January 24, 1766
"Moderate clear morning; rowed early by a bank of pine-land for several miles and some cypress-swamps, then came to a large creek called Johnson’s Spring, the west end of the lake about 80 yards near broad, but after it widens to about 200; the pine-land comes pretty close to its banks, then a narrow low marsh interposes, and after we rowed higher up we saw narrow cypress-swamps, loblolly-bays, and some few oak hammocks; the creek abounds with fish, many stingrays near its mouth; it is supposed to run 7 miles from its head to the lake, where the bar is about 18 inches deep, but the creek is 3, 4, and 5 foot up to the spring, which is nearly level with the lake, and full of grass and weeds at the bottom, many of which reach to the top of the water, and are a great obstruction to boats in going up, without they keep directly in the channel; on the north side towards its head a large marsh brancheth out; we came at last to where the cat-tails and bull-rushes grew so thick, that we could not force the battoe through them, though it was 100 yards broad, and 3 or 4 foot deep, so clear that we could see the muscle-shells on its shelly bottom in patches 3 or 4 foot diameter between the great patches of grass and weeds; we landed to search the head springs, and passed through an orange-grove and an old field of the Florida Indians, then came to the main springs, where a prodigious quantity of very clear warm brackish water boiled up between vast rocks of unknown depth, we could not reach the bottom by a very long pole; this was on the north bank, about 12 foot high above the water, which spreads immediately 50 or 60 yards broad: We walked round the west end towards the south bank, where the bare flat rocks appeared above water, and a great stream boiled up of a salt and sourish taste, but not near so loathsome as several before-described, nor had it any bad smell, or whitish sediment as they; we examined the composition of the rocks, and found some of them to be a concrete redish sand, some whitish mixed with clay, others a ferruginous irregular concrete, and many a combination of all these materials with sea-shells, clams, and cockles; we found in the bank an ash-coloured tenacious earth, and a strata of yellow sand beneath; near here my son found a lovely sweet tree, with leaves like the sweet bay, which smelled like sassafras, and produce a very strange kind of seed-pod, but the seed was all shed, the severe frost had not hurt it; some of them grew near 20 foot high, a charming bright evergreen aromatic: We saw near the spring numbers of large garr, cats, mullets, trouts, and several other kinds unknown to us, some in chance of others, which run into the grass to hide them from their enemies; in going down to the lake the fish were continually jumping; we observed on the north end of the lake a hammock of oak.
We then steered our course to Bryan’s Island, on which there is some good land and rich swamp, with pretty much pine-land, it is supposed to contain about 1500 acres; here we encamped on a rocky rising ground, and found numbers of great and small oyster-shells, clams, perriwinkles, sea-muscles, and cockles, all cemented together with broken fragments, some ground as fine as coarse sand; they were all confusedly mixed and jumbled together as upon our sea-coast; first a strata of shells, then a strata of shells and fragments fill up the least cavity; it is remarkable that we never found any scallops to the south of Carolina, either on the coast or up in the country."
Johnson’s Spring, now Salt Springs, is one of the many attractions of the Ocala National Forest. It is located on the western shore of Lake George, slightly south of Drayton Island. Judging from the journal entry, John Bartram was captivated by Johnson's Spring. Was it a coincidence that William Bartram's 1774 visit to this same spring (he called it "Six Mile Springs") inspired his most famous romantic prose? Bryan’s Island, where the Bartram party camped for the night, is now Drayton Island.
“Great Yellow Bream calld Old Wife of St. John's E[as]T Florida, 1774,” by William Bartram. Bartram remembered the fish as “of a rich yellow or gold color with dark flesh col'd Fins....This is a very bold ravenous fish, like the leopard secretes himself in some hold or dark retreat & rushes out on a sudden snaping up the smaller fish passing by.” Courtesy of the Natural History Museum , London .
Johnson's Salt Springs, Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, Florida State Archives.
William Bartram also stopped at Salt Springs during his 1774 descent of the river, although he called it "Six Mile Springs." His observations as a naturalist are mundane and follow the text written by his father in 1766. But he also added romantic imagery that ranks among his most famous literary efforts, prefacing his remarks by saying: "But there are yet remaining scenes inexpressibly admirable and pleasing. Behold, for instance, a vast circular expanse before you, the waters of which are so extremely clear as to be absolutely diaphanous or transparent as the ether; the margin of the bason ornamented with a grat variety of fruitful and floriferous trees, shrubs, and plants, the pendant golden Orange dancing on the surface of the plellucid waters, the balmy air vibrating with the melody of the merry birds, tenants of the encircling aromatic grove.
Salt Springs, Courtesy of Florida Photographic Collection, Florida State Archives.
"At the same instant innumerable bands of fish are seen, some clothed in the most brilliant colours; the voracious crocodile stretched along at full length, as the great trunk of a tree in size; the devouring garfish, inimical trout, and all the varieties of gilded painted bream; the barbed catfish, dreaded sting-ray, skate, and flounder, spotted bass, sheeps head and ominous drum; all in their separate bands and communities, with free and unsuspicious intercourse performing their evolutions; there are no signs of enmity, no attempt to devour each other; the different bands seem peaceably and complaisantly to move a little aside, as it were to make room for others to pass by.
"But behold yet something far more admirble, see whole armies descending into an abyss, into the mouth of the bubbling fountain: they disappear! are they gone for ever? is it real? I raise my eyes with terror and astonishment; I look down again to the fountain with anxiety, when behold them as it were emerging from the blue ether of another world, apparently at a vast distance; at their first appearance, no bigger than flies or minnows; now gradually enlarging, their brilliant colours begin to paint the fluid.
"Now they come forward rapidly, and instantly emerge, with the elastic expanding column of crystalline waters, into the circular bason or funnel: see now how gently they rise, some upright, others obliquely, or seem to lie as it were on their sides, suffering themselves to be gently lifted or borne up by the expanding fluid towards the surface, sailing or floating like butterflies in the cerulean ether; then again they as gently descend, diverge and move off; when they rally, form again, and rejoin their kindred tribes.
"This amazing and delightful scene, though real, appears at first but as a piece of excellent painting; there seems no medium; you imagine the picture to be within a few inches of your eyes, and that you may without the least difficulty touch any one of the fish, or put your finger upon the crocodile's eye, when it really is twenty or thirty feet under water.
"And although this paradise of fish may seem to exhibit a just representation of the peaceable and happy state of nature which existed before the fall, yet in reality it is a mere representation; for the nature of the fish is the same as if they were in Lake George or the river; but here the water or element in which they live and move, is so perfectly clear and transparent, it places them all on an equality with regard to their ability to injure or escape from one another; (as all river fish of prey, or such as feed upon each other, as well as the unwieldy crocodile, take their prey by surprise; secreting themselves under covert or in ambush, until an opportunity offers, when they rush suddenly upon them:) but here is no covert, no ambush; here the trout freely passes by the very nose of the alligator, and laughs in his face, and the bream by the trout.
"But what is really surprising is, that the consciousness of each others safety, or some other latent cause, should so absolutely alter their conduct, for here is not the least attempt made to injure or disturb one another."
Following these observations, William Bartram "supped and reposed peaceably." The next morning he collected more specimens and departed downriver, stopping briefly to observe the "horizontal slabs or flat masses [of rock], rising out of the lake two or three feet above its surface, and seem an aggregate composition or concrete of sand, shells, and calcareous cement, of a dark gray or dusky colour...[and] hard enough for building."
From Rocky Point (the peninsula still goes by that name), William Bartram camped for the night on Drayton Island, then continued downriver, stopping at Mount Royal for more specimens before sailing on to Spalding's Lower Store.