December 23, 1765
"Cold morning, thermometer 42, wind N.W. Arrived and lodged at Picolata."
Looking to the south (upriver), Picolata is part of the shore on the left. Bayard Point is on the right. The two Spanish forts (Picolata and Pupo) that once stood at these locations disappeared long ago. The British fortification at Picolata whereBartram lodged in 1765 has also vanished.
Plat Map of Fort Picolata, Courtesy of the National Archives, Kew, England
John Bartram was already familiar with Fort Picolata and the surrounding terrain. He and William Bartram had been in attendance at the November 1765 meeting between Governor James Grant and the Creek and Seminole chiefs that resulted in the treaty that defined the borders for European settlement in East Florida. The fort was west of St. Augustine, built by the Spanish to protect supply convoys traveling the road west to Mission San Luis in Apalachee, today near Tallahassee. Fort Pupo served the same purpose on the opposite shore.
In Travels, William Bartram mentioned stopping at Fort Picolata in April 1774 and finding it "dismantled and deserted." The comment is inaccurate, probably resulting from the lengthy time between the visit and the publication of Bartram's famous travel journal in 1792. In his 1774 "Report" to Dr. Fothergill, Bartram described stopping "at Picolata Fort. which I observed was newly repared [sic]."
Of greater interest, however, is Bartram's failure to mention sailing past the site that had been his own 500-acre farm for a few months in 1766. He wrote that he sailed from Suttonia with "a lively leading breeze...as near the East shore as possible, often surprised by the plunging of alligators, and greatly delighted with the pleasing prospect of cultivation, and the increase of human industry...." That evening he lodged at a "pleasant habitation" near a "convenient harbour" on the east shore of the St. Johns River. His host was a friend William had known in St. Augustine in the 1760s, probably Alexander Gray, an East Florida plantation agent whose charges included Witter Cumming's 5,000-acre tract at Six Mile Creek.
In the spring of 1766 William Bartram had attempted to develop a farm at a 500-acre tract at today's Smith Point on Little Florence Cove, immediately south of the Shands Bridge. Although he was totally unprepared for such a challenge, Bartram's plan was to clear the land, drain the marshes, and plant rice with the help of enslaved Africans purchased for him in Charleston by his father. A map of Bartram's land is preserved in the records of the East Florida Claims Commission and archived in the Public Record Office of Great Britain. It depicts the flow of water currents around the point and into the cove at a depth of only two and three feet at the northern shore of the cove where William apparently built a wharf and dwellings on the protected inner-shore, away from the river breezes and close to the swamps and mosquitoes. That mistake and several others, along with what may have been temporary physical or mental health problems, led to the abandonment of the farm and of Bartram's career as a slave owner.
Plat Map for William Bartrams 500 Acre Farm
In a case of protective and highly selective memory, Bartram in 1774 said not a word about sailing past his former residence or about the extensive development at the site since his departure in 1766. During the intervening years and a long residence in Pennsylvania, he had developed a keen dislike for enslaving human beings. Remembering his months as a slave owner may have been too painful to remember, or too embarrassing to publicly acknowledge.
Alexander Gray acquired title to the 500-acre tract that had once belonged to William Bartram. Gray was a respected plantation agent who supervised many of the most successful St. Johns River estates, including the 5,000 acres granted in early 1766 to a St. Augustine merchant, Witter Cumming. Indigo and rice fields were developed on the rich marshes and hammocks of a tract that was traversed by Trout Creek, Six-Mile Creek, and Sawmill Creek. A dam on Saw Mill Creek, constructed for Captain William Rainsford's water-powered mill, diverted fresh water onto Cumming's rice fields. At the point where Six-Mile Creek and Sawmill Creek joined, a wharf was constructed to accomodate merchant ships plying the river. Travelers seeking to avoid the shifting and dangerous passage at the entrance to the Matanzas River off St. Augustine docked their vessels at this wharf and followed the road for twelve miles to the East Florida capital.