December 20, 1765
"Set out for Robert Davis’s, whose son the Governor had ordered to take us up to search for the head of the river St. Johns; and having necessaries provided. I, my son William, Mr. Yates, and Mr. Davis, embarked in a battoe; Mr. Davis was not only to conduct us, but also to hunt venison for us, being a good hunter, and his Negro was to row and cook for us all, the Governor bearing our expences."
In this photograph the airplane is over the St. Johns River looking up Goodby's Creek in Jacksonville, Florida. The two roads shown are Baymeadows Road and San Jose Boulevard (State Road 13). The latter runs north and south and bridges Goodby's Creek, as shown here. The site of Robert Davis's Beauclerc Bluff Plantation is south of (to the right of) Goodby's Creek.
Robert Davis resided at Beauclerc Bluff Plantation, located South of Goodby’s Creek. His son John Davis, the guide for the expedition, lived on the west side of the St. Johns River at the head of Doctors Lake. “Mr. Yates” was Dr. David Yeats, a medical doctor, secretary of the province, planter, and plantation agent for Governor James Grant. An enslaved black man, the human property of John Davis, paddled the battoe and served as hunter and cook for the party. Although his contributions on this historic journey were invaluable, his name was not recorded.
Bartram does not mention that Robert Davis had turned this 1,000-acre tract into an indigo plantation by December 1765. Little is known about Beauclerc Bluff until it was purchased in 1771 by Henry Strachey, a London merchant, along with 3,000 acres in several tracts on the east and west shores of the St. Johns.
Beauclerc Bluff Plantation, map by Joseph Purcell. Courtesy of the National Archives, Kew, England.
Portrait of William Bartram
Portrait of John Bartram
December 21, 1765
"Thermometer 74. P.M. The wind blew from the south right against us, so strong that we could not advance; so staid at Mr. Davis’s, who walked with us about his land, on which grew very large evergreen and water oaks, magnolia, liquid amber, red bay 2 foot in diameter and 100 high, and some curious shrubs and plants we never observed before, with orange-trees among them, large zanthoxylum, and purple-berried bay."
Looking downriver toward Downtown Jacksonville; the Beauclerc neighborhood is shown in the right foreground, with Goodby's Creek and San Jose just beyond. Beauclerc was in 1765 the site of Robert Davis's Beauclerc Bluff Plantation, and the departure point for John Bartram's journey of discovery on the St. Johns River.
It was probably Beauclerc Bluff plantation that John's son, William Bartram, sought out for repairs to his sailboat after it was damaged by a storm in March 1774. William wrote in Travels that he saw a plantation across the river from his harbor on the western shore, and crossed over to camp for the night sheltered by the limbs of a giant oak tree felled by a hurricane. The next morning he met an “Indian, [who] stepped out of a thicket, and crossed the path just before me, having a large turkey cock flung across his shoulders....This friendly Indian informed me that he lived at the next plantation, employed as a hunter.” The two men then walked to the neighboring plantation, a distance of one-half mile, where Bartram lodged briefly while his sailboat was repaired.
In “Report to Dr. John Fothergill,” the wealthy English patron responsible for financing William Bartram’s journey though the American southeast, Bartram said he crossed the river “to a point of land, I had long wanted to gain just before dark.” The next morning he remembered: “I took a turn in the groves where I found abundance of Oranges and pretty evergreens, amongst the rest that very singular & beautifull evergreen commonly called wild Lime.” He identified the hunter as an Indian “slave bro’t from the Musqueto Shore” and the distance to the neighboring plantation as one mile. Bartram failed to mention damaging his sailboat or lodging at the neighboring plantation in the “Report,” writing instead: "about Noon the wind being more favourable I got twelve mile farther; come too at Picolata Fort. which I observed was newly repared; got 2 Miles farther. stop't at an Orange grove. Next day got about 30 Miles, staid this Night at Villa Role." The letter to Dr. Fothergill was written in 1774 from Florida, Whereas Travels was not published until 1791.