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In William Bartram’s South
Step into the world of writers and photographers as they tell you about the best, worst, and quirkiest places and adventures they encountered in the field.


Get the facts behind the frame in this online-only gallery. Pick an image and see the photographer’s technical notes.

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Colonial America

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By Glenn Oeland Photographs by Annie Griffiths Belt

This American naturalist explored the South just before the Revolutionary War and left a legacy of art and writings that shaped a young nation’s appreciation of its beauty.

Get a taste of what awaits you in print from this compelling excerpt.

In the current of American thought Bartram stands as one of the great point men of wilderness preservation, a planter of philosophical seeds that would germinate generations later. Says Thomas Slaughter, the author of a recent book on Bartram, “I could call him an 18th-century Thoreau, but it makes more sense to see Thoreau as a 19th-century Bartram.”

Like Thoreau, Bartram explored nature with his emotions as well as his senses. He was awestruck by gargantuan trees, terrified by battling alligators, and grieved by a pitiful bear cub whose mother had been killed by a hunter: The orphan bear, Bartram recorded, “approached the dead body, smelled and pawed it, and appearing in agony fell to weeping and looking upwards, then towards us, and cried out like a child.” Such sensitivity to the suffering of animals was rare in frontier America, as was concern for the welfare of Indians—a cause Bartram took up long before it became fashionable. What made him different?

“Bartram had the head of an Enlightenment scientist and the heart of a Romantic poet,” Slaughter said as we talked in his book-lined office at Rutgers University, where he teaches American history. “He was also a devout Quaker who saw all people as equals in the eyes of God and every living thing as part of a divinely ordained whole.”

Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.

Point of View
Learn how photographer Annie Griffiths Belt and artist Jill Enfield painted pictures of the past.

See and hear sandhill cranes in action, first catalogued for science by William Bartram.
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In More to Explore the National Geographic magazine team shares some of its best sources and other information. Special thanks to the Research Division.

The landscape that William Bartram explored in the 1770s was less peopled and more purely wild than when Hernando de Soto stormed through the same territory more than two centuries earlier. The ancient mound-building societies of the Southeast U.S.—the native peoples known today as Mississippians—had quickly succumbed to the weapons and diseases of Spanish explorers in the 16th century, when an estimated 1.3 million Indians inhabited the region. By Bartram’s day a mere 40,000 Cherokee, Creek, Seminole, and Choctaw survivors lived in scattered towns and villages from the southern Appalachians to the Mississippi River. For a naturalist like Bartram, this was an opportune moment in history: after the drastic thinning of the native population, but before the great influx of European settlers.

—Glenn Oeland

North Carolina Bartram Trail Society
The 80-mile-long North Carolina Bartram Trail has been called one of the best kept secrets in the southern Appalachians. The Society is steward of this national recreation trail and offers detailed maps for hikers.

Historic Bartram’s Garden
Visit this site to learn about the Franklin tree and enjoy a virtual tour of the restored home and gardens of the Bartram family.

National Recreation Trail
Want to follow in the footsteps of William Bartram? Go to this Great Outdoors Recreation Page and get details on the hiking trails you can walk to retrace his route through the South.

Slickrock Expeditions
Professionally guided wilderness trips focus on Bartram and his journey through the mountains of North Carolina.

Jill Enfield Photography
Jill Enfield hand colored the photographs in the Bartram article. Browse through a gallery of her images, and find out about her upcoming workshops around the world.

Bartram Trail Conference
Founded in 1976, the BTC has sought to identify and mark Bartram’s southern journey and works to preserve and interpret natural and cultural areas along the route.


Cashin, Edward J. William Bartram and the American Revolution on the Southern Frontier. University of South Carolina Press, 2000.

Slaughter, Thomas P. The Natures of John and William Bartram. Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.

Waselkov, Gregory A. and Kathryn E. Holland Braund, eds. William Bartram on the Southeastern Indians. University of Nebraska Press, 1995.

Berkeley, Edmund and Dorothy Smith Berkeley, eds. The Life and Travels of John Bartram. University Presses of Florida, 1982.

Ewan, Joseph, ed. William Bartram: Botanical and Zoological Drawings, 1756-1788. The American Philosophical Society, 1968.

Harper, Francis, ed. The Travels of William Bartram: Naturalist’s Edition. Yale University Press, 1958.


Morthland, John. “In Search of Georgia’s Rural Rembrandt’s,” National Geographic Traveler (March 2000), 110-120.

Allen, Thomas B. and Charles O. Hyman (eds.) We Americans: Celebrating a Nation, Its People, and Its Past, National Geographic Books, 1999.

Tidwell, Mike. “Sojourn On a Southern Highway,” National Geographic Traveler (November/December 1998), 104-116.

Hunt, Marjorie and Boris Weintraub. “Masters of Traditional Arts,” National Geographic (January 1991), 74-101.

Howarth, William. “Thoreau, a Different Man,” National Geographic (March 1981), 349-387.

Cooke, Hereward Lester, Jr. “Early America Through the Eyes of Her Native Artists,” National Geographic (September 1962), 356-389.

Dunn, Dorothy. “America’s First Painters: Indians,” National Geographic (March 1955), 349-377.


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