Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Place Names

In my transcriptions of the 1783 Spanish census of St. Augustine, Florida, I'm learning a good bit about the place names around St. Augustine and around Jacksonville, where I grew up. One of these fascinating tidbits is that a watercourse known today as Julington Creek, in southern Duval County, was originally Julian Anton (or in some entries, Julia Anton) Creek. Now I want to find out who Julian (or Julia) Anton was.

There are other names which have intrigued me. There are three or four references I have found to a geographical feature called Public Point. I checked the St. Johns River charts and have found no such place today. The name may have been changed. Or the feature may have been eradicated when the Army Corps of Engineers, early in the 20th century, dredged a new, straighter channel for the St. Johns River, creating Blount Island, which is now a commercial port facility (at which I served in the Coast Guard as project officer to supervise a massive military hazardous-cargo loading evolution).

We have lots of small creeks branching off of the St. Johns River. Let me give you some point of reference. The St. Johns River varies from about half a mile wide to three to five miles wide in some places along its course. It is the only navigable river in the western hemisphere that flows north. What we call a creek around here, many people in other parts of the country call a river.

My husband, a Jacksonville native, and I, who moved here when I was 7 years old (a long time ago) grew up knowing about Pottsburg Creek and Pablo Creek and Six Mile Creek. All of these names appear on this 1783 census. Other geographical names we grew up with also turn out to be a lot older than we thought -- St. Johns Bluff, Talbot Island, Doctor's Lake, Fort George Island. There are others which we knew to be very old, dating from the time of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who founded St. Augustine in 1565. One of these is Matanzas, name of a river and a stretch of beach where Menéndez dispatched two crews of Frenchmen, including Jean Ribault.

And one place name I have already talked about. That is the swamp known today as Twelve Mile Swamp.

What place names are in your local area, or in the area where your ancestors lived? Is there any significance to these place names? Are they the same today as they were then? Take a look at your records which might mention place names, and see if you can track down their origins. Then check nautical charts, if these are waterways you are looking at, old maps (see if your library or genealogical society has some), and Google Earth.

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