At the time Pedro Menendez de Aviles, founder of St. Augustine, explored the St. Johns River in 1565, the Indians residing here were probably part of the Mayaca culture whose chiefdom was near present Volusia south of Lake George. Clustered in small villages, they collected snails, freshwater mussels and shellfish, cooked turtles in the shell, roasted deer, alligator, and other game, and gathered roots, nuts, and berries.
By the time of Menendez, the Spanish had explored and mapped the river to its headwaters. When Florida became a British holding (1763-1783), John and William Bartram chronicled their journeys upriver to observe and record the peninsula’s flora and fauna for the King. They described their encounters with the Seminole Indians who had by then migrated into the peninsula, filling the void left by the decimation of Florida’s native cultures. At present day Stone Island, the Bartrams observed calciferous deposits containing human remains.
Beginning in the 1760s, William Gerard de Brahm, Surveyor General for the British Crown, observed and mapped “Lake Grant” (Monroe) and the river for the colonial government of East Florida. To encourage development, the English Crown granted huge tracts of land along the river to nobility and mercantile interests who usually remained absentee proprietors. The north shore of Lake Monroe was partitioned into 20,000-acre rectangular tracts awarded to Duncan, Archibald, and Alexander Grant, possibly relatives of East Florida Governor James Grant.
Not long after Spain regained Florida from Britain, the Spanish King also began to offer land grants to encourage settlement and fill the void left by the departed British. The goal was also to establish a buffer between the Indians being pushed south by white settlement in the English colonies and the colonial government in St. Augustine. Entrepreneurs such as London resident Joseph Rattenbury, who applied for the vast “Volusia tract,” received thousands of acres of land along the river. Horatio S. Dexter, a controversial figure in Florida politics, later acquired part of this tract from Rattenbury and established a plantation he called Volusia.
In 1823, after Florida was acquired from Spain, Lt. Charles Vignoles surveyed the region for the U.S. territorial government and noted a large sulphur spring on the north shore of “Monroe’s Lake” in the area where present day Green Springs is located.