Pottsburgh Plantation

The Earl of Bessborough was granted a 10,000 tract in 1766 that fronted for seven miles on the eastern shore of St. Johns River and Pottsburgh Creek (also Arlington River ). Samuel Potts, a London merchant, purchased the tract in 1769 and initiated settlement immediately. He purchased an additional 200-acre tract of valuable oak trees from Benjamin M. Roberts. Potts claimed that the estate consisted of more than 9,000 acres of quality yellow pine and a stand of 200 acres of live oak, white oak and hickory trees, and a 200-acre cypress swamp fit for conversion to a rice field. The latter was located beside Hazard's Creek (today Little Pottsburgh Creek). Pottsburgh Plantation was cultivated continuously from 1769 to 1784.

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London merchant Samuel Potts purchased a 10,000-acre tract in 1769 that lay east of the St. Johns and north of Pottsburgh River (also called Arlington River). The main residential center for the plantation was on the high bluff today known as Clifton, shown here to the left of Pottsburgh River.

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From the residential center on the north bank of Pottsburgh River, the plantation owned by Samuel Potts stretched for seven miles to the north along the east shore of the St. Johns River. The Mathews Bridge shown here leads to Downtown Jacksonville.

In 1774 William Bartram lodged for an evening at Pottsburgh, calling it "a large Plantation belonging to a Gentleman in England." Bartram remembered the buildings at Pottsburg were "most delightfully situated on a high commanding bluff," a reference to today's Clifton section of Arlington at the juncture of the St. Johns and Arlington Rivers. Potts used similar words to describe the property: “most dwellings [were] situated on a high commanding bluff and having seven miles frontage on the St. Johns River and the two ends were bounded by creeks navigable for a considerable distance."

Potts said in his memorial to the East Florida Claims Commission that between 1769 and 1781 he invested £5742 Sterling for improvements to the property and for the purchase forty-four enslaved laborers valued at £35 each. From the comfort of his Richmond residence, he described his East Florida laborers as "Negroes, inured to the climate, [who] were well acquainted with their business, & were perfectly happy in their situation.” Their situation included twelve slave houses and work in provisions and indigo fields and in the pine forests cutting timber, sawing them into boards, and collecting tar, pitch, and turpentine. In addition to eighty acres Potts called "old fields" (a Spanish settlement may have been there prior to 1763), the enslaved laborers cleared, fenced, and planted 270 acres in indigo and 100 acres in provisions crops, and established a large peach orchard and an orange grove.

Other improvements to the property included a dwelling house for the overseer which measured twenty-one by sixteen feet with chimneys and a seven foot piazza on the front and back. A separate thirty-foot-long kitchen building was constructed, along with two barns, one measuring sixty by eighty feet, and the other forty-five by fourteen feet. Other buildings included poultry and storage houses, cooperage and carpenter sheds. Left behind when the province was evacuated were seven horses and tack, carts and wagons, boats and canoes, and the usual complement for planting, carpentry, and cooperage.

Potts complained to the East Florida Claims Commission that returns from his plantation were insufficient given his large initial investment. Production and income records are incomplete, yet they show for the years 1777 through 1781 an average annual income of £844.5 derived from sales of indigo, lumber, tar, and turpentine. Potts stated that the estate produced average net annual income of £1000 until the province was evacuated.

From 1781 through 1784, four Loyalist families from South Carolina settled on the reserve lands of the 10,000-acre estate, and paid Potts an annual rent of eight percent of all profits derived. James Cassels, from Georgetown, South Carolina, and Major Gabriel Capers, brought approximately one hundred enslaved laborers to clear and plant at Pottsburgh. In his memorial to the East Florida Claims Commission, Potts said he expected additional Loyalist refugees would have settled on Pottsburgh had Britain not ceded the province to Spain .

Pottsburgh Plantation, like many British estates, was dismantled and abandonded when East Florida was ceded back to Spain in 1784.

Bibliographic Information

A Note On Sources

T 77/14/13 the Memorial of Samuel Potts. Bartram, Report to Dr. Fothergill, 145. W.H. Siebert, Loyalists of East Florida, II, 133.