Exploring Northeast Georgia – Who was William Bartram? By Kitty Stratton


Exploring Northeast Georgia

Who was William Bartram?

Kitty Stratton

Living in Rabun County you may have come across a trail marker for the William Bartram Trail. But who was William Bartram and what was he doing in Northeast Georgia in 1775?


William Bartram

William Bartram was born in Kingsessing outside of Philadelphia on April 9th, 1739.  He had a twin sister named Elizabeth. They were raised in a Quaker family and their father John, was America’s first professional botanist. William’s role model was his father and he was fortunate enough to be able to accompany his father, at the age of 26 on a trip to explore the wilds of Florida.

At that time Florida was newly acquired by Britain from Spain. As the King’s Botanist, John Bartram was commissioned to explore the flora and fauna of Florida. William and his father travelled to Charleston, South Carolina, Savannah and Augusta and then boated up the St John’s River in Florida.

Researching the life of William Bartram shows a man who was never content to work indoors. He loved the out of doors and exploring. He had many talents including writing and drawing and authored the book, “Travels”, which is still purchased and read today. He is known for his detailed descriptions of his natural surroundings as he travelled through the newly discovered southeastern areas of North America.

William Bartram and his father have been credited with discovering and naming the Fraser Magnolia.  The Fraser Magnolia grows in a very small range in the mid-south Appalachian Mountains.  The Bartrams named the tree after a well-known Scottish botanist, John Fraser.

Bartram Magnolia

Fraser Magnolia discovered in 1775 by Bartram

As a result of William Bartram’s well documented travels throughout Northeast Georgia we have a detailed account of the areas he visited. The Bartram trail covers 36.5 miles in Northeast Georgia and is well marked with historic markers such as this Historic Marker located on Warwoman Road, 2.7 miles east of Hwy 441 near Warwoman Dell.


We know from Bartram’s account of his travels that he crossed the Chattooga River and followed Warwoman Creek. He then headed through Courthouse Gap and followed Stekoa Creek to nearby Clayton.  He then headed north through Rabun Gap. While reading accounts of his travels we realize that his journey was not without fear and difficulties.  When we place his travels in the timeline of history we see that 1775 was just prior to the start of the Revolutionary War but also more importantly for Bartram, riding alone on horseback, this was a time not long after the Cherokee War which ended in 1761. The war had severely damaged the Cherokee Nation. Bartram was well aware of the bitterness the war had caused between the Cherokees and frontier settlers.


Bartram Trail in Northeast Georgia

Today, we might look back at William Bartram’s travels through Indian territories during war-torn times as risky at the least, especially on a mission to collect flowers and plants. However when we read the account of his journey in his book, “Travels”, we realize that he was well aware of the dangers ahead of him. However, history tells us that he was friendly and had a very deep respect for Native Americans.

William Bartram died at his home near Philadelphia on July 22nd 1823.

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