The Kingsley Plantation is filled with a unique perspective of plantation history. We hear about slavery and plantation life in many plantation visits, but this was the first plantation I have ever been to where a slave became a land owner and a family while not rallying against slavery, tried to encourage better treatment of free and enslaved blacks. The story of Anna Kingsley begins when Anna Madgigine Jai, born in Senegal was taken into captivity and sold in a slave market in Havana, Cuba to Zephaniah Kingsley.
After purchasing her as a slave, Kingsley later married her and together they would have four children.
Kinsley freed Anna in 1811 by manumission, a paper under the Spanish race policies that supported freedom for former slaves. As a free woman, Anna petitioned the Spanish government for land. The National Park Service (NPS) website shares that, “… land grant records show that in 1813 she was granted title to five acres on the St. Johns River. The property was located across the river from her husband’s plantation, Laurel Grove, south of today’s Jacksonville. Anna purchased goods and livestock to begin a business–and she purchased slaves. She became one of a significant number of free people of African descent in East Florida…”
The story of her business sadly lasted only months when an attack came from American forces who tried to wrest East Florida from the Spanish. In an effort to flee, Anna lit a fire that consumed her house and property as she escaped with her children and slaves on a Spanish gunboat. The Spanish government then compensated her for her loyalty with a land grant of 350 acres.
During the American advance both Anna’s property and Laurel Grove were destroyed so in 1814 Zephaniah and Anna Kingsley, along with their children and slaves, moved to Fort George Island. This is a sea island that can be toured today. My friend Rose and I visited the plantation. The island is located near the mouth of the St. Johns River and to get there, we took a ferry to the island and enjoyed our visit.
When the Kinglseys arrived at Fort George they found a thousand-acre island that the website describes, “with palm-fringed beaches, birds of every description, and ancient Indian mounds of oyster shell, they restored an abandoned plantation. In a fine, comfortable house with views of the tidal marsh and ocean beyond, Anna spent the next twenty-three years of her life.”
During this time, Kingsley’s Florida landholdings increased to 32,000 acres included timberland, orange groves, and four major plantations with a workforce of 200 slaves. The holdings produced Sea Island cotton, rice, and provisions. Like many plantation owners in Florida at that time, Kingsley owned ships which he captained on trading voyages. When traveling, Anna ran the plantation.
The plantation had around 50 slaves that worked the soil producing Sea Island cotton, citrus, sugar cane, and corn. Today some of the farming items like an indigo processing steeper vat and a huge kettle that sugar cane was cooked in remain to show visitors some of the ways the crops were processed
Everything changed for the Kingsleys when the US bought Florida from Spain in 1821 and enacted strict conditions for Florida’s black population. Zephaniah Kinsley fought against the policies and in 1828, published his opinions in A Treatise on The Patriarchal, or Co-operative System of Society As It Exists in Some Governments . . . Under the Name of Slavery.
The treatise tried to persuade lawmakers to adopt policies similar to those of the Spanish however, new US legislation laws of the 1820s and 1830s the NPS website states, “…reflects racial discrimination that blurred the distinction between freeman and slave until there was virtually no difference.”
With fear for wife and children’s freedom the Kingsleys left Florida for Haiti, which had become the first independent black republic of the New World. On Haiti the Kingsleys, along with fifty freed slaves that came to work as indentured servants, started a new plantation in “Mayorasgo De Koka,” Kinglsey described Mayorasgo De Koka as “heavily timbered with mahogany all round; well watered; flowers so beautiful; fruits in abundance, so delicious that you could not refrain from stopping to eat…”
Roads and bridges were built and the Kingsleys planned a school for the community and started a new colony in 1837. In 1839, the Fort George Island was sold to his nephew Kingsley Beatty Gibbs after great dispute from Kingsley’s relatives.
Things again were in an uproar in 1843 when 78 year old Zephaniah Kingsley died in New York City. The NPS website states, “…Anna’s older son, George, was returning to Florida in 1846 to defend land interests, when the ship in which he was traveling was lost at sea. Her younger son, John Maxwell Kingsley, took over management of Mayorasgo De Koka and Anna Kingsley, for unknown reasons, returned to Florida. She could not return to Fort George Island–that plantation had been sold years before. She settled near her daughters who had married and stayed in Florida. Once more Anna lived on the St. Johns River, this time in a young town called Jacksonville.”
During the Civil War Anna lived in Union-occupied Fernandina until the end of the conflict. In 1865 Anna Kingsley returned to the St. Johns River and she passed away in 1870. The plantation and Fort George Island is a place of an amazing story and history that shouldn’t be missed. Log onto http://www.nps.gov/timu/historyculture/kp.htm for more information about this fascinating place.