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William Bartram
About North Georgia

Born April_7, 1739, Kingsessing (now Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Died 1822, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

William Bartram
Explored northeast Georgia from Augusta to Rabun BaldGraphic based on portrait in Independence National Historical Park Collection. Copyrighted, 1999, Golden Ink.
After more than 200 years the sole published work of enigmatic William Bartram is still for sale. Bartram's journals recount the early naturalist's travels through the Southeast at a time before the United States existed. The achievements of this Philadelphia scholar have enjoyed a rekindled interest since the late 1970's, in part because of the efforts of the Bartram Society to mark and recreate the trail that he walked.

Born in 1739 alongside the Schuylkill River (now Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), William Bartram was the fifth son of Royal Botanist John Bartram. Joining his father to explore the Southeast (1765-66), the Bartrams discovered hundreds of specimens including the Venus Fly Trap. They also found a previously undiscovered tree and named it for Benjamin Franklin (Franklin tree or Franklinia alatamatha). The tree is now extinct in the wild and the only known specimens come from trees the Bartrams brought back with them.

Among the people Bartram called friend were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Fothergill, an English surgeon whose greatest contributions were in the field of botany. Fothergill, a major inspiration for William's second trip, encouraged young Bartram to return to the remote areas to find new specimens.

William's solo journey spanned four years beginning in 1773 and covered parts of present-day Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Sailing to Charles Town (now Charleston) South Carolina, he used this city as base for the next four years. In April of 1775 he left Charleston for Augusta and continued north from Augusta into Cherokee country. He reached the village of Cowee Watauga (in present-day North Carolina) in May, 1775, and returned to Savannah. In November, 1776, he received an urgent appeal from his ailing father to return to Philadelphia. The elder Bartram died shortly after William's return.

During his "walk in the woods" Bartram recorded many observations in his personal journals, diaries of a sort that inspired many noted authors including Henry David Thoreau, William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Charles Brockden Brown, James Fenimore Cooper and John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club. He is one of the first people to whom the term "naturalist" is applied.

Quakers, in Bartram's day, were better-educated than the American populace as a whole. Their contributions to American society and culture were recognized world-wide, and William Bartram is one of the few Americans who is generally considered to be a part of The Enlightenment
In addition to the scientific aspects of the journals, William Bartram's writing also serves as some of the earliest descriptions of the culture of both the Cherokee and Creek Indians. At this time, the Cherokee were so plentiful in the southern Appalachians that Bartram refers to them as the Cherokee Mountains on occasion. He also expresses beliefs, unusual for the time, about man's interrelation with nature, believing that man shares certain emotional and intellectual bonds with all living things. During the trip the Philadelphia Quaker would sketch more than 200 previously undiscovered species of birds alone.

He noted the ancient Indian Mounds (more) in the state of Georgia and pondered the civilization that created them. Bartram discussed the mounds with his friend Thomas Jefferson who became the first man to excavate one in 1781.

For more than 10 years these journals languished in Bartram's ancestral home on the Schuylkill River. Unhappy with the writing and suffering from a motivation disorder, the journals might never have published had he not been pressured by friends to do so.

cover
This is the book that rekindled the interest in Bartram during the latter half of the 20th century Buy it!
Although widely reported on the Internet, Bartram did not accompany Lewis and Clark on their journey exploring the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, nor did his friend Thomas Jefferson ask the botanist to accompany the explorers.

Interesting notes:
  • Bartram's twin sister Elizabeth shared his longevity but not a place in his heart. No where in his writing is she mentioned.
  • When young William returned home he found his father in great distress. The British were near Philadelphia and the Continental Congress had removed to Baltimore. John was deeply concerned that the British would destroy his beloved gardens. American Revolution in Georgia

Books on and by William Bartam
Georgia's Bartram Trail
Faithfully covers 37 miles that the early explorer covered while in the north Georgia mountains. From our friends at GeorgiaTrails.com
Bartram Trail Guides This is a must have for anyone seriously considering hiking the Bartram Trail. John Ray hikes the trail a number of times and have detailed, mile-by-mile, the highlights such as falls, water, camping spots, and crossroads. Links about William Bartram, from Roadside Georgia


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