Map shows areas along the St. Johns River that were visited by Peale during his Florida Journey in 1818
On "Christmas Day 1817, Titian Ramsay Peale (1799-1885), the seventeen-year-old son of Charles Willson Peale (1741-1827), noted painter and founder of the nation's first museum, left Philadelphia with zoologist George Ord (1781-1866) and sailed to Savannah, Georgia. There, the two men joined the wealthy geologist William Maclure (1763-1840) and naturalist Thomas Say (1787-1834), whose pioneering work on American insects "the self-styled Dr. T. R. Peale" had begun to illustrate. In Savannah, Georgia, William Maclure sold his carriage and horses which had followed him overland, chartered a thirty-ton sloop, and procured supplies. Meanwhile, George Ord and Titian Ramsay Peale, an enthusiastic marksman, went hunting with Ord's hounds in the Georgia woods. The party of eight, which included three hired sailors and Maclure's servant, visited the Georgia Sea Islands and the town of St. Marys, where they procured provisions before sailing up the St. Johns River. At this point, Thomas Say wrote rather naively: "we entertain no fears from hostility of the Indians, we could even repell the attack of a few of them."4
Although the Treaty of Paris had returned Florida to Spain in 1783, Spain was unable to police the runaway slaves, renegade Indians, and pirates or to protect East Florida waterways, and the United States government received many protests of disorder on the Florida frontier. On December 23, 1817, just two days before the naturalists' departure, a naval squadron sailed into the Amelia River near Fernandina on the northeast coast of Florida. Two hundred troops landed, but as the naturalists were to discover, this American presence did not allay Native American hostilities on the peninsula or safeguard inland travel.5 Why the naturalists were in Florida at this time is another question. Throughout his long life, Maclure had the uncanny ability of being present at political hotspots under the banner of science.
Once in Florida, Peale, Ord, and Say had to verify their passports to Spanish authorities. They left Maclure at Fort Picolata near the mouth of the St. Johns River and made their way along the swampy King's Road to the residence of the Spanish governor, Jose? Coppinger, at the old city of St. Augustine. After learning that raids made further venture up the St. Johns River imprudent, according to Say's correspondence, the party back-tracked with hopes of exploring the Mosquito River, an area illustrated in the map published with Bartram's Travels. Once more thwarted by reports of dangerous Indians, they decided to investigate the upper reaches of the St. Johns River. Near Fort Picolata, however, they met a plantation owner whose son had been recently murdered by Indians. Say wrote, "we departed from that place in good time as it seems probable they went in quest of us." Ord left the party at St. Marys; the others proceeded
North collecting along the Sea Islands to Savannah, where they disposed of the sloop. Maclure, who suffered violent seasickness, returned to Charleston by steamboat, while Peale and Say sailed home on the Rambler. The naturalists reconvened in Philadelphia at the end of April of 1818. A disappointed Say concluded: "Thus, in consequence of this most cruel & inhumane war that our government is unrighteously & unconstitutionally waging against these poor wretches whom we call savages, our voyage of discovery was rendered abortive."6
Surprisingly, Peale's account does not mention the dangers which compromised the trip's complete success. In contrast to the older travelers, he seems to have enjoyed the dangers as adventure. Say described him contentedly "sitting by our cabin fire (though it is not so cold as to need one) reading Bartram's Travels." In addition to Amerindian antiquities and zoological specimens, Titian Peale returned to his father's museum with several South American birds sent by the manager of the Charleston Museum in Charlestown, South Carolina.
The undated account of the Florida trip was written down by L. Peale, possibly Titian's grandson Lincoln or his second wife Lucy. The orthography of the original manuscript in the collection of Titian Ramsay Peale Papers owned by the Library of the American Museum of Natural History in New York, New York, has been retained throughout. Crossed-out sections have been reinstated for historical interest.