About William Bartram

Explorer, Artist, Naturalist, Namesake

When you travel on the William Bartram Scenic & Historic Highway today, you are journeying through the same land explored and appreciated by the Highway’s namesake, William Bartram.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1739, Bartram was America’s first native naturalist-illustrator. Even as a boy, his talent drawing plants and birds was celebrated. The young William Bartram would travel with his father, the renowned botanist John Bartram, visiting Florida as well as locations including the Catskills and the New Jersey Pine Barrens.

William Bartram

Bartram himself was one of the first plantation owners in the scenic corridor. After venturing to the area with his father in 1765, he purchased a 500-acre plantation at Little Florence Cove. However, this was not to last: He returned north after less than a year on the plantation. Later, Bartram twice visited the Francis Philip Fatio Plantation, through which the Scenic Highway travels—first in 1772 and then again two years later.

Bartram began his most famous expedition in 1773, when Dr. John Fothergill of London commissioned Bartram to explore Florida and study its botanical treasures. On his four-year journey, he traveled through eight Southern colonies, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee. In 1774, Bartram reached Florida and began exploring the St. Johns River.

During his travels, he took notes and drawings on the plants, animals and Native American cultures he encountered along the way. These notes would form the foundation of his enduring and informative book, Travels. You can read the work online, courtesy of the University of North Carolina.