Bartram Trail, Bartram Park, Bartram Farms…ever wondered who Bartram was and why there are so many things named after him in Northeast Florida?
There are actually two Bartrams we have to thank for all these names; botanist John and his son William. First there was John Bartram, who was a well known botanist and explorer around the colonies. He introduced his son William to the world of horticulture, and William followed in John’s footsteps, literally and figuratively. The Bartrams lived in Pennsylvania, and in 1765 they set off together on a trip to explore the southern colonies and found themselves spending much time along the St. Johns River in Northeast Florida.
William, who is considered America’s first native naturalist and illustrator, bought a plantation on his first trip to Florida on Little Florence Cove, where the Shands Bridge near St. Augustine is located today. His father headed back north while he stayed to farm the land. He found plantation life very difficult and discovered that he was a better explorer of flora and fauna rather than a grower of it. He returned to Pennsylvania about a year later.
But this wasn’t the last Northeast Florida would see of Bartram. He traveled back down south in 1773 to further explore and document the botany he found on his visit with his father. This expedition was sponsored by British doctor and plant collector John Feathergill, and lasted about four years. He not only explored Florida, but North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee as well. He took extensive notes on everything he found, and also created drawings of the plants he discovered along the way. He discovered and named many new plants that we continue to see today in Florida. His research is invaluable to scientists, historians, and botany enthusiasts today!
You can read William Bartram’s most famous work, Travels, online thanks to University of Florida Digital Collections. And next time you find yourself in Northeast Florida, consider an adventure on the William Bartram Scenic and Historic Highway which parallels the St. Johns River; you never know what you might discover!
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