Explore Bartram

Finding Bartram in Today's World

What is Explore Bartram?

Explore Bartram is an interactive documentary that allows users to explore the Bartram Trail while learning the story of William Bartram through pictures, videos and other interactive multimedia elements. This will also give users a more concrete understanding of naturalism and history in the Southeast. Explore Bartram was produced by the New Media Institute Capstone class at the University of Georgia.

Bartram

“The attention of a traveller, should be particularly turned, in the first place, to the various works of Nature, to mark the distinctions of the climate he may explore, and to offer such useful observations on the different productions as may occur. Man and manners undoubtedly hold the first rank– whatever may contribute to our existence is also of equal importance, whether it be found in the animal or vegetable kingdoms; neither are the various articles, which tend to promote the happiness and convenience of mankind, to be disregarded.”


Bartram, Travels

wbartramWilliam Bartram was one of the first prominent American Naturalists and botanists. His exaltation of the American Frontier in his writings, his explorations and illustrations continue to inspire readers and attract them to the wildlife he was so captivated by. He was paramount in creating a new movement of recording nature through personal experience and scientific observation.

Much of what we know about William Bartram comes from his own writing and diaries. William, son of Ann and John Bartram, learned to embrace the natural world early in his life. As a boy, William would accompany his father, who was named “The King’s Botanist” by the royal commission, on travels from Florida to the Catskill Mountains.

Phillip Williams notes:

“Bartram was a loser as a young man, he was called Billy, and he was not, you know we think of William Bartram this famous… he failed at everything he did, as many people in history who have later become very well known. But he wanted to do something of value; he desperately wanted to do something of value. He could draw. He was a very good artist, and he loved the natural world because he went with his father on many trips, botanical trips, collecting specimens as people did back in those days.”

His work and illustrations on this journey would bring him recognition and praise. He would move from a status of awkwardness and obscurity in his adolescence into one of prominence in the scientific community.

March 31, 1773, Bartram would embark from his home of Philadelphia on to the great expedition of his own life. He would sail into the harbor and then disembark from Charleston, SC on horseback. He would move into the Georgia coastline during the spring, and would even meet the Royal Governor, James Wright, in Savannah.

In early summer Bartram would have his first experience with American Indians and the Augusta Indian Congress.

Seminole Warrior

Mico Chlucco, the Long Warrior, was drawn by William Bartram for the frontispiece of Travels. The Long Warrior was a Seminole who lived near Miconopy, Florida.

Cherokee Chiefs would agree to yield a tract of land in exchange for elimination of said debts owed to traders. Bartram would accompany the surveying party that marked the boundaries of the ceded land, recording all that he saw.

His experiences in the Georgia backcountry would come to a halt as hostilities arose between the Cherokee leaders and the Creek leaders who were not in debt and owned a portion of the ceded land the Cherokees had surrendered. Thus, Bartram would return to the Georgia coast, and then Florida.

He accompanied a party of traders to various other Indian Villages, where one chief, Cowkeeper, would nickname Bartram “Puc-Puggy”, The Flower Hunter.

He would then canoe up St. John’s River, an area he had explored with his father, and have to battle alligators!

His acquaintance, James Wright, would negotiate a Peace Treaty between the traders, Cherokee, and Creek leaders in October 1774, and Bartram would finally get to complete his tour of the Indian Country.

It is Bartram’s vociferous and adoring description of the Cherokee Mountains that continues to attract readers and visitors today. After visiting Cherokee villages along Little Tennessee River, Bartram would join a trading caravan traveling through Mobile, Alabama and Creek Country.

Bartram would produce the most historic record of Cherokee and Creek Life at the time.

Williams ruminates on the importance of Bartram’s record of the Indians:

“It tells this story for those of us in North Georgia, Northern South Carolina, Southern Tennessee and North Carolina, to all of us it’s a very personal story because we all grew up with a sort of awe and admiration for the strength and courage of the Cherokee who stayed behind during the genocidal round up of the Cherokees that sent them to Oklahoma in 1838. The Cherokee who made and kept the Quala boundary in North Carolina were heroes, and they were men and women of great courage, and that story needs to be part of our story. And we need to be telling that story. We can’t tell it too many times. Our children, our grandchildren need to know that in the middle of the horror in the removal of the Cherokee Indians that there was one wave of courage and beauty. It’s something that William Bartram caught the tail end of when he was here. He was a witness to the very end, the last fifty years, of the Cherokee population almost at its height. “

After making it to Mobile, Bartram would travel to Pensacola, Florida, and then go by boat to the Mississippi River.

Yet the idyllic nature Bartram immersed himself in hardly reflected the turmoil happening across America’s colonies at the time. When he went to travel back to Philadelphia, the war had already begun.

It is then, interesting to note that Bartram’s writing do not ever discuss the political stirrings happening across the country. In fact, Bartram would avoid Augusta and Savannah, where tensions ran high, when he could. His personal ideology as a Quaker led him to choose to remain neutral, though in his private papers it is revealed he participated in a skirmish between Indian Allies and British soldiers at the Florida border.

This ideology extended into his beliefs about nature, wildlife, and humanity.

Brad Sanders recounts an instance of his attitude toward animals:

IMG_0240“He was concerned about the welfare of animals, and part of that had to do with the same kind of thinking that made him admire the Indians. That everything had its own value. In Alabama when the traders found some wolf puppies, they wanted to kill them, and he pleaded for them not to kill them. It wasn’t so much out of sentimentality so much as that he saw everything as having its own place in nature. And there are no good animal or bad animals, and there are no good plants or bad plants, and I think that is a modern concept. … It has to do with, since he was a Quaker, I don’t think he, I think his concept of what God was, was really expansive, and nature was God manifest; that nature was God ”

Brad Sanders describes Bartram as the first “Modern American”. After his return to a quiet life in Pennsylvania, his opus would be published in the late 1780’s as Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, Etc. The book would become a cornerstone in American Natural History, but perhaps more importantly, a doorway in to Modern American living.

Foremost, Bartram would become one of America’s first advocates for equality.

“He was outspoken against slavery. He was an admirer of Native Americans and wrote about the Indians in detail. He was actually criticized for that because you weren’t supposed to like the Indians or think of them as admirable, but that was William Bartram’s nature in that things had their own value apart from whatever value system the person speaking had.” says Sanders.

His book would become a self-conscious piece identifying and lauding the positive bookqualities of the American continent through his praise of the enduring human spirit to his celebration of the beauty of country’s wilderness and native wildlife.

He is more than a scientist, an illustrator, or a writer. Bartram is a teacher. In a time where he could be met with great derision, he urged Americans to respect Indian rights, and humanized them in his work, highlighting their high moral character. He also called for the eradication of slavery, in order for the blooming country to live to its highest ideals. His work highlights the vitality of all nature that unites the human essence.

“I think about that a lot in that his writing is a little bit archaic, not quite modern yet, but William Bartram himself was the transition between the colonial world and the modern world; the old science of differing to Europe, and the new science of Americans building their own scientific community.”

Brad Sanders Interview One by Bartram on Mixcloud

 

Brad Sanders Interview Two by Bartram on Mixcloud

 

 

But rather than the activism of his peers in the late 18th century, Bartram invites readers to draw their own conclusions: imagine their own frontiers, discover their own wilderness, and ultimately find something in that vastness of meaning to themselves. He would retreat into his studies after Travels, and continue to illustrate America’s flora and fauna, declining teaching positions and future explorations. He would pass away in him home at the age of 84 in 1823.

View of modern Philadelphia from Historic Bartram's Garden.

View of modern Philadelphia from Historic Bartram’s Garden.

Bartram_House_May_2002c

The Bartram house at Historic Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia.

History

In today’s world it is difficult to imagine what exactly Bartram experienced in his travels across the Southeast. In the late 18th century, the wilderness was still alive in America. Bartram speaks of expansive black oaks, clear as crystal waters, ferocious alligators, and some species of plants that have since died out.

On a crisp fall day on the bank of the Oconee River, Dorinda Dallmeyer, director of the Environmental Ethics Program at University of Georgia and president of the Bartram Trail Conference, explains American’s continued exploration of what the world was like in Bartram’s life.dorinda_image16

“He provides us with a window into the past. I think all of us have wondered what did this landscape used to look like when the Europeans arrived, or 500 years ago, or 12,000 years ago. And Bartram came to the Southeast in 1773 on a botanical expedition. He went across Georgia many times. Up in this direction was one of his first trips, and he offers us this window into what he saw at that time 200 years ago, about 200 years ago. So that’s part of the fascination- to be able to go back to places where we know he was and to read what he saw, and how that relates to what we see today. … To stand where he stood and have his words in front of you, and he’s very good at describing the landscape, and the trees, and the animals, and birds and everything that he saw, and then to see what it looks like now. Some of these places are the same, certain places where he could step out of the woods and be alongside you, and other places have changed very dramatically.”carrs_hill49

Since Batram’s feet trod the earth, America has obviously significantly grown. Yet, many of the places he explored cannot be traced today. Suburban sprawl in the form of interstates, highways, neighborhoods, and shopping malls have taken over the idyllic landscapes of Bartram’s world. Man-made dams have placed entire towns that existed in his time underwater.

To fully understand how dramatically different the world is now, one can look at the changes that have occurred in examining the city of Athens, Georgia.

But first one must understand where exactly Bartram was in Athens.

“He did cross the Oconee, but that was later in his travels. When he first came to the Southeast in 1773, he was following a group of surveyors and Cherokees and Creeks who were marking the latest bit of land that the British were taking from the Indians in exchange for debts. So they were very close to here, east of Athens. They were going to another signpost that had been put up in the past. It was a tree that had blazes cut into it, and that was called the marked tree at Cherokee corner, and there’s still a Cherokee corner marker out there on Highway 78 East. That was as far as they were going to go. They were going to start the next part of the leg of the survey later. But Bartram found out that the hunters accompanying the party were going over to see the Oconee River, that they were headed this direction toward the west. So he came with them to see what they would see when they came here. So he actually did get to see the Oconee River, right here on the east bank in Athens.”

Dallmeyer looking out at the river, notes:dorinda_image4

“He was the first person to describe what he saw from this place. When he came with those hunters, he came and stood on what we now call Carr’s Hill, this promontory above the river. And this is how he described it in 1773:

I accompanied them, and we had not rode above three miles before we came to the banks of that beautiful river. The cane swamps of magnificent extent and the oak forests on the level lands are incredibly fertile.

And so he stood on the east side of the river, high on this hill, and looked over to the west and saw the Oconee flowing by, and looking farther downstream, cane swamps, which are where Oconee Hill Cemetery is now. And he really gives an idea for the people who would come after him who also be entranced by this place as the place for the University, the place to put the Franklin College.”

So how exactly did this area develop after Bartram left his footprints?

“Historically after Athens was founded, the next major activity that was taking place on Carr’s Hill was the railroad. The railroad came from Augusta and finally reached Athens in 1841, but it stopped at the top of that hill, it didn’t cross the river. And people had to take stagecoaches or carriages across the bridge into Athens. And then after that it has been so many things, but it’s undergone a major change in the last couple of years, particularly as there have been more and more apartment buildings constructed, because it is very close to campus and very attractive for students to live close by.”

When one views the Oconee River in Athens today, a much different image is stirred. One wonders if a description of the area would be as rapturous to readers as it was in Bartram’s era, when it inspired the establishment of the University of Georgia. Low-budget apartment housing now frames the banks where the cane swamps once stood. Beer cans and soda bottles and other assorted trash can be found strewn about the embankment. The once massive Carr’s Hill is almost dwarfed now, as it looms in the shadows of Athens largest downtown apartment development to date.carrs_hill9

What would Bartram think of this area today? Would he describe the profound technological and environmental developments with the same celebration he explored the wild?
“I think Bartram would be really surprised. I think, I think he would be speechless. He would be speechless at how much the area has grown, that it’s obviously no longer the frontier as it was in 1773. I think he would be impressed that a university, a very vibrant place of learning, was established here when Philadelphia, his home town was one of the few places in America that had such academic and scholarly emphasis. I think, I’m sure; this is something he never would have anticipated. It’s hard to say, he would just, I think that there would be so many things that have changed, and in many ways not for the better, wherever he went, if he was able to come back and retrace his path. But I think he would also be happy that there are people who are trying to understand what it used to be like, and also try to restore it as you can.”

Bartram celebrated all life, and found that each element had its place in the vastness of nature. It is easy to imagine Bartram being fascinated by all that has changed since his lifetime, but more difficult to ponder where he would place all of the manufactured elements of today’s society in his ideology of the environment.

However, on truth is blatantly clear. In order to truly understand and appreciate our world and the world that was, we must embrace the essence of William Bartram. Rather than blind development and utilization, our earth and its bountiful resources must be celebrated and admired.

As Dorinda looks discerningly at the stark high rises towering above, she shifts her glance dreamily to the waters of the Oconee and smiles, and expresses some hope.

“I think he would also be happy that there are people who are trying to understand what it used to be like, and also try to restore it as you can.”

Poetry

“More than two centuries have passed since the publication of Williams Bartram’s Travels in 1791. That his book remains in print would be notable enough, but Bartram’s work was visionary. It fostered the development of natural history, ornithology, and botany. Bartram’s writings transcended scientific boundaries to deeply influence Coleridge, Wordsworth, and other Romantic poets. And his text continues to ignite the imagination of Southerners who love nature.”


Dallmeyer, Preface, Bartram: A Living Legacy

Bartram was so much more than a botanist. Beyond illustrating plant and wildlife, Bartram captured a true account of the American Frontier through his vivid descriptions and poetic prose.

IMG_3685

Dorinda Dallmeyer reflects:

“He was really the first person to give a comprehensive view of, I mean he didn’t go all over the Southeast, but he was not just a botanist. He wasn’t just looking at plants. We’d had people before who were interested just in plants, or just in birds, or just in painting birds. But he was interested in so many other things, and not just the natural environment, but also the people in that environment. So he talked a great deal about the Indian customs and their culture. He talked about the attitude of the people who were moving into the frontier. So he gives, just, an unmatched vision of what life was like in this landscape.”

Part of the draw to Bartram’s work at the time was how very different it was from typical nature writing. Athens writer Philip Williams recalls this distinction.

“The first time I ever read Bartram’s travels I was probably fourteen years old, and that was a very long time ago, and one of the things I found out in reading Bartram was that his book is kind of situated in an odd place because it is sort of on the cusp between the edge of reason and the age of romanticism. And so you’ll get these long essay like things about plants in a very scientific kind of way and then you’ll have these rapturous poetic descriptions of what things look like. And the effect on the romantic poets as well as other places from Bartram just showed you the influence this kind of writing had. It was a kind of writing that was inconsistent, that was different depending on what day of the week he got up to write, but which drew a great deal of power from that difference I think.”

Bartram would inspire the work of many romantic poets, in particular Coleridge and Wordsworth. Coleridge would read Travels and draw from the images of Bartram’s work in many of his pieces. Specifically he was inspired by the concept of the poetic imagination and examine Bartram’s relationship to nature in The Biographia Literaria. Wordsworth had a very strong connection to Bartram, and echoes of Bartram’s work can be found in many of his pieces.

IMG_3676

 So how exactly is William Bartram still inspiring writing in America today?

Philip Williams is a living example of this influence.

“I had been thinking more seriously about doing an epic poem. And because I had been reading about the natural world, and I also taught a nature writing class at UGA, that I thought very much about, well, I was thinking very much about uh, what could be used as the material for an epic poem, and one day I was looking at the spines of my books, which I will occasionally do, and when I saw Bartram’s Travels I almost jumped out of my skin, because I thought “Of course!” You know and it was so obvious. Nobody had ever done it, but it was so obvious that it would be great material because one of the things you want to do in writing an epic…the traditional epic has to do with war and it has to do with uh you know, battles won, loves lost, etcetera, but it also has to do with the traditional story of someone going on a journey, being changed, and bringing that information back to the people. And certainly, Bartram did that.

So how exactly did Williams go about creating his epic poem The Flower Seeker?

“There is almost no biographical information out there about Bartram. He spent the last forty-six years of his life essentially at his house in Philadelphia. Uh, the story is he felt out of a tree he was pruning, got hurt, and didn’t want to travel much, but for whatever reason he didn’t travel anymore after being gone, on the road, for four years, which was a lot in the 1770s. And he almost died several times, you know, he got very sick. So anyway, I just, I can do this, I really can do this, but I’ve got to find a format that will work. So I thought very hard, did as much research as I could, and I realized at that point that I was going to have to use the skills I had developed over the years, the art and craft that I had learned in order to use, to turn a very thin story into something with some meat on his bones. There wasn’t enough in just Bartram’s Travels to write an epic poem about, because it’s all over the place. If you’ve read the Travels it skips everywhere, it’s inconsistent editorially, the narrative voice is not consistent so I had to find some way to, to turn it in to, a story, not just a, and as a story I realized from the very beginning it was going to have to have fiction in it because if it didn’t there was no way to, to have a satisfying beginning middle and end, and it could use the Travels as a back bone of the story, but it was going to have to have fiction, fictional aspects to it in order to give it the kind of narrative thrust it really needed.”

 Bartram’s voice in Travels is an inconsistent one. He was part environmentalist, biologist, and poet. Williams explains his efforts to find Bartram’s voice.

“One thing I could not do, and make it readable at all was to write it in mid-eighteenth century voice. You can’t do that because people, people don’t really realize how different our manner of speaking and writing were in the mid-eighteenth century, you know, from the founding of the country up to the American Revolution. By the 1820s, 1830s, the voice of the people in the United States of America was starting to get closer to what we still use now in terms of locutions and the way we speak and everything, but it was very different in 1780s. For one thing, spelling was very make it up as you go along, and there was, plus there was just a lot of things that were very different in the way we spoke and the way we wrote. I knew that wouldn’t work, so what I had to do, was come up with a language that was midway between the language of the eighteenth century and the language of our current date to make it so a reader now could, would not be stopped by the language. I also wanted to do, one of the other thing I wanted to do, from an artistic point of view, was that I wanted to incorporate the uh, everything that had changed and that we had learned in the epic poem in the past hundred years because there have been so many interesting epic poems, and my starting point was Cantos by Ezra Pound. But there are many others I studied and read as well, or that I already knew of as well. So there was a lot I had to decide. Bartram’s voice was never something I was going to use directly, although I did use chunks from the book all through it. But they are very selective, and they are often rewritten. They often include things that are not in the book at all, that I created for the scope of the narrative. And I had to decide also what normal devices, what poetic devices I was going to use, so there was a lot to learn. Voice was one of them, and Bartram’s voice from the beginning was an interesting one, but it wasn’t one I could use profitably as the voice of a narrative poet.”

IMG_3698

 An epic poem is not only a large endeavor for the writer, but also for the reader. Williams describes the worthwhile experience in reading The Flower Seeker in today’s time.

“Well you know you’re asking a lot, a lot to ask anyone to read an epic poem after the year 2000. Most people think now if you have to read more than two texts, you know, that you’re reading a lot. I mean, you know, even young people now, and I know this from my own family, don’t even like email very much because that’s too much to deal with. You know, it’s like, if you can’t text it, I don’t want to deal with it. So for the generation that has come of age, particularly young people that have come of age in the age of texting, when you’re saying a 450-page poem, and you’re asking them to read this, what are you asking? Well you’re asking for a commitment. And what I, my job as a poet, and as a writer, my job was to do, was to make it interesting enough, exciting enough, well-crafted enough, and personal enough so that someone reading it would come to it by saying oh my gosh, an endless poem why would I read this? Actually I think that most people reading the first few pages will keep reading because it’s a story that has kept people interested for more than 200 years. It’s a story that people particularly in the American South have never gotten tired of because it speaks not only about the origins of who we are in the United States, who the original white settlers were, but somehow even more important, and even more important to me, it tells the story of Native American populations in a way nobody else did- particularly the Cherokee.”

Williams goes on to describe what he feels readers can learn the most from his work.

“If there is one thing that I wish that people could get from the book, other than the whole idea that this is a finely crafted epic poem of some value that means something to people particularly in the American South, it would be the idea that the natural world is worth saving as it is, and that anything that we do- my generation, your generation, the older generation does that doesn’t help save the natural world is a betrayal of the earth, and needs to be thought about very carefully. The other thing would be, we need to think about what we have done as a people, and particularly what we did to the Native American populations who lived in this area. Bartram teaches us a lot. My idea would be, and my hope would be, teach Bartram’s lesson again, and to add a bit more to it with the story that I created.”

As Williams reflects upon his work and experiences with Bartram, he looks over the books of his study thoughtfully, and considers what Bartram himself can teach us today, in particular, writers today.

“But you know, nothing that I do is important or will last as long as what William Bartram did, and he never knew it. You know a lot of times people do great work and never know it, until the people are gone for decades or a century. So the lesson from all that is: do your best, don’t ever quit, and hope that if you don’t see your name in glory while you’re alive, that you might, that it might still happen a hundred years from now. It happened with Bartram; it happened with so many other writers. So it’s something we don’t want to forget about because it brings out the best in who we are.”

 Listen to an excerpt of his epic poem here!

Art

“THIS world, as a glorious apartment of the boundless palace of the sovereign Creator, is furnished with an infinite variety of animated scenes, inexpressibly beautiful and pleasing, equally free to the inspection and enjoyment of all his creatures.”

Bartram, Travels

Oconee Old Field Philip Juras

Oconee Old Field
Philip Juras

Bartram was an artist. Not only in his illustrations of plant and animal life, but in the way he painted a picture of the American countryside with his poetic, magnificent descriptions. Many are drawn to the naturalist because they are drawn to a desire to discover the past. What did he see? Want did this land look like in his eyes? How has it changed?

These questions lead many to a void. Many of the areas Bartram explored are no longer accessible, and certain parts of his trail are difficult to map out an navigate. There is a gap between Bartram’s words and what we can see today.

Philip Juras, an Athens, Georgia Landscape Painter, Landscape Architect, and Wildland firefighter, attempts to bridge that divide. Juras completed a series of landscapes that attempt to accurately portray Bartram’s world.

 

 

He found Batram, as many have, in his own backyard.

“I grew up in Augusta, Georgia and my family went on lots of camping trips. My mom really loved nature and history so we always went to historical sites, and we were always out in the woods. So if you travel around the south and those are your interests, you see, you run into all these historical signs and it seems like the whole lot of them say William Bartram’s Trail on them, or the Bartram Trail. And of course as a kid that didn’t mean anything, but later I started to piece that together, and actually as a teenager I picked up a copy of Bartram’s Travels that my mom had in the house, and started reading. Not much, because you can’t read that stuff very easily, especially as a teenager. And um, you know, as a Southerner who loves nature, it’s just a matter of time before you get into William Bartram, so, I wanted to know what things used to look like when the Indians were here, when there were bears and wolves and things. Like every kid does when they play in their backyard. And Bartram’s Travels, though it was hard to read, actually described what I wanted to see. So that’s kind of where I got into it. That’s how, that’s what got me enraptured.”

As an adult Juras describes a desire to know Bartram’s world never ceased.

“I have a Masters in Landscape Architecture, also from UGA, and in my thesis research I looked at the pre-settlement Piedmont, where we are right now in Athens is the Piedmont Region. Again, I wanted to know what it looked like, still, as a grown up kid I wanted to know what it looked like, still do. And found out, it wasn’t in fact what I had thought. We all learned in school a squirrel could cross from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, or, I don’t know where we learned that, but we seemed to have learned that. But that wasn’t really the case, and you know, Bartram, he described a landscape that wasn’t that way, but really it takes a good bit of learning to know that. So, I had this background of education, interest in painting, and they really just come together. I’m painting the places that I’ve always wanted to see.”

Vernal Pools Philip Juras

Vernal Pools
Philip Juras

Yet given the limited geographical information in Bartram’s text, Philip would have to complete a significant amount of research in order to understand where exactly Bartram was, and begin to hypothesize what those places looked like. It was not an easy task.

“So if you were really dedicated to following Bartram specifically, you would find that the world he saw, and the places he saw, they are, is pretty much long gone. I mean, most of the time he was traveling where today state and federal highways travel because those were the same routes back then. Those are all completely transformed. To find something of the world Bartram saw, you have to really do some research, do you homework, and ask the right people the right questions. So I, I had gotten to know a lot of people in the natural sciences, also a lot of people in the state, like in the Department of Natural Resources that had a bunch of friends, and I also do, um, I also volunteer as a Wild Land Firefighter. So I get, by doing that actually this is, we really call ourselves Eco-burners, but by doing that I get to participate in restoring these landscapes back to the way they used to be before European settlement. Basically, what Bartram saw.”

Juras describes the process he underwent specifically for one of the first pieces he completed in his Bartram body of work, and how he chose which areas to capture.

“Well, some of them were from the text. So the Keowee, which I think you might have seen earlier today, the Keowee Valley; my grandparents retired up near Clemson at, you know, between Augusta and the mountains, you go through that Clemson area and the Keowee Valley, and I kind of knew that area from childhood and always knew it as a place with reservoirs and what not. So when reading, when I read the Travels in the section where Bartram’s traveling through the Keowee valley, he’s describing this just absolutely amazing landscape with abandoned Indian villages, and just the most beautiful river valley you could picture, and stills and scenes, and I wanted to see that because it doesn’t exist. There’s all these reservoirs and development and what not now.”

Yet in envisioning the landscape, Philip would encounter several struggles. Human impact has vastly changed most of the areas of Bartram’s trail, and much of the plantlife Bartram describes is no longer in the area, or extinct. Philip would have to become creative to find physical examples of the trees and plants Bartram saw, and human development in the time he worked on the project would become an obstacle.

View from Wesser Bald  Nantahala Forest Philip Juras

View from Wesser Bald
Nantahala Forest
Philip Juras

“So looking for that landscape Bartram described in this area, you know, it’s not existent in the Piedmont because we’ve loved this region to death, what you do have are a few things that suggest what it might have been. So one thing, one thing that you can look at, at least, are these old oak trees, particularly post oak trees, which were one of the dominant trees in the forest back then. They were dominant because they were more fire tolerant; there was a lot of fire back then, there’s no fire anymore, so post oaks aren’t dominant any more. You do occasionally find them in a farm yard, or in front of a church, which was the case here on Prince Avenue in the Catholic Church parking lot, so there are a few characteristic old-grow, not old-growth, but old post oaks all through Athens, and in these trees they start to have that form, being very old basically and decrepit. And they get all these branching patterns and you’re really just looking at what trees would have looked like a long time ago, because there would have been a lot of old trees in a location like an upland ridge top where we are right now. So you can take those trees, and then delete everything else like the church, the parking lot, all of Athens, and then add that research- the research I did in my landscape architecture thesis, and I could put together this image of what it used to look like here. But I put those trees in the image. I should mention, there’s a piece you might want to show, it’s how I put this painting together. …  here are those two oaks right in the middle. They used to stand in the parking lot. The one to the left is gone now. That was my favorite tree in Athens for a long time, because it’s a fire tolerant tree. And I just love that stuff.”

Philip’s work is of importance because it attempts to arouse the necessity to preserve and protect the environment, and to portray how starkly human hands have changed the picture Americans in the south once saw.

“Bartram painted a picture of the South in words, a beautiful picture of the South, of a landscape or place, that doesn’t exist anymore. But, really he sort of establishes a baseline idea of what the South in its best form naturally speaking would be. … Bartram provides it to us in words, this image. But, um, unfortunately he didn’t, he wasn’t able to provide it us in terms of images, and images are a very powerful tool, you know, worth a thousand words, that sort of thing. … I’m trying to fill in that gap with my own painting. These are the images to accompany Bartram’s writings since he couldn’t take a painter with him.”

Juras himself best explains what he hopes to achieve in addressing the void. He ponders what may have been if more had embraced Travels, and if there had been more images to complete Bartram’s story. Essentially, he hopes to inspire Bartram’s celebration of the Earth, to foster an appreciation for all of the bounty Bartram found in nature, and to stress the importance of understanding our past. Especially in the American South.

“And here’s the idea, it’s because Southerners in particular I think, I won’t say that, I’ll say Americans in the South, historically we never had paintings of Yosemite and Yellowstone Falls to make us love these landscapes and preserve them. We had, we didn’t. You know, we just didn’t have that happen in the South. No one came here to paint it and document it in that way for the most part. If they had, we might have that love for the landscape, and perhaps we might have, instead of, think of what’s on the endangered species list, red caulcated woodpeckers, indigo snakes, those kind of things. Instead of having a few hundred or a few thousand acres of really intact landscape, originally it was 90 million acres that you would have found this long leaf environment, instead of a few thousand, we’d have 500 thousand million acres because we would have cared a little bit more about something. Or perhaps instead of having a dam on every single river in the South, wiping out all the species’ diversity in one of the most species diverse, rich parts of North America, right, you know, who knows? If we would have had a love for rivers a little different from the way we do, that’s the idea. That’s the way I hope it would work.”

 

 

Franklinia

frank3

Bartram first became acquainted with the Franklin Tree in his work with his father in 1765. In 1773, during his travels, Bartram would find the Franklin Tree in bloom and would describe the tree as “the first order for beauty and fragrance”. He would collect a number of seeds and attempt to propagate the tree in his home of Pennsylvania.

In Georgia the tree would become extinct. Had it not been for Bartram’s careful cultivation of the tree it would no longer exist.

Scientists at the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources are attempting to continue Bartram’s work today.

frank20

Dr. Scott Merkle describes his introduction to the history of the Franklin Tree.

“William Bartram and his father were exploring in South Georgia. They were going along the Altamaha River and they came across some small trees that they had never seen before, they didn’t think they’d ever been described before. It was a small population, probably less than an acre in size, of trees that were no more than about fifteen, twenty feet tall. And they were flowering, they  were beautiful white flowers and so they describe them and they’re described in Bartram’s travels and they collected some seeds and they sent them back to their estate in Philadelphia. And once these were described another taxonomist realized they had never been described before they were a new plant species. And the Bartram’s named it in honor of their friend Benjamin Franklin and called it Franklinia Alatamaha because that was another spelling of the river’s name at that time, instead of Alatamaha it was Alatamaha, and people called it the Franklin tree.”

So how exactly did the tree become extinct in the area Bartram found it?

frankliniaUGA

“What happened was after it was described a number of other botanists and curious people visited the site it was near Fort Berrington on the Altamaha RIver and they found the plants and they collected samples and probably seeds too. A number of people visited over the years but by 1803 when people visited after 1803 they were never found again. And they’ve disappeared from nature. And probably, there’s different explanations about what happened, it was a small population to begin with and it may have been on its way out already, maybe it was a little remnant from the last ice age or something that was there but what more likely what happened is it was collected to death, too many visitors came, they took pieces off of it, they compacted the soil or whatever then they disappeared. So the only real living samples that were left were the trees that came from the seeds that Bartram sent back to their gardener in Philadelphia. It grows fine even though it was native Georgia and never found any place else, it grows fine up north, it actually grows better up North than it does here in the Southeast.”

Graduate students under Merkle’s teaching are currently attempting to once again propagate the species. So how and where can the plant be found now?

“All of the Franklinia and you can go buy Franklinia trees, we have some on campus that were planted this last season. All of the ones that are in existence come from that handful of seeds that was sent back to Philadelphia. Luckily the seeds germinate quite well and its also quite easy to propagate by taking stem cuttings and rooting them. It’s not like its hard to propagate. Gardeners, or people who like landscape, trees, they plant it and it has beautiful flowers.”

Scott Merkle Interview Part One by Bartram on Mixcloud

Scott Merkle Interview Part Two by Bartram on Mixcloud


 

Team

chelsea jason jenna kait