Read the text of William Bartram’s 1791 Travels…

bartram_frontispiece_lgrRead William Bartram’s Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, the Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Muscogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws; Containing An Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians, published in 1791, on the internet. You will miss the experience of turning aging pages, but you can read every word, and see some pictures, too!

This picture of the Seminole Chief (mico) is the book’s frontispiece. The mico wears many feathers, including attached to his headband and to an instrument or wand he’s holding. These may be symbols of his office and visually convey his high status.

During his travels in the late 1700s, Bartram was most interested in recording natural history, especially plants. But he traveled with Native American guides and stayed in their communities, so this book contains lots of first-person observations that archaeologists have combed to help them reconstruct Late Mississippian and early historic period Native American customs, foods, etc. Bartram also lists the names of Native towns, and some Native words.

Bartram notes on pages 32–34 about traveling up the Savannah River valley from the coast to Augusta, and of events he experienced in that then-frontier town in 1776:

THUS have I endeavoured to give the reader a short and natural description of the vast plain lying between the region of Augusta and the sea coast; for from Augusta the mountainous country begins (when compared to the level sandy plain already passed) although it is at least an hundred and fifty miles west, thence to the Cherokee or Apalachean mountains; and this space may with propriety be called the hilly country, every where fertile and delightful, continually replenished by innumerable rivulets, either coursing about the fragrant hills, or springing from the rocky precipices, and forming many cascades; the coolness and purity of which waters invigorate the air of this otherwise hot and sultry climate.

THE village of Augusta is situated on a rich and fertile plain, on the Savanna river; the buildings are near its banks, and extend nearly two miles up to the cataracts, or falls, which are formed by the first chain of rocky hills, through which this famous river forces itself, as if impatient to repose on the extensive plain before it invades the ocean. When the river is low, which is during the summer months, the cataracts are four or five feet in height across the river, and the waters continue rapid and broken, rushing over rocks five miles higher up: this river is near five hundred yards broad at Augusta.

A FEW days after our arrival at Augusta, the chiefs and warriors of the Creeks and Cherokees being arrived, the Congress and the business of the treaty came on, and the negociations continued undetermined many days; the merchants of Georgia demanding at least two millions of acres of land from the Indians, as a discharge of their debts, due, and of long standing; the Creeks, on the other hand, being a powerful and proud spirited People, their young warriors were unwilling to submit to so large a demand, and their conduct evidently betrayed a disposition to dispute the ground by force of arms, and they could not at first be brought to listen to reason and amicable terms; however, at length, the cool and deliberate counsels of the ancient venerable chiefs, enforced by liberal presents of suitable goods, were too powerful inducements for them any longer to resist, and finally prevailed. The treaty concluded in unanimity, pace, and good order; and the honorable Superintendant, not forgetting his promise to me, at the conclusion, mentioned my business, and recommended me to the protection of the Indian chiefs and warriors. The presents being distributed amongst the Indians, they departed, returning home to their towns. A company of surveyors were appointed, by the Governor and Council, to ascertain the boundaries of the new purchase; they were to be attended by chiefs of the Indians, selected and delegated by their countrymen, to assist, and be witnesses that the articles of the treaty were fulfilled, as agreed to by both parties in Congress.

Bartram’s final observations, on pages 521–522, are on the architecture of the Native Americans:

BUT in all the region of the Muscogulge country, South-West from the Oakmulge River quite to the Tallapoose, down to the city of Mobile, and thence along the sea coast, to the Mississipi, I saw no signs of mountains or highways, except at Taensa, where were several inconsiderable conical mountains, and but one instance of the tetragon terraces which was at the Apalachucla old town, on the West banks of that river; here were yet remaining conspicuous monuments, as vast four square terraces, chunk yards, &c. almost equalling those eminent ones at the Oakmulge fields; but no high conical mounts. Those Indians have a tradition that these remains are the ruins of an ancient Indian town and fortress. I was not in the interior parts of the Chactaw territories, and therefore am ignorant whether there are any mounts or monuments there.

To conclude this subject concerning the monuments of the Americans, I deem it necessary to observe as my opinion, that none of them that I have seen discover the least signs of the arts, sciences, or architecture of the Europeans or other inhabitants of the old world: yet evidently betray every sign or mark of the most distant antiquity.

This document is offered by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as part of its digital resources called “Documenting the American South,” available here.