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The Bartram Trail at Saint Simon's Island and Fort Fredrica




The famous traveler and American explorer and naturalist, William Bartram, in his book, “Travels”, wrote an account of his visit to the Coastal Georgia Island of Saint Simons in 1794, where he inspected, described and collected botanical specimens for his English based sponsor and collector. His writings describe various encounters with citizens such as Captain Demere, and the Island President and merchant, James Spalding, on his excursion to the Fort Fredrica, GA. ruins on March of 1774 a city that had been previously established by General James Oglethorpe in 1733.


Today the inhabitants and tourists of St. Simons Island, GA. drive from the retreat plantation golf course, owned by Sea Island, GA., located on the Southern end of St. Simon's Island over roads covered and lined with gigantic Oak trees that are heavy with trailing Spanish moss. Many of these oaks that line both sides of the road from the Retreat plantation for several miles past Sea Palms Golf Course northward to Christ's Church and Fort Fredrica all part of the ancient “Bartram Trail” and observations were seen and poetically described by Bartram as “Following an old highway (Indian Trail).....I entered a forest of lofty pines and then a venerable grove of live oaks, under whose spreading boughs opened a spacious avenue leading to the former seat of General Oglethorpe.” (page 56) William Bartram also described the flower, Crinum superb, also called “White Lily” by the natives in elaborate and accurate detail.


William Bartram entered the North cape of the Altamaha River Bay which led him to the Southern end of St. Simon's Island, GA., where he saw a house and farm, before he landed his boat there at a dock where he described it as a “delightful habitation was situated in the midst of a spacious grove of Live Oaks and Palms...commanding a view of the inlet” (page 58). He approached the area cooled by groves of shade trees, and he walked up a wide Avenue lined by low buildings situated in cooling shade and lined with fifty or sixty bee-hives, each heavily populated by swarms of busy honey bees that furnished honey for the inhabitants of St. Simon's Island, GA. William Bartram felt that the presence of the bee-hives indicated that the colonists at St. Simon's Island had attained a “State of Power and Affluence”.


When William Bartram approached the house, he was greeted and saluted by a gentleman lying under the shade trees, where he was resting on a bear skin palette and was smoking a pipe. The gentleman told Bartram that he was resting after returning from a hunting and fishing excursion. The gentleman's black servant offered Bartram a welcoming bowl of honey-water and strengthened with brandy liquor which he drank. The two men spent considerable time with exchanges of conversation and dining at a “rural table” (page 59) on plentiful pieces of venison and drinking the alcoholic liquor under the shade of cooling spicy breezes underneath the oaks, Palms and Sweet Bays that were emitting the musical chantings of mocking birds, painted nonpareils and love-lays.


The gentlemen observed the darting,brilliant hummingbirds, as they suspended themselves in the air drinking nectar from yellow Jasmine vines, Lonicera honeysuckle and labored in pollinating flowers of azaleas and Andromeda blueberries. William Bartram described the tumultuous waves East of St. Simon's Island and Jekyl Island, GA. In poetic verse “the solemn sound of the beating surf striking our ears; the dashing of yon liquid mountains, like mighty giants, in vain assail the skies; they are beaten back, and fall prostrate upon the shores of the trembling island.” (page 59)


William Bartram left the home of the hospitable gentleman who had entertained him, where he observed and recorded seeing much of the native flora; including the parasitic Spanish Moss that prominently covered and hung from the Live Oak Tree groves covering the limbs and even flourished growing on limbs that had fallen to the ground, after being dislodged by storms underneath the shadows and shade of the colossal Live Oaks. William Bartram observed the ruins of English plantations and tabby walls of the building materials of oyster shells, costly ruins that were then overgrown by new forestation. He described in March of 1774 the town of Fort Frederica, GA. that had been established by General James Oglethorpe in 1733 when an English colony had been established to guard the Southern approach to Savannah, GA. from Spanish expansion. The Fort at Frederica was said by Bartram to be the largest and most costly Fort in North America that was built by the British. At the time of Bartram's visit and exploration in March of 1774 the Fort had been almost abandoned and lay in ruins except for a garrison of English soldiers who were still assigned there to protect it.


William Bartram recorded finding fruit trees such as “peach trees, figs, pomegranates and other shrubs” (page 60) growing there out of the walls and ruins of Fort Fredrica, GA. Bartram commended the efforts of James Spalding, Esq., who had tried to revive and refresh the settlements as President of the St. Simon's lsland Association where a few new houses were neatly established in good repair and had become inhabited. James Spalding entertained William Bartram and was involved in considerable trading with the Indians and sent letters to accompany Bartram ordering his various agents at trading posts to furnish the explorer with future guides, horses or any other conveniences that William Bartram asked for. Bartram also visited on St. Simon's the former seat of General James Oglethorpe land that was ceeded to Captain Raimond Demere and on St. Simon's found many domestic animals such as sheep, horned cattle, and horses and observed that deer streamed in and out of woody areas.