Beauclerc Bluff

A 1,000-acre tract located on the south shore of Goodby’s Creek and the east shore of the St. Johns River was granted to Robert Davis in 1765. Beauclerc was already a thriving indigo plantation by the time John Bartram selected it as the site to launch his epic tour of the St. Johns River in December 1765. From Davis's wharf, Bartram and his son, William Bartram, along with Dr. David Yeats, John Davis, and an enslaved black man launched a batteau that carried them on a 250-mile journey of discovery up the St. Johns River.

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The Beauclerc Bluff neighborhood of Jacksonville, seen in the right foreground of the above aerial photograph, is on the east shore of the St. Johns River. Goodby's Creek is just beyond Beauclerc, or downriver in this image, with San Jose beyond Goodby's.

The survey map of Beauclerc Bluff Plantation drawn by Joseph Purcell in 1766, see below, shows the landing on the bluff at the point adjoining today's Plummers Cove. Purcell's outstanding art work includes a miniature illustration of the indigo works at Beauclerc Bluff Plantation.

Henry Strachey, a London merchant, acquired Beauclerc Bluff in 1771, along with 3,000 acres in several tracts on the east and west shores of the St. Johns. Strachey invested substantial sums on indigo fields, the produce of which increased annually until the War of Rebellion commenced. He bragged that the indigo produced at Beauclerc Bluff was the best in the province, and for evidence cited the gold medal he received in 1774 from the Society of Arts and Commerce "in testimony of superior quality" of his indigo. After the War of Rebellion began many of his slave laborers were drafted by the government at different times to erect fortifications and public works. When cultivation of indigo ceased, his slaves cultivated provisions as a commercial crop and utilized the pine forests for production of naval stores.

In 1772 the overseer at Beauclerc Bluff was a man the Reverend John Forbes called "Kennedy the Highlander," probably Donald Kennedy, a Scot from Edinburgh. Forbes judged Kennedy greatly inexperienced as an indigo processor, yet by 1776 Beauclerc Bluff had 210 acres of cleared and fenced land planted in indigo, corn and other provisions crops, and a twelve-acre rice field had been claimed from a section of the marsh. There were dwellings for two overseers on the property with lofts, piazzas and brick chimneys, the largest measuring thirty-five by seventeen feet. Fourteen houses provided shelter for the enslaved black laborers. In addition, there were four barns capable of holding 3,000 bushels of corn, a blacksmith shop, mill house, pigeon house, fowl house, and kitchen house. The estate was under cultivation for nearly twenty years.

It is likely that Kennedy was resident at Beauclerc Bluff when William Bartram, driven ashore by a storm, camped there overnight in 1774, although neither he nor the plantation is mentioned in Bartram's writings. Fortunately, several maps have been preserved at the Public Record Office of Great Britain which show the layout of the estate in great detail. Of particular interest are the two roads drawn on the maps, one leading north toward the Cowford, the other toward St. Augustine. There are also references to a ford across Goodby's Creek known as Point Comfort. The dwelling house and other buildings were clustered on the southern point of Beauclerc Bluff near Davis's Bay (today Plummers Cove).

In 1781, John Ross was the resident manager at Beauclerc Bluff. He and aproximately thirty slaves produced 3000 bushels of corn beyond what was needed for their own consumption, which sold at the St. Augustine market for £1618. The workers also produced 376 barrels of turpentine which sold for £770 and 92 barrels of tar (sale price not noted). A slave blacksmith owned by Strachey was hired out for a profit to the estate of £30. Total income in 1781 was £2417. When operating expenses were subtracted, Ross calculated the net profit at £1813.

It was Ross who supervised the sale of the slaves owned by Strachey and who prepared for the abandonment of the property after Britain ceded East Florida to Spain. All thirty-one slaves were sold to Mr. Thomas Bee of Charleston, after he agreed to give bonds for £2147 payable at the house of Atlan, Cadoghan and Brymer in London by five annual installments. The first note fell due in May 1786, one-fifth of the principal plus a five percent interest charge. Bee failed to make the first payment.

Strachey complained to the East Florida Claims Commission that at the time the province was ceded to Spain, Beauclerc Bluff was the only productive part of his Florida estates, but that the others would have become profitable in proportion to the increase in population. "For it is notorious that the Province, which when ceded by the King of Spain to the King of Great Britain in year 1763, was one entire wilderness, almost destitute of Inhabitants, except in the Town of St. Augustine. [The province] was at the time of the late cession, cleared, cultivated, and settled to a great Extent, and had increased in People to the Amount of 16,000, including Negroes. And as your Memorialist has farmed with apparent success the very valuable plantation of Beauclerc Bluff, so it was his intention to have proceeded in the cultivation of his other lands, in the absolute certainty of his establishing a large growing Estate to himself and his posterity; of which fair prospect he has been utterly deprived." It is worth noting that Strachey was one of the British negotiators at the Paris Peace Conference in 1783 that returned East Florida to Spain.

In addition to Beauclerc Bluff Plantation, Strachey acquired 10,250 acres on Biscayne Sound, between the Rock Bridge and New Found River, which he intended to develop as a sugar plantation. He owned two additional tracts of land in the vicinity of Beauclerc Bluff, one of 500 acres and another of 300. He accused government appraisers of failing to count and value his livestock at Beauclerc Bluff. Governor Tonyn agreed, and testified that sixteen or seventeen horses were unavoidably abandoned, each worth £7, along with thirty head of cattle valued at £3 each, and 150 hogs at fifteen shillings each.

Strachey claimed the following improvements and losses at Beauclerc Bluff Plantation:

  1. A commodious dwelling 35 by 17 feet: framed, shingled, lofted, a good piazza, 2 small chambers and good brick chimney. Valued at £120 Sterling.
  2. A small dwelling 17 by 16 feet to accommodate a white artisan. Shingled, framed, half-lofted. Valued at £30.
  3. Framed kitchen with brick chimney. £40.
  4. Blacksmith shop. £5.
  5. Mill house. £1.
  6. Pigeon house. £3.
  7. Fowl house. £1.
  8. 14 Negro houses each £7.
  9. A commodious cooper shop. £15.
  10. Four large log houses (barns) capable of containing 3000 bushels corn in cob. £20.
  11. A large naval store shed. £30.
  12. Complete set of cooper's tools. £7.
  13. A stock of staves, headings & hoops for 400 barrels for naval stores. £10.
  14. 400 bushels corn of 1782 crop. £120.
  15. 265 barrels turpentine gathered in 1782; 40 barrels gathered in 1783. £228.
  16. A canoe 33 feet long. £19.
  17. 14 horses at £7 each. £98.
  18. 30 head cattle at £3 each. £90.
  19. 150 hogs at 15 shillings each. £112.
  20. Implements for indigo and husbandry. £20.
  21. Slave property lost. £2147.

13 prime men slaves, 2 of them good sawyers, 13 prime women slaves, one a good house wench, 7 children 1 to 7 years

Total personal property. £2768

Total real estate. £6759

Combined losses £9527

The Parliamentary Claims Commission's estimate of losses was considerably more modest. Slave property was valued at £1650. Total value of personal estate at £2035. Combination of real and personal property at £3683.

Bibliographic Information

A Note On Sources

T77/17/21-Henry Strachey. Forbes to Grant, July 2, 1772, and “List of Petitions,” in James Grant Papers. Ashby and John Barker were the original grantees for Suttonia.