier trip.  The authors of the Florida History Online version of John Bartram’s Journal describe the vessel used by William Bartram as a “small sailboat.”   William too described the vessel as a “neat little sail-boat” in his Travels (“MR. Egan, after procuring a neat little sail-boat for me, at a large Indigo plantation near the ferry, and for which I paid three guineas, departed for St. Augustine, which is on the sea-coast about forty-five miles over land…My little vessel being furnished with a good sail, and having fishing tackle, a neat light fusee, powder and ball, I found myself well equipped, for my voyage, about one hundred miles to the trading house.”  Bartram’s Travels Part II, Chapter III.) Later, in the same text, he applies yet another descriptor to his vessel, saying:  “I RESOLVED upon another little voyage up the river; and after resting a few days and refitting my bark, I got on board the necessary stores, and furnishing myself with boxes to plant roots in, with my fuzee, amunition and fishing tackle, I sat sail, and in the evening arrived at Mount Royal.” (Chapter VIII, pg 252)

However in his report to John Fothergill, William described the vessel as a “canoe” fitted with a sail.  (“I purchased a Canoe and alone continued my voyage up the River, having a Sail, some provisions, Gun and Ammunition.  My undertaking was I confess somewhat hazardous at such a time: The River being very wide, & my vessel small, was obliged to coast close along shore, ..” William Bartram’s Georgia and Florida: Volume 1, p. 145. )

Again, regardless of its actual configuration, it was small, fitted with oars and a sail and though large enough to carry three people and their gear, was of shallow draft and small enough to be hauled up on shore by two individuals. (..so next day early in the morning, & having shipped a passenger, we had 3 hands, two to rowe, & I steered, this night we got to the Store near 40 Miles. William Bartram’s Georgia and Florida: Volume 1, p. 154.)  Estimates of the distances traveled under the various conditions described by William during his journey should take these characteristics of his vessel into account.

The Putnam County Bartram Trail was developed to assist those interested in following in the wake and footsteps of John and William Bartram by providing resources and tools that will enable them to be successful.  Using the available writings of John and William as well as those of respected historians, each of the likely locations where the Bartrams touched shore either to camp or explore has been identified and mapped.  These locations along the St. Johns River, identified as Bartram Trail Sites (BTS), are numbered sequentially from north to south rather than in the chronological order in which they were visited.

Coordinates, given in degree, decimal minutes, are provided for each site.  In some cases, these coordinates can be very accurate, especially where landmarks mentioned in the Bartram’s writings, such as streams or springs, still exist today.  In other cases, they can only be considered approximate.  A commentary is provided for each site, summarizing the details surrounding each site including the Bartram’s descriptions of the site, their routes of approach and departure and various conditions that may have affected their route and choice of landing sites.  If a site was used by both John and William and subsequently by William on his second trip, the commentary provides background on both visits.

Following the commentary, excerpts from the Journal and/or Travels are provided so that visitors can have ready access to the actual texts relevant to a particular site.  These excerpts include not only the observations made by the Bartrams at the site, but also those made along the routes leading up to and away from it. 

Maps have been prepared for each site and likely locations of campsites used and any shoreline explorations noted.  Likely routes, based on wind conditions, mode of travel and the various texts have been plotted as well.  Where historic maps are available and are useful they have been included.

Finally, any additional resources, particularly those that are web-based and can be accessed electronically, have been included for each site so that they too can be used to enhance the experience of following the trails.    

The Putnam County Bartram Trail is intended to be a continual work in progress. As additional resources are found, the information provided by this web resource will be updated with the goal of providing the best and most accurate information available to those who wish to follow the Bartrams through Putnam County.   Your comments and suggestions are both welcomed and encouraged.

Bartram, John.  "Diary of a Journey through the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida, from July 1, 1765, to April 10, 1766", Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., Vol. XXXIII, Pt. I. Philadelphia, 1942.  Francis Harper ed. (Jacksonville Public Library 904 630-2665)

Bartram, William. “Travels in Georgia and Florida, 1773-74; a report to Dr. John Fothergill [by] William Bartram. Annotated by Francis Harper.”  Philadelphia, The American philosophical society, 1943.

Bartram, William. 1739-1823. 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:Electronic Edition. © This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

Florida History Online. New World in a State of Nature.  John Bartram’s Travels on the St. Johns River, 1765-66.  May 2013.


Meany, Joseph F. Jr., Ph.D. Bateaux and 'Battoe Men': An American Colonial Response to the Problem of Logistics in Mountain Warfare. New York State Museum.  May 2013.


Stork, William (d.1768) and John BARTRAM (1699-1777). 1766.  An Account of East-Florida, with a Journal, Kept by John Bartram, Botanist to His Majesty for the Floridas; upon a Journey from St. Augustine up the River St. John's. London: W. Nicoll and G. Woodfall.

Schafer, Daniel L.  William Bartram and the Ghost Plantations of British East Florida.  University Press of Florida.  Gainesville, FL.  2010.