Before all these paved roads, houses and power poles, even before this patch of Georgia became Madison County, William Bartram, the South’s “Thoreau,” walked by what would later be Hull-Sanford Elementary School, traveled through Ila, and stopped to marvel at the “gold-fish” — or “yellow-finned shiner” — in the Broad River. “William Bartram was all over the place,” said Madison County’s Dorinda Dallmeyer, a nature writer who has contributed an essay to “Bartram’s Living Legacy: the Travels and the Nature of the South,” released Sept. 1 by The Mercer University Press.
Of course, Bartram, one of America’s great botanists and nature writers, saw nothing of what would come, no sign of Ingles, no Hwy. 106 or gas pumps. No, the land was largely untouched, most of it unsettled by white man.
But that was about to change.
In the 1773 Treaty of Augusta, Cherokee and Creek Indians ceded more than two million tribal acres in Georgia to cover debts to white traders.
Bartram was invited to accompany a survey party commissioned to draw off the boundaries of “The New Purchase.” The trip, which included about 80 people — Creeks, Cherokees, surveyors, land speculators — was historic, but not just for its part in the great exodus of Indians and expansion of white settlers, but for Bartram’s eyes — they captured the real world in vivid detail. And the botanist, who could both write and draw with great beauty, laid down a vision of these untouched parts for generations to come. In 1791, he wrote “Travels.” And the colorful book about his trip through the American South and his interaction with Native Americans has never gone out of print.
Dallmeyer, a Macon native and Danielsville resident, is a Bartram fan, who takes particular interest in his travels through Madison County.
“What they were supposed to do was map from a place called the ‘marked tree,’ which marked the boundary at that time just east of Athens, where it says Cherokee Corner Methodist Church,” said Dallmeyer. “And they were to mark the boundary between the watersheds, between the Broad River watershed and Oconee watershed just by following the topography until they got about to where Ila is, then they turned northeast and crossed the Hudson River and Broad River just above where they come together then headed over east from there.”
Dallmeyer, the director of Environmental Ethics Certificate Program in the College of Environment and Design at the University of Georgia, has worked in the fields of environmental science, international law and environmental ethics.
The Danielsville resident said she feels a close connection to Georgia’s rivers and to observing nature untouched by man. In her essay, “Shadow on the Rivers,” which is published in the new Bartram book, Dallmeyer retraces some of Bartram’s travels. She paints pictures of the natural landscape in a voice reminiscent of Bartram’s, such as this description of “Sweetwater Creek.”
“As I roll to a stop at the creek, turtles drop like coins from their sunning log into the languid water,” wrote Dallmeyer. “A concealed bullfrog blats a trombone note, punctuating the hum of summer. There’s no hydrangea here; it’s hardly been found in place since the advent of agriculture. Instead, common woolgrass, a type of bulrush, decorates the marsh with immense masses of drooping seedheads, burnished gold in the sun. Elsewhere in its range, Indians wove baskets from woolgrass stems and stuffed pillows with its seeds. Now it’s put to a new use: taking up heavy metals and other compounds from polluted runoff and streams. As in Bartram’s time, Sweetwater Creek offers us its gifts.”
Dallmeyer speaks with fascination about what Bartram saw.
“He talks about seeing black oaks that are nine feet in diameter,” said Dallmeyer. “They were common and he was stunned at the size of the trees and they were just remarkable things he was able to describe. And what’s remarkable is that some of those places are still here that you can still go out and see some of the things that Bartram saw and have some of the similar experiences.”
Dallmeyer, who is part of the Bartram Trail Conference, said she’d like to see markers established in Madison County, recognizing where Bartram and the survey party traveled. Those historical markers cost $1,200. There is now one in place near Camp Kiwanis, but there are other places worthy of such recognition, she said.
“William Bartram walked right by the Hull-Sanford Elementary School,” said Dallmeyer. “It would be a great place for a marker. It’s where he was and the children would be able to see that … Then up on the bridge on Hwy. 29 at the Broad River crossing would be another great place. Or one near Ila, because that’s where they turned and headed back on the survey.”
Dallmeyer said that putting a historical marker or two in Madison County to recognize Bartram’s Trail would be a good project for next year, the county’s bicentennial.
“Another idea would be for Boy Scout troops to re-enact Bartram’s 1773 passage through Madison County with the survey party marking the boundaries of the ‘New Purchase,” said Dallmeyer.
Dallmeyer said she wants people to appreciate nature and they don’t need to visit spectacular places like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon to do so.
“… I advocate the everyday, the local, the places all around us that may not seem special to us but can be unforgettable landmarks in a child’s mind,” wrote Dallmeyer in her essay. “This is part of how we develop a sense of place. Like William Bartram, we need to take the time to look around ourselves, to notice the natural world going on about its business, and to realize that nature is not just a backdrop, some stage set against which we play out our lives, but truly the crucible of our creation, the world which has made us what we are.”
ABOUT THE BOOK:
“Bartram’s Living Legacy: the Travels and the Nature of the South” includes Bartram’s complete 1791 “Travels.” The book is edited by essayist Dorinda Dallmeyer of Danielsville. Other contributors include Janisse Ray, Bill Belleville, John Lane, Roger Pinckney, J. Drew Lanham, Doug Davis, Gerald Thurmond, Kathryn E. Holland Braund, Christopher Camuto, Matthew C. Smith, Dixon Bynum, Thomas Hallock, Jan Deblie, Thomas Rain Crowe and Whit Gibbons.
Philip Juras of Athens provides artwork for the book, including its cover. His natural landscapes offer a glimpse of the Southeast before European settlement.
The book is available at local bookstores and at www.mupress.org/