The Verdura Plantation ruins are probably one of the most stunning finds I have come across in the Southeast. This massive structure was home to one of Florida's most ambitious, romantic, scandalous, and now-forgotten families. I'm not going to explain how I managed to get to this spot, but if you're truly interested, I'll give you the hint to Google it and follow the maps.
Verdura was once one of the largest examples of early antebellum plantation style. Situated on 9,000 acres of land, the house was a three-story, 13-room, 10-columned mansion. These columns were on the left and right sides of the house, rather than the front porch. The house is perched on a large hill, overlooking acres and acres of cleared land that has now grown over with weeds and brush. The house itself is surrounded by massive oaks, magnolias, and other garden-variety plants, like crepe myrtles that have now gone-to-seed.
Benjamin Chaires, who built Verdura, was the first millionaire in the state of Florida. He designed the layout of Jacksonville, then brought the railroad to and established the first bank in Tallahassee, Florida.
Historian Dr. William Warren Rogers describes him, “Ben Chaires absolutely epitomizes that class of young, go-getting, get-rich quick planters who migrated to Florida in the 1820s and made it part of The Cotton Kingdom." Here, men found land (plus wetlands) and a climate that was extremely conducive to the plantation business. “You never saw people get so rich so fast in this country until the advent of Silicon Valley."
Born in North Carolina in 1786, Benjamin Chaires grew up in middle Georgia, where he married and became a plantation owner, surveyor, and minor political figure before he was 30. He served in the War of 1812 and received the title of “Major.”
In 1818, Chaires bought his first Florida property: a one-third share in a plantation on Amelia Island, completely furnished with slaves, tools, canoes, and other necessities. Eventually he bought as many as 30,000 acres in the Jacksonville / St. Johns area.
Continuing to keep a hand in politics, he served as alderman and judge in St. Augustine and Jacksonville. Through this he helped in the original survey of Jacksonville, as control of Florida shifted from Spain to the United States. He also assisted in the treaties with the local Indian population and settlement of the rest of Florida. During this time he made several trips to Tallahassee on business. Evidently he liked what he saw of the area, and eventually his whole family moved there permanently.
One of the first historical sites I posted about on Instagram was Kingsley Plantation. While the house and property have a stunning location, the backstory is what really makes the site interesting. Though the site markers put great emphasis on the institution of slavery, I was disappointed to see that there was very little information about the plantation’s actual inhabitants and the owner's interracial relationships. However, the site is beautifully maintained and presents a good learning opportunity for the youngest visitors.
Kingsley Plantation was named for its owner, Zephaniah Kingsley, who spent 25 years there. It is located at the northern tip of Fort George Island at Fort George Inlet, and is part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve managed by the U.S. National Park Service.
Thank you so much for visiting my blog! As you may know, I started posting about my trek through “The Coastal South” on Instagram one year ago. If you want to see where I started, you can follow me @thecoastalsouth.
At first, I wasn’t sure if anyone would be interested in my pictures or research. Man, was I wrong! After gaining several thousand followers, I have decided that it’s finally time to work on a better platform. It’s been tricky squeezing so much information into those tiny Instagram captions!
I have loved each and every one of your comments, messages, and suggestions – even meeting some of you guys in-person! Thanks to you, I’ve gotten to learn so much more about this beautiful coast. I’ve also begun contributing to Golden Isles Magazine!
I’m looking forward to using this blog to provide more pictures and information about the historic sites I visit. Here, you can find locations, sources, and details ad nauseam!
Posts are a combination of my own research, visits, and conversations, plus various information found around the web. I try to provide sources, but if you have specific questions, feel free to ask!