William Bartram, Naturalist

Old Florida

Sketch by naturalist William BartramNaturalist William Bartram, a student and observer plants and animals, visited the northeast Florida area in 1774 writing about his travels   and documenting the flora and fauna of the region; preserving a glimpse of what old Florida looked like for today’s naturalists a landscape before larger settlements became a way of life.  In St. Johns County, Florida small road-side markers and school names commemorate his legacy. Often in our day-to-day hurry for work, errands and activities natural life among us is overlooked.   It’s when the unusual event or extraordinary sight occurs that brings us back to the splendor of our surroundings.  Recently, an alligator encounter brought this piece of Bartram’s experiences with crocs and gators to mind:

“The evening was temperately cool and calm. The crocodiles began to roar and appear in uncommon numbers along the shores and in the river. I fixed my camp In an open plain, near the utmost projection of the promontory, under the shelter of a large Live Oak.. My apprehensions were highly alarmed…and the alligators gathered around my harbour from all quarters; from these considerations concluded to be expeditious in my trip to the lagoon… I therefore furnished myself with a club for my defence, went on board, and penetrating the first line of those which surrounded my harbour, they gave way; but being pursued by several very large ones, I kept strictly on the watch, and paddled with all my might towards the entrance of the lagoon, hoping to be sheltered there from the multitude of my assailants; but ere I had half way reached the place, I was attacked on all sides, several endeavouring to overset the canoe. My situation now became precarious to the last degree: two very large ones attacked me closely, at the same instant, rushing up with their heads and part of their bodies above the water, roaring terribly and belching floods of water over me. They struck their jaws together so close to my ears, as almost to stun me, and I expected every moment to be dragged out of the boat and instantly devoured…”

If you have had the opportunity to travel on remote parts of the St. Johns River you can relate to his feeling, thoughts and concerns – especially at night.


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