William Bartram, Naturalist
In 1773, the pioneering American naturalist William Bartram set off on a four-year excursion through eight southern colonies. In the course of his journey he discovered many new species of native flora and fauna, and spent time with Native Americans. He made careful notes on their lives and customs, believing he had much to learn from Indians’ relationship with nature. In addition to being a skilled writer, Bartram drew well, and included drawings of plants and animals in his book. Pictured here is a drawing of a soft shelled tortoise, which he describes as “very fat and delicious.”
Illustration of a soft shelled tortoise from Travels Through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, etc., by William Bartram. Courtesy of Documenting the American South at UNC Chapel Hill's University Library.
Bartram passed through the Hobcaw region in 1776, likely riding on the King’s Highway for at least part of that distance. In 1791 he published a book about his travels, the cover of which is pictured here.
Cover of William Bartram's account of his travels through the South. Courtesy of Documenting the American South at UNC Chapel Hill's University Library.
In his book he included the following description of an encounter on Long Bay, known today as Myrtle Beach:
In three days more easy travelling, I crossed Winyaw bay, just below Georgetown, and in two days more, got to the West end of Long bay, where I lodged at a large Indigo plantation...It is pleasant riding on this clean hard sand, paved with shells of various colours.
Observed a number of persons coming up a head which I soon perceived to be a party of Negroes: I had every reason to dread the consequence; for this being a desolate place, and I was by this time several miles from any house or plantation, and had reason to apprehend this to be a predatory band of Negroes: people being frequently attacked, robbed, and sometimes murdered by them at this place; I was unarmed, alone, and my horse tired; thus situated every way in their power, I had no alternative but to be resigned and prepare to meet them, as soon as I saw them distinctly a mile or two off, I immediately alighted to rest, and give breath to my horse, intending to attempt my safety by slight, if upon near approach they should betray hostile designs.
Thus prepared, when we drew near to each other, I mounted and rode briskly up, and though armed with clubs, axes and hoes, they opened to right and left, and let me pass peaceably, their chief informed me whom they belonged to, and said they were going to man a new quarter at the West end of the bay, I however kept a sharp eye about me, apprehending that this might possibly have been an advanced division, and their intentions were to ambuscade and surround me, but they kept on quietly and I was no more alarmed by them. After noon, I crossed the swash at the east end of the bay, and in the evening got to good quarters. Next morning early I set off again, and soon crossed Little River at the boundary; which is on the line that separates North and South Carolina."
William Bartram, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, the Cherokee Country, etc, Ronald E. Latham, editor. Penguin, 1988.