January 1, 1766

Journal Entry

"Hazy morning; thermometer 52. Set out from Spalding’s Upper-store, about 50 miles above the Lower; the river here is 200 yards broad, and 9 foot deep in the channel; in long continued rains it hath been known to rise here 3 foot perpendicular; no tides from the sea reach here. Thermometer 72. P.M. Landed at a high shelly bluff, where thousands of orange-trees surrounded us, with red cedars and live-oaks, beyond which is a rich swamp and marsh, then pine-land; landed again at a point on the north-side of a great cove on the east lake where we lodged."

 

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Lake George can be seen in the distance. Astor (Spalding's Upper-store to Bartram) and Volusia are between Bartram's "great lake" and the "east lake." The latter is now Lake Dexter, seen here in the foreground.

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The view in this aerial photograph is toward the southeast across Lake Dexter. Dexter Island and Tick Island are on the right, and Lake Woodruff is in the distance. The main river channel is to the right on this photograph, south of Dexter Island. Entry to the channel is through Idlewilde Point on the west and Dexter Island, shown clearly in the foreground.

“The Alegator of St. Johns ,” by William Bartram. The artist said the alligator on the left “Represents the action of this terrable monster when they bellow in the Spring Season. They force the water out of their throat which falls from their mouth like a Cataract & a steam or vapour from their Nostrals like smoke.” The alligator on the right “Represents them rising up out of the water when they devour the fish....” Courtesy of the Natural History Museum , London .

Commentary

By “east lake,” Bartram meant today's Lake Dexter. His camp for the first night of the new year was somewhere on the north shore of Lake Dexter.

During William Bartram's journey downriver in 1774, he camped at Dexter Point, finding "a circular harbour, at the foot of the bluff, the top of which is about twelve feet high; the back of it is a large cypress swamp, that spreads each way, the right wing forming the west coast of the little lake, and the left stretching up the river many miles, and encompassing a vast space of low grassy marshes." From the high point, Bartram viewed "high forests" and "many hundred thousand acres of meadow...interspersed with hommocks or islets of evergreen trees, where the sovereign magnolia and lordly palm stand conspicuous."

It was at this location that William Bartram observed the "greedy alligator. Behold him rushing forth from the flags and reeds. His enormous body swells. His plaited tail brandished high, floats upon the lake, The waters like a cataract descend from his opening jaws. Clouds of smoke issue from his dilated nostrils. The earth trembles with his thunder. When immediately from the opposite coast of the lagoon, emerges from the deep his rival champion. They suddenly dart upon each other. The boiling surface of the lake marks their rapid course, and a terrific conflict commences."

After viewing this confrontation, and with great apprehension, Bartram went fishing for trout for his evening dinner. Almost immediately he was attacked by two large alligators. His description of the attack, several pages long, and similar subsequent narrow escapes from the dreaded gators, is a classic section of Bartram's Travels. One of his most famous sketches is of alligators devouring trout that were massed and running up the river into Lake Dexter. He watched as "hundreds of thousands of them were caught and swallowed by the devouring alligators. I have seen an alligator take up out of the water several great fish at a time, and just squeeze them betwixt his jaws, while the tails of the great trout flapped about his eyes and lips, ere he had swallowed them." After watching the alligators attack the trout, "the floods of water and blood rushing out of their mouths, and the clouds of vapour issuing from their wide nostrils," Bartram pronounced the scene "truly frightful." The next day as he sailed by the "Battle lagoon," Bartram said he "began to tremble," sensibly so it turned out, as an alligator attacked his boat, "belching water and smoke that fell upon me like rain in a hurricane."