Fields of Vision: Essays on the Travels of William Bartram, 1739-1823 / Edition 2

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 A classic work of history, ethnography, and botany, and an examination of the life and environs of the 18th-century south.

William Bartram was a naturalist, artist, and author of Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulees, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Choctaws. The book, based on his journey across the South, reflects a remarkable coming of age. In 1773, Bartram departed his family home near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as a British colonist; in 1777, he returned as a citizen of an emerging nation of the United States. The account of his journey, published in 1791, established a national benchmark for nature writing and remains a classic of American literature, scientific writing, and history. Brought up as a Quaker, Bartram portrayed nature through a poetic lens of experience as well as scientific observation, and his work provides a window on 18th-century southern landscapes. Particularly enlightening and appealing are Bartram’s detailed accounts of Seminole, Creek, and Cherokee peoples.

The Bartram Trail Conference fosters Bartram scholarship through biennial conferences held along the route of his travels. This richly illustrated volume of essays, a selection from recent conferences, brings together scholarly contributions from history, archaeology, and botany. The authors discuss the political and personal context of his travels; species of interest to Bartram; Creek architecture; foodways in the 18th-century south, particularly those of Indian groups that Bartram encountered; rediscovery of a lost Bartram manuscript; new techniques for charting Bartram’s trail and imaging his collections; and a fine analysis of Bartram’s place in contemporary environmental issues.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"William Bartram, the gentle Quaker botanist of Philadelphia, fell in love with the south before the American Revolution. His great book on his travels there has been challenging explorers, anthropologists, and natural historians for 214 years. These dozen essays inspired by the spirit of William Bartram prove how valuable and meaningful his work was, and still is.”—John C. Hall, William Bartram re-enactor and coauthor of Headwaters: A Journey on Alabama Rivers

“Just as Bartram himself did two centuries ago, this community of scholars has shown that tremendous intellectual work can be accomplished through collaborative efforts.”—North Carolina Historical Review

From the Publisher

"William Bartram, the gentle Quaker botanist of Philadelphia, fell in love with the south before the American Revolution. His great book on his travels there has been challenging explorers, anthropologists, and natural historians for 214 years. These dozen essays inspired by the spirit of William Bartram prove how valuable and meaningful his work was, and still is.”—John C. Hall, William Bartram re-enactor and coauthor of Headwaters: A Journey on Alabama Rivers

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“Just as Bartram himself did two centuries ago, this community of scholars has shown that tremendous intellectual work can be accomplished through collaborative efforts.”—North Carolina Historical Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817316822
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2010
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Kathryn E. Holland Braund is Professor of History at Auburn University and editor of Bernard Romans’s A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida and James Adair’s The History of the American Indians.
Charlotte M. Porter is Curator of the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida and author of The Eagle’s Nest: Natural History and American Ideas and William Bartram’s Florida: A Naturalist’s Vision.

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Read an Excerpt

Fields of Vision

Essays on the Travels of William Bartram


Copyright © 2010 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8173-5571-5

Chapter One

The Real World of Bartram's Travels

Edward J. Cashin

William Bartram would be surprised at the number of his admirers two hundred years after the publication of his book, and he would be pleased that trails named for him lure latter-day adventurers into the wildernesses he loved. In the overlong title of his book, he listed all those places he visited, as if laying claim to them. Scores of historical markers commemorate his passing and link him in memory to those who came after. From the Nantahala Mountains in North Carolina to Pensacola on the Gulf Coast, plaques tell the traveler that William Bartram crossed the southern frontier when it was still relatively pristine.

Even before he died in 1823, he must have been amazed and gratified at the impact his book had on Europeans. It contributed to the romantic movement in literature, the cult of nature, the tradition of the noble savage. It influenced Europeans' perception of America. On a tour I made of the grand archbishop's palace in Wurzburg, Germany, constructed in 1807, the guide pointed to the symbols of the continents on the expansive ceiling. My fellow tourists expressed surprise that the symbol for America was the alligator; I thought-"Bartram." Readers today marvel at his awareness of beauty in simple things, and his sensitivity. In Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, Inman carries his "Bartram" when he carries little else, and reads it for inspiration. Like Inman, one comes away feeling good without quite knowing why.

I shared these feelings when I first read Travels, but I realized that his book covered the years 1773 to 1777 and described his journey across the entire southland without mentioning the critical event of the time-the American Revolution. Books about him seem to have exhausted all aspects of his activity, and explored his impact on literature, philosophy, botany, ornithology, zoology, even conchology and crocodilia. At least one has plumbed his psychology-was the snake real, or a Freudian symbol? But none of the library of Bartram books, until recently, has attempted to put his travels in the actual context of events. Would an examination of the world of his travels change the interpretation of his book?

Afficionados know the early details. William Bartram was born in 1739 to America's foremost botanist, John Bartram, at the Bartram home in Kingsessing outside Philadelphia. From his earliest years, he loved to draw. He traveled with his father through the Catskills at the age of fourteen, drawing birds and plants. His father sent some of the best ones to his friends in England, including Peter Collinson, like the Bartrams a Quaker and a naturalist. Unfortunately, Billy did not seem much good for anything but drawing. Family friend Ben Franklin got him a job in a printing shop, but Billy hated being cooped up indoors.

Fortunately, in 1765 John Bartram received a royal commission to explore Florida, Britain's new acquisition, and he invited his son to go with him. They stayed with the Lamboll family in Charlestown. William, now twenty-five, found twenty-year-old Mary Lamboll fascinating. He drew pictures for her and called her "Charming Polly." John Bartram introduced his son to other important persons who would be helpful to William later. The two went on to explore northern Florida and Georgia as far as Augusta. William liked it so much he decided to remain in Florida as a planter. Again he failed miserably, and he might have died if Henry Laurens had not rescued him.

Finally in 1773 William offered his services to Dr. John Fothergill, a wealthy London Quaker. John Bartram's correspondent Peter Collinson had informed Fothergill of William's talent for drawing, and Fothergill needed new specimens of plants for his gardens. In Fothergill's pay, William traveled again to Charlestown and again stayed with the Lambolls. By now Charming Polly was twenty-eight and widowed with two children. It would seem the perfect opportunity for a match. William called her "excellent in goodness" and referred to their relationship as "affable and cordial." Romantics will be disappointed that it went no further.

William learned from Indian superintendent John Stuart that a great Indian congress would meet soon in Augusta, and William resolved to start his journey into the interior there. He had a few weeks to kill in the meantime and decided to revisit the Georgia coast. In Savannah, he renewed acquaintance with Governor James Wright, now enjoying popularity because in the coming Indian Congress that he had arranged Georgia would acquire over two million acres of land, good for settlers and better for speculators. No one, certainly not Bartram, would have thought that the Revolution was only two years away. The governor gave the explorer a letter of reference that began, "To all Persons to whom this May be Shown: Know Ye that the Bearer Mr. Bartram, botanist, is come into this Province to Travel about in Search of and to discover Trees, Shrubs, Plants etc-that may be Uncommon, useful, or curious." William bought a horse and went off to find the uncommon, useful, or curious in coastal Georgia. Someone, possibly Governor Wright, advised him to call upon Lachlan McIntosh at Darien. The genial Scot could not have been more gracious as Bartram described the meeting, "When I came up to the door, the friendly man, smiling, and with a grace and dignity peculiar to himself, took me by the hand, and accosted me thus, 'Friend Bartram, come under my roof, and I desire you to make my house your home.'" Thus began a lasting friendship. The botanist enjoyed a month of botanizing about the region, familiar to him from his visit with his father, and in the process he rediscovered the Franklinia. Sixteen-year-old Johnny McIntosh begged to go to Augusta with William, and by dint of persuasion, his mother agreed. So far, William's travels were as idyllic in reality as they seem in his written account of them. On the way to Augusta, Bartram and young McIntosh called upon the influential trader George Galphin at his Silver Bluff plantation where a number of Lower Creek Indians waited for the congress to begin. Some of the Indians accompanied the botanist to Augusta, and Galphin followed soon after. Bartram and young McIntosh lodged with Dr. Humphrey Wells, who had been recommended by friends in Charlestown. Before the Indian meeting began, they had time to visit the Quaker town of Wrightsborough, an Eden-like community as Bartram saw it and described it.

Three hundred Creeks gathered for the congress, along with one hundred Cherokees, including John Stuart's friend Attakullakulla, "the Little Carpenter." Stuart managed the affair. Four royal governors from Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia attended. In his Travels Bartram described how the Creeks berated the Cherokees for agreeing to surrender land that both of the Indian nations claimed. The Cherokees gave up the land in exchange for the cancellation of their debt to the traders. The Creeks too had debt to discharge, but they refused to grant as much land as the governors, settlers, and speculators wanted. By liberal presents, John Stuart persuaded the Creek headmen to agree to a large cession east of the Ogeechee River to the north and south, but the young warriors left the meeting in an angry mood. Stuart warned Bartram that it would not be wise to go exploring in the interior just then. But at least he and Johnny McIntosh could accompany a large surveying party that marked the boundaries of the new cession. It began as a lark for Bartram as he went out ahead of the others discovering new plants and delighting in the scenery. The Creek delegation left the surveying party when it reached the line separating Creek from Cherokee hunting grounds; the Cherokees continued on to the point where the Tugaloo River joined the Savannah River. With appropriate ceremony the Georgians carved "GR" (for George Rex) on a tree and the Cherokees put their mark alongside. The leader, Colonel Edward Barnard (Bartram confused dozens of chroniclers by referring to him as Barnett in his book), celebrated the completion of the journey with a barbecue. Bartram went fishing with the young Cherokees. They caught dozens of trout and bream by using reeds to harpoon the swimming fish.

The next day, sometime in mid-July, the Georgians began their return downriver to Augusta, and Bartram with them. Bartram chose not to tell us what happened to his Cherokee friends, though the news was soon bruited about in Georgia and Carolina. Two of the Cherokees, one nineteen and one twenty, on their return to their village of Tugaloo, called at the house of one of the squatters on the Indian land. The woman of the house happened to be alone. The Indians indicated that they would like something to drink. The woman let them in, sat them at a table, and brought out milk and something to eat. While the two sat eating, the woman's husband, Hezekiah Collins by name, appeared at the door. Without warning he leveled his rifle at one visitor and pulled the trigger, killing him instantly. He struck the other with his rifle so savagely that the barrel broke away from the stock. While the injured Cherokee crouched in pain, Collins picked up an axe and finished his bloody work. John Collins, father of the murderer, helped drag the bodies to the river. They scalped and mutilated the bodies before throwing them into the water. John Stuart heard the grim news a few days later and dashed off a letter to Lord Dartmouth reporting the "unprovoked and atrocious murder of two of the party I sent to mark the boundary line." Collins's wife told the whole story to two of Colonel Barnard's deputies. John Collins was arrested, but Hezekiah Collins remained at large. Governor James Wright offered a reward for his arrest, but it was never claimed. Too many squatters considered him a hero.

Trouble continued that winter when some disgruntled Creeks staged raids on the new settlements on the ceded lands in December and January. Wright and the governors of South Carolina and East Florida imposed a ban on Indian trade while the war ensued. With the interior thus closed, William Bartram decided to go to Florida. While residing near the McIntoshes, Bartram met James Spalding of St. Simons, partner in one of the largest companies trading to the Indians. Spalding offered the botanist transportation to Florida on one of his trading boats. Thus began Bartram's Florida adventures that so fascinated Europeans, especially those scenes in which the explorer paddled his canoe through waters roiling with roaring, life-threatening alligators.

Bartram accompanied Spalding's traders to the town of Cuscowilla and met Ahaye, called by the English Cowkeeper. Bartram seemed pleased to be dubbed Puc Puggy, the Flower Hunter, by the chief. At Spalding's lower store on the St. John's forty Lower Creeks under their leader Long Warrior met with Charles McLatchy, Spalding's principal trader. Bartram sat near McLatchy during the negotiations. Long Warrior listed the supplies he wanted and assumed since he was such a good friend of Mr. Spalding that he would get the goods on credit. When McLatchy said that he would like to honor the request, but would have to go ask Mr. Spalding, the chief flew into a rage and threatened to bring down thunder and lightning upon the trader. McLatchy said that he knew Long Warrior's great powers and suggested that he demonstrate by blasting that large oak nearby. They ended by striking a deal and the supplies were delivered. The episode is amusing to the reader; for the governors of East Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, it was criminal.

The illicit trading-so innocently chronicled by Bartram-created a firestorm of recrimination involving Wright in Georgia, Stuart in Charlestown, General Thomas Gage in Boston, and Lord Dartmouth in London. Wright blamed Governor Tonyn of East Florida for not enforcing the ban on trade. The Indian scare still lay on the land; the rich newly ceded lands remained unsettled. The Georgia Council advised the governor to ask Attorney General Anthony Stokes to prosecute Spalding's firm. Despite the fact that the British government condemned his clandestine activity, and later the Whig government vilified him as a Tory, the trader remained in Bartram's estimation, "the excellent James Spalding."

Fortunately, in late August leading Creeks sent a messenger who walked boldly into Augusta and assured the British that they were for peace. Stuart hurried over to Savannah in order to oversee the treaty signing. On October 18, 1774, the Creek leaders promised to punish their guilty, Wright reopened the trade, and an uncertain peace settled upon the land. It was probably not a coincidence that Bartram returned to Georgia in November 1774. The botanist chose not to mention two dramatic events that occurred a month after his return to the Georgia coast. The most serious slave revolt in colonial Georgia took place in Darien while Bartram was there. The Georgia Gazette of December 7, 1774, reported that some slaves belonging to a Captain Morris killed their overseer, his wife, a carpenter named Wright, and an unnamed boy. They then attacked the plantation of Angus McIntosh, appealing to his slaves to join them. They left McIntosh seriously wounded, marched on to Roderick M'Leod's house, killed another boy, and injured M'Leod. The militia of the parish of St. Andrew subdued the rebellious slaves. The magistrates sentenced the two leaders to death. Bartram hated slavery, as we know from his correspondence, but curiously, he rarely mentioned African slaves in his book, other than to note their presence. On one occasion, he described the "sooty sons of Afric" singing songs of their own composition, "contented and joyful." The second omission of the month of December concerned St. John Parish, neighboring St. Andrew. On December 1, 1774, the residents of St. John voted to join the continental ban on trade with England. The parish elected Lyman Hall to the Continental Congress, and collected two hundred barrels of rice for the people of Boston, suffering from the closing of their port by the British navy. On January 12, 1775, a committee headed by Bartram's friend Lachlan McIntosh passed resolutions expressing sympathy with the people of Boston. The final resolution must have pleased Bartram. By it the parish declared "its detestation and abhorrence of the unnatural practice of slavery, a practice founded in injustice and cruelty, and highly dangerous to our liberties, debasing part of our fellow creatures below men." We do not know whether Bartram participated in the discussions leading to the resolution, but perhaps he did.

In March 1775 Bartram went to Charlestown, then seething with revolutionary fervor. He again resided with the Lambolls. He wrote his father that he intended to explore the Cherokee and Creek country and "please God" to reach the Mississippi. John Stuart wrote letters of reference for him and gave him letters to convey to Alexander Cameron, Stuart's deputy to the Cherokee Indians. Stuart informed Lord Dartmouth that he sent instructions to the Indians to persevere in their attachment to the king and "to be always ready to act in the Service." Stuart copied his correspondence in his letterbook. Neither Stuart nor Bartram could have guessed that in two months' time, the revolutionaries would break into Stuart's home, seize the letterbooks, and accuse Stuart of inciting an Indian war. Bartram left Charlestown on April 22, 1775, carrying the incendiary letters in his knapsack, together with a prayer book given him by Mary Lamboll. That night a group of men, including Henry Laurens, broke into the armory on the second floor of the statehouse and took away eight hundred stand of arms and two hundred cutlasses.


Excerpted from Fields of Vision Copyright © 2010 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


List of Illustrations....................ix
Preface: "Fields of Vision"....................xi
1. The Real World of Bartram's Travels Edward J. Cashin....................3
2. William Bartram, Wrightsborough, and the Prospects for the Georgia Backcountry, 1765-1774 Robert Scott Davis....................15
3. William Bartram's Gustatory Tour Kathryn E. Holland Braund....................33
4. The Two Williams: Science and Connections in West Florida Robert J. Malone....................54
5. William Bartram and the Forms of Natural History Stephanie Volmer....................71
6. Nature, Man, and God: The Introduction to Bartram's Travels Burt Kornegay....................81
7. Before Bartram: Artist-Naturalist Mark Catesby Arlene Fradkin and Mallory McCane O'Connor....................91
8. The Bartrams, Clarence B. Moore, and Mount Royal: Early Archaeology on the St. Johns River, Florida Jerald T. Milanich....................117
9. Where Bartram Sat: Historic Creek Indian Architecture in the Eighteenth Century Craig T. Sheldon Jr....................137
10. E. G. Squier's Manuscript Copy of William Bartram's Observations on the Creek and Cherokee Indians Mark Williams....................169
11. William Bartram's Oenothera grandiflora: "The Most Pompous and Brilliant Herbaceous Plant yet Known to Exist" Joel T. Fry....................183
12. The Mystery of the Okeechobee Gourd Marc C. Minno and Maria Minno....................204
13. The Role of Digital Specimen Images in Historical Research Stephanie C. Haas, Kent D. Perkins,and Michael Bond....................213
14. Bartram's Legacy: Nature Advocacy Charlotte M. Porter....................221
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