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William visited Rocky Point and camped here during his return from his second trip up the St. Johns River in 1774. As previously mentioned, various records indicate that he made two trips up-river from Spalding’s Lower Store in 1774 however, in Travels the two experiences are combined and described as a single trip.
In Travels (p. 168) he describes his return route as including a campsite at Salt Springs. In this account, he left the Spring in the morning, crossed Salt Cove at the northwest corner of Lake George and made landfall at Rocky Point at the northwest entrance of the St. Johns River (Coordinates A). After conducting a brief exploration of the area around the point, his route continued up the west channel of the St. Johns towards Mount Royal but stopped on Drayton Island where he established his camp and spent the night (Figure 2).
The account of his visit to Rocky Point recorded in his Report is quite different from that provided in his Travels. In the account of his return from his second trip up the St. Johns recorded in (page 163) he describes visiting today’s Silver Glen Springs (which he calls Johnsons Spring) and from there sailing directly to Drayton Island where he collected plants and seeds, but left the Island before nightfall. In this account, he left Drayton Island and sailed across the river to a “rocky promontory” (Rocky Point) but finding the shoreline too rocky and the Lake too rough to land, continued around the point to a sheltered cove (Salt Cove) where he landed and set up camp for the night. He described spending the following morning exploring the Point and after finding some interesting plants, continuing his sail north arriving at Spalding’s Lower Store without having made any additional stops along the way (Figure 3).
It is likely that William indeed established a campsite at Rocky Point in 1774 as well as spending some time exploring the area around the Point and that the actual sequence of events is that recorded in his Report. Harper (Bartram 1943) contends that this visit occurred sometime in September (page 192). Regardless of the sequence of events surrounding his visit, it is easy to see why this Point would have attracted William’s attention. Even today, the exposed limestone outcropping at this location is a feature unique to this Point on the St. Johns River’s shoreline.
Rocky point is located within the Ocala National Forest and is accessible only by water as there are no established roads leading to the Point. Rocky Point is best reached by following the route described in Bartram’s Travels, departing from Salt Springs and paddling down the run and around the shoreline of Salt Cove to the Point; a distance of 6.5 miles. A shorter route (4.3 miles) is afforded by launching from the public boat ramp (Coordinates C) at the Drayton Island ferry landing and following the west shoreline of Drayton Island crossing the west channel of the St. Johns River at its narrowest point and following its west shoreline to the Point (Figure 4). It should be noted that, during seasonal periods of high water, the Point is inundated and the rocky outcroppings for which it is named are submerged. Consequently, Rocky Point is best visited during periods of low River stage. These occur typically during the first six months of the year. The period from late August through early December affords the least likely opportunity to see the rocky ledge.
THE sun passing below the horizon, and night approaching, I arose from my seat, and proceeding on arrived at my camp, kindled my fire, supped and reposed peaceably. And rising early, employed the fore part of the day in collecting specimens of growing roots and seeds. In the afternoon, left these Ellisian springs and the aromatic graves, and briskly descend the pellucid little river, re-entering the great lake; the wind being gentle and fair for Mount Royal, I hoisted sail and successfully crossing the N. West bay, about nine miles, came to at Rocky Point, the West cape or promontory, as we enter the river descending towards Mount Royal:
these are horizontal slabs or flat masses of rocks, rising out of the lake two or three feet above its surface, and seem an aggregate composition or concrete of sand, shells and calcarious cement; of a dark grey or dusky colour; this stone is hard and firm enough for buildings, and serve very well for light hand mill-stones; and when calcined affords a coarse lime; they lay in vast horizontal masses upon one another, from one to two or three feet in thickness, and are easily seperated and broke to any size or form, for the purpose of building. Rocky Point is an airy cool and delightful situation, commanding a most ample and pleasing prospect of the lake and its environs; but here being no wood, I re-embarked and sailed down a little farther to the island in the bay, where I went on shore at a magnificent grove of Magnolias and Oranges, desirous of augmenting my collections. Arose early next morning, and after ranging the groves and savannas, returned, embarked again, and descending, called at Mount Royal, where I enlarged my collections; and bidding adieu to the gentleman and lady, who resided here, and who treated me with great hospitality on my ascent up the river; arrived in the evening at the lower trading house.
The Next morning early got off[,] padled about 2 Miles & come to the mouth of Johnsons Springs; padled near a mile up & come to a vast Fountain, almost in every respect like the other great Spring that I visited before. I went a shore, mounted very high, hills very steep next the Creek, but fell away more gradually back, & enterd a beautifull grove of Palm Trees[,] large spreading live Oaks & -Vast Laurel Magnolia, mounted a very high ridge, from whence had an almost endless view of a vast baren desart, altogether impenetrable so thickly over grown with short schrubby Oaoks, Bays[,]Yapon[,] Prinos & short laurel bushes (Magnolia Grandaflora) & c. about these hills & open groves, observed abundance of the beautiful Scarlet Sage, the beauti[fu]ll large yellow Malva, A noble, sweet sented Shrub bearing golden clustres of Flowers, Tall Apuntia, breeding plenty of Cochaniel. Returnd to my boat, & with a gentle favourable breese sailed over to Drayton Island; I landed here[,] got some Roots & seeds of some valuable Shrubs & Plants, set off and  By night got over to a Promontary at the mouth of the River. the shore being very rockey & the wind blowing very high[,] found it very dificult & dangerous landing, it being open to the Lake but with great struggle got round a point of Marsh, into a safe harbour by dark, here I camped all Night. Next norming I traversed about this Point[,] came to an Orange Grove, I discovered a most singular & beautifull Species of Convolvulos[.] left this place & within night got safe down to the lower Store very wet & tired, having gone through a very heavey gust of Rain. S' Johns River[.]
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 A: 29° 20.292'N 81° 39.592'W
Coordinates B: 29° 20.227'N 81° 39.459'W
Coordinates C: 29° 23.138'N 81° 38.282'W
The first set of coordinates (A) given for this site are those proposed for the campsite established by William Bartram on the return trip from his second voyage up the St. Johns River as described in his Report. The second set of coordinates (B) are those proposed as the location of William Bartram’s visit to Rocky Point on his way to Drayton Island as described in his Travels. Coordinates C are those of the Drayton Island Ferry boat ramp in Georgetown. An early map showing the relevant shoreline of Lake George and Drayton Island and the river’s bathymetry is presented in Figure 1. (See Images Tab)