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William Bartram

American Naturalist

1739-1823

A selection from
TRAVELS THROUGH NORTH & SOUTH CAROLINA, GEORGIA, EAST & WEST FLORIDA,...

Narrated by Dick Hill

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Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, The Cherokee Country, The Extensive Territories Of The Muscogulges, Or Creek Confederacy, And The Country Of The Chactaws; Containing An Account Of The Soil And Natural Productions Of Those Regions, Together With Observations On The Manners Of The Indians

Behold how gracious and beneficent smiles the roseate morn! now the sun arises and fills the plains with light, his glories appear on the forests, encompassing the meadows, and gild the top of the terebinthine Pine and exalted Palms, now gently rustling by the pressure of the waking breezes: the music of the seraphic crane resounds in the skies, in seperate squadrons they sail, encircling their precincts, slowly descend beating the dense air, and alight on the green dewy verge of the expansive lake; its surface yet smoking with the grey ascending mists, which, condensed aloft in clouds of vapour, are born away by the morning breezes and at last gradually vanish on the distant horizon. All nature awakes to life and activity.

The ground during our progress this morning, every where about us, presenting to view funnels, sinks and wells in groups of rocks, amidst the groves.

Near our next encampment one more conspicuous than I had elsewhere observed presented, I took occasion from this favourable circumstance of observing them in all their variety of appearances: its outer superficial margin being fifty or sixty yards over, which equally and uniformly on every side sloped downwards towards the center; on one side of it was a considerable path-way or road leading down to the water, worn by the frequent resort of wild creatures for drink, when the waters were risen even or above the rocky bed, but at this time they were sunk many yards below the surface of the earth, we descended first to the bed of rocks, which was perforated with perpendicular tubes, exactly like a walled well, four, five or six feet in diameter, and may be compared to cells in an honeycomb, through which appeared the water at bottom, many of these were broken or worn one into another, forming one vast well with uneven walls, consisting of projecting jambs, pilasters or buttresses and excavated semicircular niches, as if a piece were taken out of an honey-comb; the bed of rocks is from fifteen to twenty feet deep or in thickness, though not of one solid mass, but of many generally horizontal laminae, or strata of various thickness, from eighteen inches to two or three feet, and admit water to weep through, trickling down; drop after drop, or chasing each other in winding little rills down to the bottom; one side of the vast cool grotto was so shattered and broken in, I thought it possible to descend down to the water at bottom, and my companion assuring me that the Indians and traders frequently go down for drink, encouraged me to make the attempt as he agreed to accompany me.

Having provided ourselves with a long snagged sapling, called an Indian ladder, and each of us a pole, by the assistance of these we both descended safely to the bottom, which we found nearly level and not quite covered over with water; on one side was a bed of gravel and fragments of rocks or sones, and on the other a pool of water near two feet deep, which moved with a slow current under the walls on a bed of clay and gravel.

After our return to the surface of the earth, I again ranged about the groves and grottos, examining a multitude of them; being on the margin of one in the open forest, and observing some curious vegetable productions growing on the side of the sloping funnel toward its center, the surface of the ground covered with grass and herbage; unapprehensive of danger, I descended precipitately towards the group of shrubs, when I was surprised and providentially stopped in my career, at the ground sounding hollow under my feet, and observing chasms through the ground, I quickly drew back, and returning again with a pole with which I beat in the earth, when to my astonishment and dread appeared the mouth of a well through the rocks, and observed the water glimmering at the bottom. Being wearied with excursions, we returned to our pleasant situation on the verge of the lawn.

Next day we sat off on our return to the lower trading-house, proposing to encamp at a savanna, about twelve miles distance from this, where we were to halt again and stay a day or two, in order to collect together another party of horses, which had been stationed about that range; the young wild horses often breaking from the company, rendered our progress slow and troublesome; we however arrived at the appointed place long before night.

Next day, the people being again engaged in their business of ranging the forests and plains, in search of their horses, I accompanied them, and in our rambles we again visited the great savanna and lake, called the Long Pond: the lake is nearly in the middle of the spacious lawn, of an oblong form; above two miles wide and seven in length; one end approaching the high, green banks adjoining the forests, where there is an enchanting grove and grotto of pellucid waters, inhabited with multitudes of fish, continually ascending and descending through the clean, white rocks, gradually sloping from the green verged shore, by gradual steps, from smooth, flat pavements washed by the swelling undulations of the waters.

Arrived in the evening at camp, where we found the rest of our companions busily employed in securing the young freakish horses. The next day was employed in like manner, breaking and tutoring the young steeds to their duty. The day following we took a final leave of this land of meadows, lakes, groves and grottos, directing our course for the trading path, having traversed a country, in appearance, little differing from the region lying upon Little St. Juan; we gained about twelve miles on our way, and in the evening encamped on a narrow ridge, dividing two savannas from each other, near the edge of a deep pond; here our people made a large pen or pound to secure their wild horses during the night. There was a little hommock or islet containing a few acres of high ground, at some distance from the shore, in the drowned savanna, almost every tree of which was loaded with nests of various tribes of water fowl, as ardea alba, ar. violacea, ar. cerulea, ar. stellaris crestate, ar. stellaris maxima, ar. virescens, colymbus, tantalus, mergus and others; these nests were all alive with young, generally almost full grown, not yet fledged, but covered with whitish or cream coloured soft down. We visited this bird isle, and some of our people taking sticks or poles with them, soon beat down, loaded themselves with these squabs and returned to camp; they were almost a lump of fat, and made us a rich supper; some we roasted and made others into a pilloe with rice: most of them, except the bitterns and tantali, were so excessively fishy in taste and smell, I could not relish them. It is incredible what prodigious numbers there were, old and young, on this little islet, and the confused noise which they kept up continually, the young crying for food incessantly, even whilst in their throats, and the old alarmed and displeased at our near residence, and the depredations we had made upon them; their various languages, cries and fluttering caused an inexpressible uproar, like a public fair or market in a populous trading city, when suddenly surprised by some unexpected, calamitous event.

About midnight, having fallen asleep, I was awakened and greatly surprised at finding most of my companions up in arms, and furiously engaged with a large alligator but a few yards from me. One of our company, it seems, awoke in the night, and perceived the monster within a few paces of the camp, who giving the alarm to the rest, they readily came to his assistance, for it was a rare piece of sport; some took fire-brands and cast them at his head, whilst others formed javelins of saplins, pointed and hardened with fire; these they thrust down his throat into his bowels, which caused the monster to roar and bellow hideously, but his strength and fury was so great that he easily wrenched or twisted them out of their hands, which he wielded and brandished about and kept his enemies at distance for a time; some were for putting an end to his life and sufferings with a rifle ball, but the majority thought this would too soon deprive them of the diversion and pleasure of exercising their various inventions of torture; they at length however grew tired, and agreed in one opinion, that he had suffered sufficiently, and put an end to his existence. This crocodile was about twelve feet in length: we supposed that he had been allured by the fishy scent of our birds, and encouraged to undertake and pursue this hazardous adventure which cost him his life: this, with other instances already recited, may be sufficient to prove the intrepidity and subtilty of those voracious, formidable animals.

We sat off early next morning, and soon after falling into the trading path, accomplished about twenty miles of our journey, and in the evening encamped as usual, near the banks of savannas and ponds, for the benefit of water and accommodations of pasture for our creatures. Next day we passed over part of the great and beautiful Alachua Savanna, whose exuberant green meadows, with the fertile hills which immediately encircle it, would if peopled and cultivated after the manner of the civilized countries of Europe, without crouding or incommoding families, at a moderate estimation, accommodate in the happiest manner, above one hundred thousand human inhabitants, besides millions of domestic animals; and I make no doubt this place will at some future day be one of the most populous and delightful seats on earth.

We came to camp in the evening, on the banks of a creek but a few miles distance from Cuscowilla, and two days more moderate travelling brought us safe back again to the lower trading-house, on St. Juan, having been blessed with health and prosperous journey.

On my arrival at the stores, I was happy to find all well as we had left them, and our bringing with us friendly talks from the Siminole towns, and the Nation likewise, compleated the hopes and wishes of the trading company, with respect to their commercial concerns with the Indians, which, as the chearing light of the sun-beams after a dark, tempestuous night, diffused joy and conviviality throughout the little community, where were a number of men with their families, who had been put out of employment and subsistence, anxiously waiting the happy event.

As a loading could not be procured until late in the autumn, for the schooner that was to return to Georgia, this circumstance allowed me time and opportunity to continue my excursions in this land of flowers, as well as at the same time to augment my collections of seeds, growing roots, &c.

I resolved upon another little voyage up the river; and after resting a few days and refitting my bark, I got on board the necessary stores, and furnishing myself with boxes to plant roots in, with my fuzee, amunition and fishing tackle, I sat sail, and in the evening arrived at Mount Royal. Next morning being moderately calm and serene, I sat sail with a gentle leading breeze, which delightfully wafted me across the lake to the west coast, landing on an airy, sandy beach, a pleasant, cool situation, where I passed the night, but not without frequent attacks from the musquitoes, and next day visited the Great Springs, where I remained until the succeeding day, encreasing my collections of specimens, seeds and roots, and then recrossed the lake to the Eastern coast. This shore is generally bolder and more rocky than the Western, it being exposed to the lash of the surf, occasioned by the W. and N. W. winds, which are brisk and constant from nine or ten o'clock in the morning till towards midnight, almost the year round; though the S. winds are considerable in the spring, and by short intervals during the summer and winter; and the N. E. though sometimes very violent in the spring and autumn, does not continue long. The day was employed in coasting slowly, and making collections. In the evening I made a harbour under cover of a long point of flat rocks, which defended the mole from the surf; having safely moored my bark, and chosen my camping ground just by, during the fine evening I reconnoitred the adjacent groves and lawns; here is a deserted plantation, the property of Dr. Stork, where he once resided. I observed many lovely shrubs and plants in the old fields and Orange groves, particularly several species of Convolvulus and Ipomea, the former having very large, white, sweet scented flowers; they are great ramblers, climbing and strolling on the shrubs and hedges. Next morning I re-embarked and continued traversing the bold coast North-Eastward, and searching the shores at all convenient landings, where I was amply rewarded for my assiduity in the society of beauties in the blooming realms of Florida. Came to again, at an old deserted plantation, the property of a British gentleman, but some years since vacated. A very spacious frame building was settling to the ground and mouldering to earth; here are very extensive old fields, where were growing the West-Indian or perennial Cotton and Indigo, which had been cultivated here, and some scattered remains of the ancient Orange groves, which had been left standing at the clearing of the plantation.

I have often been affected with extreme regret, at beholding the destruction and devastation which has been committed, or indiscreetly exercised on those extensive, fruitful Orange groves, on the banks of St. Juan, by the new planters under the British government, some hundred acres of which, at a single plantation, has been entirely destroyed to make room for the Indigo, Cotton, Corn, Batatas, &c. or as they say to extirpate the musquitoes, alledging that groves near their dwellings are haunts and shelters for those persecuting insects; some plantations have not a single tree standing, and where any have been left, it is only a small coppice or clump, nakedly exposed and destitute; perhaps fifty or an hundred trees standing near the dwelling-house, having no lofty cool grove of expensive Live Oaks, Laurel Magnolias and Palms to shade and protect them, exhibiting a mournful, sallow countenance; their native perfectly formed and glossy green foliage as if violated, defaced and torn to pieces by the bleak winds, scorched by the burning sun-beams in summer, and chilled by the winter frosts.

In the evening I took up my quarters in the beautiful isle in sight of Mount Royal. Next day, after collecting what was new and worthy of particular notice, I sat sail again and called by the way at Mount Royal, in the evening arrived safe at the stores, bringing along with me valuable collections.

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