Bernard Romans Map of Florida. Credit: Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division, Louisiana: European Explorations & the Louisiana Purchase.
Florida Shipwrecks depicted on the 18th century Bernard Romans & William Bartram Maps
by Steven Danforth Singer
Many have seen Bernard Romans 1774 map depicting where the 1715 Fleet wrecked off Florida, but it also depicts two other shipwrecks on Florida’s northeast coast, dated 1768 and 1769. Another map from William Bartram’s 1791 book also depicts two shipwrecks which appear to show the same two shipwrecks. Neither on his map are dated but one does say “Wrecked here.”
Bernard Romans, who was a famous cartographer, surveyor, naturalist, privateer/captain, etc, and William Bartram, another famous naturalist & surveyor. Both had travelled throughout Florida during the 18th century, and both had written books about their travels. Romans wrote A Concise History of East and West Florida, published in 1775, and Bartram wrote Travels, published in 1791. Both had also worked as surveyors mapping the Florida coast and inland areas. While doing so, they both had worked for William de Brahm, who became the “Surveyor General” for the British in the New World. It’s likely Bartram and Romans had met each other at one time or another.
Both of these gentlemen included a map in their books that depicted two shipwrecks along Florida’s northeast coast. Romans very detailed map of part of East Florida is quite famous for describing the area where the 1715 Spanish treasure fleet had wrecked, but also shows two shipwrecks, one dated 1768, and the other 1769. Bartram’s map only shows a portion of the east coast from the St. John’s River south to just above Cape Canaveral, and also shows two shipwrecks in the same area. Neither are dated on Bartram’s map, but one is titled “Wrecked here.”
Comparing the two maps, I believe they both depict the same two shipwrecks. One just above Cape Canaveral, and the other around the New Smyrna area.
William de Brahm had been surveying Florida’s east coast area and had leased the 20-ton sloop Augustine Packet in 1765. Bartram had gone to work for him in June of 1766. A letter dated November 1766 from de Brahm had stated that Bartram had been shipwrecked in that area just off the beach while heading back to Philadelphia. It’s possible he was still using the Augustine Packet a year later, and that was the vessel that Bartram was on when wrecked. If so, then it was probably travelling to St. Augustine or another port further north where Bartram would’ve likely transferred to a larger vessel and then continued on to Philadelphia. Whatever vessel it was, I’d have to assume the shipwreck labeled “Wrecked here” on Bartram’s map is indeed the one where he wrecked in 1766. The wreck in the same location on Romans map is dated 1769. More than likely that was a mistake and should have read 1766, but who knows for sure, as Florida’s coast is strewn with shipwrecks.
The wreck shown just above Cape Canaveral on Roman’s map is dated 1768, and just says “wrecked” on Bartram’s map. Likely both of the wrecks on either map were visible at that time. Possibly one of the following vessels is the one just above Cape Canaveral. In December of 1766, the sloop Mary, Capt. Sheffield, from Savannah bound for St. Augustine, with the Chief Justice of Florida on board, wrecked south of Matanzas. Another vessel called the Happy Return, from Virginia bound for Pensacola, was simply listed as wrecked on the Florida shore in 1766, and the vessel Achilles, from Antigua for Rhode Island, was listed as wrecked in the Gulf of Florida, which could be almost anywhere off or around Florida, in 1767.
One interesting note is that during the years 1766-67, Romans was master of a sloop called the Mary, which wrecked in 1767 off Cape Florida (present day Miami area). I originally thought there was a connection with the sloop Mary wrecked in 1766, but Mary was a very common name for a vessel back then, and the two are reported as wrecked quite a distance from each other, plus different captains are listed for both sloops.
I can only assume that the shipwrecks depicted on both maps are likely the same wrecks, and the northernmost one is the vessel that Bartram was travelling on when shipwrecked.
Bartram Heritage, A Study of the Life of William Bartram, by the Bartram Trail Conference, Montgomery, AL, 1979.
Turner, Samuel P. Maritime Insights from St. Augustine’s British Period Documentary Records, from El Escribano, Vol. 47, 1/1/2010, St. Augustine Historical Society.
The Georgia Gazette, Dec. 1766.
Singer, Steven D. Shipwrecks of Florida; More Shipwrecks of Florida.