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Travels of William Bartram

Travels of William Bartram

by William Bartram, Mark Van Doren

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First inexpensive, illustrated edition of early classic on American geography, plants, Indians, wildlife, early settlers. Influenced Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Chateaubriand. "A book of extraordinary beauty." — The New York Times. 13 illustrations.


First inexpensive, illustrated edition of early classic on American geography, plants, Indians, wildlife, early settlers. Influenced Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Chateaubriand. "A book of extraordinary beauty." — The New York Times. 13 illustrations.

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New Republic
"Evocative and rapturous."

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Dover Publications
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5.42(w) x 7.86(h) x 0.88(d)

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Travels of William Bartram

By Mark Van Doren

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1928 Macy-Masius, Publishers
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13866-4



AT the request of Dr. Fothergill, of London, to search the Floridas, and the western parts of Carolina and Georgia, for the discovery of rare and useful productions of nature, chiefly in the vegetable kingdom; in April, 1773, I embarked for Charleston, South Carolina, on board the brigantine Charleston packet, captain Wright, the brig————, captain Mason, being in company with us, and bound to the same port. We had a pleasant run down the Delaware, 150 miles to cape Henlopen, the two vessels entering the Atlantic together. For the first twenty-four hours we had a prosperous gale, and were chearful and happy in the prospect of a quick and pleasant voyage; but, alas! how vain and uncertain are human expectations! how quickly is the flattering scene changed! The powerful winds, now rushing forth from their secret abodes, suddenly spread terror and devastation; and the wide ocean, which, a few moments past, was gentle and placid, is now thrown into disorder, and heaped into mountains, whose white curling crests seem to sweep the skies!

This furious gale continued near two days and nights, and not a little damaged our sails, cabin furniture, and state-rooms, besides retarding our passage. The storm having abated, a lively gale from N.W. continued four or five days, when shifting to N. and lastly to N.E. on the tenth of our departure from cape Henlopen, early in the morning, we descried a sail astern, and in a short time discovered it to be capt. Mason, who soon came up with us. We hailed each other, being joyful to meet again, after so many dangers. He suffered greatly by the gale, but providentially made a good harbour within cape Hatteras. As he ran by us, he threw on board ten or a dozen bass, a large and delicious fish, having caught a great number of them whilst he was detained in harbour. He got into Charleston that evening, and we the next morning, about eleven o'clock.

There are few objects out at sea to attract the notice of the traveller, but what are sublime, awful, and majestic: the seas themselves, in a tempest, exhibit a tremendous scene, where the winds assert their power, and, in furious conflict, seem to set the ocean on fire. On the other hand, nothing can be more sublime than the view of the encircling horizon, after the turbulent winds have taken their flight, and the lately agitated bosom of the deep has again become calm and pacific; the gentle moon rising in dignity from the east, attended by thousands of glittering orbs; the luminous appearance of the seas at night, when all the waters seem transmuted into liquid silver; the prodigious bands of porpoises foreboding tempest, that appear to cover the ocean; the mighty whale, sovereign of the watery realms, who cleaves the seas in his course; the sudden appearance of land from the sea, the strand stretching each way, beyond the utmost reach of sight; the alternate appearance and recess of the coast, whilst the far distant blue hills slowly retreat and disappear; or, as we approach the coast, the capes and promontories first strike our sight, emerging from the watery expanse, and, like mighty giants, elevating their crests towards the skies; the water suddenly alive with its scaly inhabitants; squadrons of sea-fowl sweeping through the air, impregnated with the breath of fragrant aromatic trees and flowers; the amplitude and magnificence of these scenes are great indeed, and may present to the imagination, an idea of the first appearance of the earth to man at the creation.

On my arrival at Charleston, I waited on doctor Chalmer, a gentleman of eminence in his profession and public employments, to whom I was recommended by my worthy patron, and to whom I was to apply for counsel and assistance, for carrying into effect my intended travels. The doctor received me with perfect politeness, and, on every occasion, treated me with friendship; and by means of the countenance which he gave me, and the marks of esteem with which he honoured me, I became acquainted with many of the worthy families, not only of Carolina and Georgia, but also in the distant countries of Florida.


ARRIVING in Carolina very early in the spring, vegetation was not sufficiently advanced to invite me into the western parts of this state; from which circumstance, I concluded to make an excursion into Georgia; accordingly, I embarked on board a coasting vessel, and in twenty-four hours arrived in Savanna, the capital, where, acquainting the governor, Sir J. Wright, with my business, his excellency received me with great politeness, shewed me every mark of esteem and regard, and furnished me with letters to the principal inhabitants of the state, which were of great service to me. Another circumstance very opportunely occurred on my arrival: the assembly was then sitting in Savanna, and several members lodging in the same house where I took up my quarters, I became acquainted with several worthy characters, who invited me to call at their seats occasionally, as I passed through the country; particularly the hon. B. Andrews, esq., a distinguished, patriotic, and liberal character. This gentleman's seat, and well-cultivated plantations, are situated near the south high road, which I often travelled; and I seldom passed his house without calling to see him, for it was the seat of virtue, where hospitality, piety, and philosophy, formed the happy family; where the weary traveller and stranger found a hearty welcome, and from whence it must be his own fault if he departed without being greatly benefited.

After resting, and a little recreation for a few days in Savanna, and having in the mean time purchased a good horse, and equipped myself for a journey southward, I sat off early in the morning for Sunbury, a sea-port town, beautifully situated on the main, between Medway and Newport rivers, about fifteen miles south of great Ogeeche river. The town and harbour are defended from the fury of the seas by the north and south points of St. Helena and South Catharine's islands; between which is the bar and entrance into the sound: the harbour is capacious and safe, and has water enough for ships of great burthen. I arrived here in the evening, in company with a gentleman, one of the inhabitants, who politely introduced me to one of the principal families, where I supped and spent the evening in a circle of genteel and polite ladies and gentlemen. Next day, being desirous of visiting the islands, I forded a narrow shoal, part of the sound, and landed on one of them, which employed me the whole day to explore. The surface and vegetable mould here is generally a loose sand, not very fertile, except some spots bordering on the sound and inlets, where are found heaps or mounds of sea-shell, either formerly brought there by the Indians, who inhabited the island, or which were perhaps thrown up in ridges, by the beating surface of the sea: possibly both these circumstances may have contributed to their formation. These sea-shells, through length of time, and the subtle penetrating effects of the air, which dissolve them to earth, render these ridges very fertile; and, when clear of their trees, and cultivated, they become profusely productive of almost every kind of vegetable. Here are also large plantations of indigo, corn, and potatoes, with many other sorts of esculent plants. I observed, amongst the shells of the conical mounds, fragments of earthen vessels, and of other utensils, the manufacture of the ancients: about the centre of one of them, the rim of an earthen pot appeared amongst the shells and earth, which I carefully removed, and drew it out, almost whole: this pot was curiously wrought all over the outside, representing basket work, and was undoubtedly esteemed a very ingenious performance, by the people, at the age of its construction. The natural produce of these testaceous ridges, besides many of less note, are, the great Laurel Tree, (Magnolia grandiflora) Pinus tæda, Laurus Borbonia, Quercus sempervirens, or Live Oak, Prunus Lauro-cerasus, Ilex aquifolium, Corypha palma, Juniperus Americana. The general surface of the island being low, and generally level, produces a very great variety of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants; particularly the great long-leaved Pitch-Pine, or Broom-Pine, Pinus palustris, Pinus squamosa, Pinus lutea, Gordonia Lisianthus, Liquid ambar (Styraciflua) Acer rubrum, Fraxinus excelcior; Fraxinus aquatica, Quercus aquatica, Quercus phillos, Quercus dentata, Quer-cus humila varietas, Vaccinium varietas, Andromeda varietas, Prinos varietas, Ilex varietas, Viburnum prunifolium, V. dentatum, Cornus florida, C. alba, C. sanguinea, Carpinus betula, C. Ostrya, Itea Clethra alnifolia, Halesia tetraptera, H. diptera, Iva, Rhamnus frangula, Callicarpa, Morus rubra, Sapindus, Cassine, and of such as grow near water-courses, round about ponds and savannas, Fothergilla gardini, Myrica cerifera, Olea Americana, Cyrilla racemiflora, Magnolia glauca, Magnolia pyramidata, Cercis, Kalmia angustifolia, Kalmia ciliata, Chionanthus, Cephalanthos, Æsculus parva; and the intermediate spaces, surrounding and lying between the ridges and savannas, are intersected with plains of the dwarf prickly fan-leaved Palmetto, and lawns of grass variegated with stately trees of the great Broom-Pine, and the spreading ever-green Water-Oak, either disposed in clumps, or scatteringly planted by nature. The upper surface, or vegetative soil of the island, lies on a foundation, or stratum, of tenacious cinereous-coloured clay, which perhaps is the principal support of the vast growth of timber that arises from the surface, which is little more than a mixture of fine white sand and dissolved vegetables, serving as a nursery bed to hatch or bring into existence the infant plant, and to supply it with aliment and food, suitable to its delicacy and tender frame, until the roots, acquiring sufficient extent and solidity to lay hold of the clay, soon attain a magnitude and stability sufficient to maintain its station. Probably if this clay were dug out, and cast upon the surface, after being meliorated by the saline or nitrous qualities of the air, it would kindly incorporate with the loose sand, and become a productive and lasting manure.

The roebuck, or deer, are numerous on this island; the tyger, wolf, and bear, hold yet some possession; as also raccoons, foxes, hares, squirrels, rats, and mice, but I think no moles. There is a large ground rat, more than twice the size of the common Norway rat. In the night time it throws out the earth, forming little mounds, or hillocks. Opossums are here in abundance, as also pole-cats, wild-cats, rattle-snakes, glass-snake, coach- whip-snake, and a variety of other serpents.

Here are also a great variety of birds, throughout the seasons, inhabiting both sea and land. First I shall name the eagle, of which there are three species. The great grey eagle is the largest, of great strength and high flight; he chiefly preys on fawns and other young quadrupeds.

The bald eagle is likewise a large, strong, and very active bird, but an execrable tyrant: he supports his assumed dignity and grandeur by rapine and violence, extorting unreasonable tribute and subsidy from all the feathered nations.

The last of this race I shall mention is the falco-piscatorius, or fishing-hawk: this is a large bird, of high and rapid flight; his wings are very long and pointed, and he spreads a vast sail, in proportion to the volume of his body. This princely bird subsists entirely on fish which he takes himself, scorning to live and grow fat on the dear-earned labours of another; he also contributes liberally to the support of the bald eagle.

Water-fowl, and the various species of land-birds, also abound, most of which are mentioned by Catesby, in his Hist. of Carolina, particularly his painted finch (Emberiza Ceris Linn.) exceeded by none of the feathered tribes, either in variety and splendour of dress, or melody of song.

Catesby's ground doves are also here in abundance: they are remarkably beautiful, about the size of a sparrow, and their soft and plaintive cooing perfectly enchanting.

How chaste the dove! "never known to violate the conjugal contract."

She flees the seats of envy and strife, and seeks the retired paths of peace.

The sight of this delightful and productive island, placed in front of the rising city of Sunbury, quickly induced me to explore it; which I apprehended, from former visits to this coast, would exhibit a comprehensive epitome of the history of all the sea-coast Islands of Carolina and Georgia, as likewise in general of the coast of the main. And though I considered this excursion along the coast of Georgia and northern border of Florida, a deviation from the high road of my intended travels, yet I performed it in order to employ to the most advantage the time on my hands, before the treaty of Augusta came on, where I was to attend, about May or June, by desire of the Superintendent, J. Stewart, esq. who, when I was in Charleston, proposed, in order to facilitate my travels in the Indian territories, that, if I would be present at the Congress, he would introduce my business to the chiefs of the Cherokees, Creeks, and other nations, and recommend me to their friendship and protection; which promise he fully performed, and it proved of great service to me.

Obedient to the admonitions of my attendant spirit, curiosity, as well as to gratify the expectations of my worthy patron, I again sat off on my southern excursion, and left Sunbury, in company with several of its polite inhabitants, who were going to Medway meeting, a very large and well-constructed place of worship, in St. John's parish, where I associated with them in religious exercise, and heard a very excellent sermon, delivered by their pious and truly venerable pastor, the Rev.————Osgood. This respectable congregation is independent, and consists chiefly of families, and proselytes of a flock, which this pious man led about forty years ago, from South Carolina, and settled in this fruitful district. It is about nine miles from Sunbury to Medway meetinghouse, which stands on the high road opposite the Sunbury road. As soon as the congregation broke up, I re-assumed my travels, proceeding down the high road towards Fort Barrington, on the Alatamaha, passing through a level country, well watered by large streams, branches of Medway and Newport rivers, coursing from extensive swamps and marshes, their sources: these swamps are daily clearing and improving into large fruitful rice plantations, aggrandizing the well inhabited and rich district of St. John's parish. The road is straight, spacious, and kept in excellent repair by the industrious inhabitants; and is generally bordered on each side with a light grove, consisting of the following trees and shrubs: Myrica, Cerifera, Calycanthus, Halesia tetraptera, Itea stewartia, Andromeda nitida, Cyrella racemiflora, entwined with bands and garlands of Bignonia sempervirens, B. crucigera, Lonicera sempervirens and Glycene frutescens; these were overshadowed by tall and spreading trees, as the Magnolia grandiflora, Liquid ambar, Liriodendron, Catalpa, Quercus sempervirens, Quercus dentata, Q. Phillos; and on the verges of the canals, where the road was causwayed, stood the Cupressus disticha, Gordonia Lacianthus, and Magnolia glauca, all planted by nature, and left standing by the virtuous inhabitants, to shade the road, and perfume the sultry air. The extensive plantations of rice and corn, now in early verdure, decorated here and there with groves of floriferous and fragrant trees and shrubs, under the cover and protection of pyramidal laurels and plumed palms, which now and then break through upon the sight from both sides of the way as we pass along; the eye at intervals stealing a view at the humble, but elegant and neat habitation, of the happy proprietor, amidst harbours and groves, all day, and moon-light nights, filled with the melody of the cheerful mockbird, warbling nonpareil, and plaintive turtle-dove, altogether present a view of magnificence and joy, inexpressibly charming and animating.


Excerpted from Travels of William Bartram by Mark Van Doren. Copyright © 1928 Macy-Masius, Publishers. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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