January 25, 1766
"Fine pleasant morning, although a little frost in the pine-lands; saw several flocks of pigeons flying about both yesterday and to-day: About noon we landed at Mount-Royal, and went to an Indian tumulus, which was about 100 yards in diameter, nearly round, and near 20 foot high, found some bones scattered on it, it must be very ancient, as live-oaks are growing upon it three foot in diameter; what a prodigious multitude of Indians must have laboured to raise it? To what height we can’t say, as it must have settled much in such a number of years, and it is surprizing where they brought the sand from, and how, as they had nothing but baskets or bowls to carry it in; there seems to be a little hollow near the adjacent level on one side, though not likely to raise such a tumulus the 50th part of what it is, but directly north from the tumulus is a fine straight avenue about 60 yards broad, all the surface of which has been taken off, and thrown on each side, which makes a bank of about a rood wide and a foot high more or less, as the unevenness of the ground required, for the avenue is as level as a floor from bank to bank, and continues so for about three quarters of a mile to a pond of about 100 yards broad and 150 long N. And S. Seemed to be an oblong square, and its banks 4 foot perpendicular, gradually sloping every way to the water, the depth of which we could not say, but do not imagine it deep, as the grass grows all over it; by its regularity it seems to be artificial; if so, perhaps the sand was carried from hence to raise the tumulus, as the one directly faces the other at each end of the avenue; on the south side of the tumulus I found a very large rattle-snake sunning himself, I suppose this to be his winter-quarters; here had formerly been a large Indian town; I suppose there is 50 acres of planting ground cleared and of a middling soil, a good part of which is mixed with small shells; no doubt this large tumulus was their burying-place or sepulchre: Whether the Florida Indians buried the bones after the flesh was rotted off them, as the present southern Indians do, I can’t say: We then rowed down the river, and encamped at Spalding’s Lower-store, opposite to a small rich island on the west side of the river."
From Lake George, seen in the distance, the St. Johns River flows straight toward Mount Royal and the noble view that Bartram called a "fine south prospect opens to the great lake" on his upriver journey.
This aerial photograph includes most of the route on the St. Johns River covered by Bartram and his companions on January 25, 1765.
The island on the right shaped like an arrowhead points to Stokes Landing, in 1766 the site of Spalding's Lower Store. To reach the store Bartram's battoe traveled from Lake George, which is beyond the most distant prospect in this aerial photograph (the view is to the south, or upriver; Bartram's battoe was headed in the opposite direction). The Cross Florida Barge Canal is on the right, or the west side of the St. Johns, and the Seven Sisters Islands and Buffalo Bluff are on the left.
The "small rich island" opposite Spalding's Lower Store, where Bartram camped on the evening of January 25, 1766.
The shoreline at Mount Royal, looking upriver toward Lake George. Photograph by Joan E. Moore.
View of the Indian burial and ceremonial viewed by John and William Bartram in 1765-1766. Photograph by Joan E. Moore..
Another view of Mount Royal. Photograph by Joan E. Moore, June 2003.
Mount Royal is currently a luxury residential development called the Mount Royal Aeropark. The “mount” can still be viewed although it no longer possesses the size and majesty left by pre-Columbian Indians that Bartram described. When measured by Clarence B. Moore in the 1890s, the mound was sixteen feet high, well under the "forty foot" that William Bartram remembered viewing when he wrote “Observations on the Creek and Cherokee Indians,” and enclosed it in a letter dated December 15, 1789, to a Philadelphia physician and naturalist, Benjamin Smith Barton. The avenue and pond were still in place when Clarence Moore investigated; he measured the avenue at twelve and one-half feet wide and two hundred sixty-two feet long.
When William Bartram stopped at Mount Royal in 1774 he lodged at the dwelling of a man he identified as “Kean,” a former “Indian trader.” In his "Report to Dr. Fothergill," written in 1774, he estimated that 150 acres had been cleared and planted in indigo. He also noted " a very handsome large Framed house, which stands about 100 Yards from the River, having sundry convenient out houses, placed in regular manner. There are here about the houses left standing several very large wide spreading evergreen Oaks & Orange trees sour & sweet, very fruitfull."
"About one hundred Yards from the River Bank & about three times that distance from the dwelling house, rises to View Mt. Royal. A very high Indian Mound of earth, of a conecal form, flat & nearly levell at top, about 20 Yards perpendicular height & about 150 Yards in circumferance at the base. Immediately from this mound runs a broad spacious road or high way streight out into the Pine forests, having a bank of earth thrown on each side about 2 & half feet high, all overgrown with shrubs & forest Trees, amongst which are some very large & ancient live Oaks as likewise grows over the mount, this highway is about 30 Yards wide & extends above a quarter of a Mile out to the Pine Forest, at the end of which opens to view an agreeable levell Savanah in the center of which is a little lake of water which is of a square form & seemes to have been dug out by the Indians, & perhaps the earth came a way to raise the mound with."
When William Bartram wrote his famous Travels, published in 1792, he had more to say about Mount Royal, although time, distances and dimensions had changed over time. He remembered stopping at a landing place on the river, and noted "at about fifty yards distance...a magnificent Indian Mount. About fifteen years ago I visited this place, at which time there were no settlements of white people, but all appeared wild and savage; yet in that uncultivated state it possesed an almost inexpressible air of grandeur, which was now entirely changed. At that time there was a very considerable extent of old fields round about the mount; there was also a very large orange grove, together with palms and live oaks, extending from near the mount, along the banks, downwards, all of which has since been cleared away to make room for planting ground. But what greatly contributed towards completing the magnificence of the scene, was a noble Indian highway, which led from the great mount, on a straight line, three quarters of a mile, first through a point or wing of the orange grove, and continuing thence through an awful forest of live oaks, it was terminated by palms and laurel magnolias, on the verge of an oblong artificial lake, which was on the edge of an extensive green level savanna. This grand highway was about fifty yards wide, sunk a little below the common level, and the earth thrown up on each side, making a bank of about two feet high. Neither nature nor art could any where present a more striking contrast, as you approached this savanna. The glittering water pond played on the sight, through the dark grove, like a brilliant diamond, on the bosom of the illumined savanna, bordered with various flowery shrubs and plants; and as we advance into the plain, the sight was agreeably relieved by a distant view of the forests, which partly environed the green expanse on the left hand, whilst the imagination was still flattered and entertained by the far distant misty points of the surrounding forests, which projected into the plain, alternately apearing and disappearing, making a grand sweep round on the right, to the distant banks of the great lake, But that venerable grove is now no more. All has been cleared away and planted with Indigo, Corn and Cotton, but since deserted: there was now scarcely five acres of ground under fence. It appeared like a desart, to a great extent, and terminated, on the land side, by frightful thickets, and an open Pine forest.
"It appears, however, that the late proprietor had some taste, as he has preserved the mount, and this little adjoining grove inviolate. The prospect from this station is so happily situated by nature, as to comprise at one view, the whole of the sublime and pleasing.”