December 25, 1765
"Cool hazy morning, thermometer 46 in the open air, (in which all my thermometrical observations up the river are taken). After several miles, [passing] by choice swamps near the river, we landed at a point of high ground, which has been an ancient plantation of Indians or Spaniards; many live oak-trees grew upon it near two foot diameter, and plenty of oranges; the soil was sandy but pretty good; we walked back from the river, the ground rising gradually from the swamp on the right-hand, where grow small ever-green-oaks, hiccory, chinquapins, and great magnolia, and in the swamp grows the swamp or northern kind 18 inches diameter, and 60 foot high, liquid-amber and red-maple 3 foot diameter, elm, ash, and bays; the plants were most sorts of the northern ferns, saururus, iris, pancratium, large long flowering convolvulus running 20 foot high, chenopodium as high, and 4 inches diameter, pontedereia and dracontium. Cloudy cool day, arrived at squire Roll’s, a bluff point 17 foot high, more or less, of which 5 foot is composed of snail and muscle-shells, mixed with black mould or rotten vegetables, intermixed with sand, 20 paces distant from the shore, and diminishing all the way to the yellow soil, on which grows large evergreen-oaks, evergreen shrub-oaks, where the pine-lands begin at 50 yards from the river; This shell-Bluff is 300 yards more or less along the river's bank, gradually descending each way to a little swamp, round the head of which the pine-lands continue down the river a good way, and a little way up it; the bluff seems all soil and shells, but back near the Savanna's is found some clay; there is a small Spanish intrenchment on the bluff about 20 paces square, and pieces of Indian pots; the river is very deep near the bluff, though there is a great barr opposite to the town, and a very rich extensive swamp."
Palatka is in the foreground. The bridge which spans this narrow point of the St. Johns River leads to East Palatka, where Denys Rolle located his residential complex.
If the battoe coasted the west shore after breaking camp, the “ancient plantation” was likely at today’s Palatka. Denys Rolle’s settlement, called both Rollestown and Charlotta, was nearby on the east shore around a steep bend in the river. The site for Rolle's settlement is today’s East Palatka. Rolle, from Devon County, was a wealthy landowner and member of Parliament who, by land grants and purchases, acquired nearly 80,000 acres of land starting at Federal Point on the north and extending along the east shore of the St. Johns River to Dunns Creek, and from there further east beyond Crescent Lake.
High bank at the site of Denys Rolle’s village. The site is now in East Palatka. Photograph by Daniel L. Schafer.
View of the St. Johns River from the site of Denys Rolle’s village. Today, the site is in East Palatka. Photograph by Daniel L. Schafer.
Looking toward the shoreline that was once Rolle’s Town. Photograph by Daniel L. Schafer.
During William Bartram's journey up the St. Johns and after a day observing forests and plants on the west shore near Bluff Creek, the naturalist crossed to the east shore and camped near Federal Point or Dancy Point. He commented on the palm and laurel trees, and "the Laurel Magnolias, which...are the most beautiful and tall that I have ever seen, unless we except those, which stand on the banks of the Missisippi; yet even these must yield to those of St. Juan, in neatness of form, beauty of foliage, and, I think, in largeness and fragrance of flower. Their usual height is about one hundred feet, and some greatly exceed that. The trunk is perfectly erect, rising in the form of a beautiful column, and supporting a head like an obtuse cone. The flowers are on the extremities of the subdivisions of the branches, in the center of a coronet of dark green, shining, ovate pointed entire leaves: they are large, perfectly white, and expanded like a full blown Rose. They are polypetalous, consisting of fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five petals: these are of a thick coriaceous texture, and deeply concave, their edges being somewhat reflex, when mature. In the center stands the young cone; which is large, of a flesh colour, and elegantly studded with a gold coloured stigma, that by the end of summer is greatly enlarged, and in the autumn ripens to a large crimsone cone or strobile, disclosing multitudes of large coral red berries, which for a time hang down from them, suspended by a fine, white, silky thread, four, six or even nine inches in length. The flowers of this tree are the largest and most complete of any yet known: when fully expanded, they are of six, eight, and nine inches diameter. The pericarpium and berries possess an agreeable spicy scent, and an aromatic bitter taste. The wood when seasoned is of a straw colour, compact, and harder and firmer than that of the poplar."
Bartram wrote with as much enthusiasm and descriptive detail about the grape vines and a "long moss" (Spanish moss today) growing from the trees before departing again upriver the next morning and crossing to the west shore and coasting by numerous marshes and cypress swamps. The "majestic stature" of the "cupressus disticha" (cypress) trees inspired another lyrical description of the "very large, strong, serpentine root, which strikes off, and branches every way, just under the surface of the earth; and from these roots grow woody cones, called cypress knees, four, five and six feet high, and from six to eighteen inches and two feet in diameter at their bases. The large ones are hollow, and serve very well for bee-hives; a small space of the tree itself is hollow, nearly as high as the buttresses already mentioned. From this place, the tree...takes another beginning, forming a grand straight column eighty or ninety feet high, when it divides every way around into an extensive flat horizontal top, like an umbrella, where eagles have their secure nests, and cranes and storks, their temporary resing places; and what adds to the magnificence of their appearance is the streamers of long moss that hang from the lofty limbs and float in the winds."
Cyprus Tree, Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, Florida State Archives.
Carolina Parakeet, Courtesy of Will Cook
The once numerous Carolina "Paroquett" [parakeet], an extinct species now, also drew Bartram's attention; they could be "seen hovering and fluttering on their [cypress trees] tops; they delight to shell the balls, its seed being their favourite food." He also commented on the men who felled these trees who "raise a stage round them, as high as to reach above the buttresses; on this stage, eight or ten negroes ascend with their axes, and fall to work round its trunk. I have seen trunks of these trees that would measure eight, ten, and twelve feet in diameter, for forty and fifty feet straight shaft."
After coasting past the cypress swamps, Bartram came upon an Indian village of about ten dwellings, orange groves, and provisions fields. Children were playing and fishing in the water, and "elderly people reclined on skins spread on the ground...." Beyond the village, back again on the east shore, William Bartram beached his sailboat at the landing for Denys Rolle's settlement "Charlotia," a familiar sight from his travels with his father in 1765 and 1766. While his written observations are similar in content, though more elegantly stated, than those recorded earlier by his father, William did mention that "the aborigines of America had a very great town in this place, as appears from the great tumuli, and conical mounts of earth and shells, and other traces of a settlement which yet remain."