The St. Johns River provided trade access that supported the economy of the Fort George Island plantations. Cotton and sugar from the plantations were transported on the river to trading posts. Early Spanish seamen called the river Rio de Corrientas, or River of Currents, for its treacherous currents that plagued river travel. The shifting sandbar at the mouth of the St. Johns River was a significant impediment to ships. As river commerce on the St. Johns River grew, a community developed off Batten Island, which became known as Pilot Town. Pilot Town was inhabited mostly by harbor pilots and sea captains who made their living piloting ships through the currents to the Atlantic Ocean. These men, known as bar pilots, boarded ships and maneuvered them around the river's shifting sandbar, and then helped guide them through the channel and up to Jacksonville. By 1877, Pilot Town became a landing used by tourists and visitors to visit the Fort George Island Hotel and inland attractions. A dock was built to accommodate steamers to Jacksonville, Charleston, and Savannah.
Napoleon Bonaparte Broward
Napoleon Bonaparte Broward, Jr., was a bar pilot who became Florida's 19th governor. As a young man, he worked on boats as a cook, fisherman,
and seaman. In 1878, he took a job working tugboats on the St. Johns River and in 1883, he received his pilot's license. Captain Broward became joint owner of a steamboat, the Kate Spencer, which bought visitors to the landing at Pilot Town. Broward was elected to the Jacksonville City Council in 1895, although he continued to work as a seaman and a bar pilot. In 1895, he built a seagoing tugboat, The Three Friends, with his brother. The tugboat carried munitions and Cuban expatriates on its maiden voyage to Cuba in 1896. Encouraged by Jacksonville's Cuban community, Captain Broward commanded his boat on eight voyages through Spanish blockades to deliver arms and equipment to Cuban revolutionaries. He was pursued by U.S. authorities set on seizing his ship. In 1897, The Three Friends turned to peacetime freight and passenger business, and Broward and his wife bought a summer house in Pilot Town. Broward was elected Florida governor in 1905. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1910, but died before taking office.