New Castle Plantation
New Castle Plantation was formed in 1769 under the direction of David Courvoisie, the first resident manager of East Florida estates for a consortium of London investors. The partnership was formed prior to 1769 when surveys of several tracts were done for the adventurers. New Castle was the name given to two tracts of 350 acres each purchased for the partners by Courvoisie. Records for the sale of the tract furthest east (downriver) document that the original grantees were Robert and Sarah Harris. Their land bounded William Roberts on the east, Samuel Potts on the south, and William Reddy on the west.
New Castle Plantation, home of Francis Phillip Fatio for several years, was located on the south shore of the St. Johns, shown here beyond the tips of the islands. William Reddy's two tracts bounded Fatio on the west and stretched all the way to the point. New Castle and Reddy Point are today part of the Arlington neighborhood of Jacksonville.
Francis Phillip Fatio became resident manager at New Castle in 1771. Fatio was a native of Switzerland and at various times a citizen of France, Sardinia (his wife's homeland), and England, before moving to Florida in 1771. Enroute to his first East Florida residence, New Castle Plantation, Fatio's schooner ran aground on a sand bar at the entrance to the St. Johns River, prompting Lt. Governor John Moultrie to note that the vessel was loaded with an ample supply of fine European wines and furniture and an extensive library, all destined for Fatio's personal use.
The acting surveyor general of East Florida in 1771, Frederick George Mulcaster, also a royal engineer, had the good fortune of sampling that wine. In November of 1771 Mulcaster sailed from St. Augustine intending to survey properties at Six-Mile Creek on the St. Johns River. He stopped at Fatio's home and was treated to “plenty of good burgundy and other liquors, good dinner and hearty welcome.” After discussing the current prices being paid for indigo, Fatio confided that he was worried that his London partners would insist that the profits from indigo grown at New Castle be sent to them in London rather than invested in their Florida plantations until they became better established. New plantations were expensive to put on a sound footing, Fatio said, but once established they produced great profits for their owners. Fatio's partners agreed to invest the profits in improvements.
John Moultrie stopped at New Castle in November 1772. Moultrie was acting governor of the province at the time and touring plantations along the St. Johns River. He informed Governor Grant that "At Fatio's (Neuf Chatel) is a good growth of every sort of plantation produce, but not enough planted, & not managed to the best advantage, though exceedingly anxious & industrious, & fond of making money. They are young planters, & I think will do well next year, as they are now more knowing and are preparing very good fields."
William Bartram's experiences in 1774 were similar to those of Mulcaster and Moultrie. New Castle was one of dozens of indigo-producing estates that had sprung up along the St. Johns River after Bartram traveled the waterway in 1765-66 with his father, John Bartram. In 1774 Bartram returned to East Florida and retraced much of the 1765-66 jouney, stopping briefly at New Castle and describing the estate as a "very large Indigo Plantation, on a high Hill on E[ast] side of the River. This very civil gentleman [Fatio] shewed me his improvements. His Garden is very neat & contains a greater variety than any other in the Coliny. He has a variety of European Grapes imported from the Streight, Olives, Figs, Pomgranates, Filberts, Oranges, Lemons, a variety of garden flowers, from Europe &c."
New Castle Plantation was located in what is now the Arlington neighborhood of Jacksonville. A deed to the twenty-nine-acre New Castle Island, directly offshore, was granted to Thomas Dunnage, one of the partners. A curious entry in Dunnage's claim for compensation for losses following the cession of East Florida to Spain indicated that the partners "erected a battery on which were placed sundry pieces of cannon being on an important point of land on the river St. Johns & from which an invasion from Georgia or Carolinas...[remainder is not legible]." Exactly where the battery was erected can not be ascertained from the badly decayed document. Dunnage was undoubtedly referring to invasions from Georgia during the War of Rebellion.
Fatio moved further upriver to establish New Switzerland Plantation, where he and his family remained for decades. After that move, New Castle was managed by David Courvoisie, who was eventually given title to the property.
Map of New Castle Plantation
William Bartram, "Travels in Georgia and Florida, 1773-74: A Report to Dr. John Fothergill," can be conveniently seen in Thomas P. Slaughter's recent collection of William Bartram's writings: William Bartram: Travels and Other Writings (New York, N.Y.: The Library of America, 1996). Mulcaster to Grant, Nov. 11, 1771 ; Moultrie to Grant, Nov. 3, 1772 , both JGP.