At the southern entrance to the St. Johns River fronting on the Atlantic Ocean, a 650-acre tract was granted to a prominent East Florida plantations agent named Alexander Gray. Another tract of 300 acres adjoining upriver, bounded on the west by Pablo River, was acquired by William Wilson. Gray and Wilson may have initiated cultivation at these tracts, but their main motivation for acquiring them was their potential as bases for commercial shipping. Wilson also acquired Little Fort George Island directly across the St. Johns River, along with Duck Pond Island further upriver, intending to utilize all three properties for wharf and warehouse facilities to enhance the naval stores trade. Recognizing the potential of that trade, Governor Patrick Tonyn purchased Gray's 650-acre property in 1779.
There is no indication in the records of the British years that either Wilson or Tonyn constructed shipping facilities prior to the cession of the province to Spain, but a blockhouse--exact location unknown--was established during the revolutionary war years. Fortifications were also constructed here in subsequent years by the Spanish government, which used the Mayport area as a customs center and a defense installation.
The only known commercial exploitation in this locale by the British was at Turpentine Island, located on Leslie's Creek, approximately one-fourth of a mile upriver from the British blockhouse. On this seventy-acre tract of hammock and marsh the merchants William Panton and John Forbes constructed two large buildings and a shingled warehouse finished with a terraced floor made into various slopes with wells sunk to capture leakage from barrels. The buildings were capable of lodging 2,000 barrels of turnpentine. Ocean bound vessels could dock at a deep water wharf in front of the warehouse. The deed for this property was issued to John Leslie, a partner of Panton and Forbes. A plat survey in the National Archive at Kew shows Leslie's tract, the St. Johns River, and the creek, but not the blockhouse.
The Mayport Carrier Basin and Naval Air Station were carved out of sections of tracts acquired by Alexander Gray and William Wilson in 1775. The town of Mayport fronts the St. Johns River beyond the airplane runway.
T77/17/10-Patrick Tonyn; T77/18/20-William Wilson; T77/19/15 & 14/1 &1/1-William Panton, et al.; T77/23/fragments.