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.
The plantation was originally 1,000 acres, but now the structures and grounds of the park only comprise approximately 60 acres.
As with many historic sites in the area, evidence of Pre-Columbian Timucua life has been discovered on the island. There are also the remains of a Spanish mission named San Juan del Puerto. While Florida was transferred between British, Spanish, and US rule, the plantation changed hands many times. The longest span of ownership was under Kingsley and his family.
The house was built probably between 1797 and 1798 and is cited as being the oldest surviving plantation house in the state of Florida.
Zephaniah Kingsley was born in Bristol, England and educated in London. His family moved to colonial South Carolina, where he eventually established his career as a slave trader and shipping magnate – allowing him to travel widely. In 1803, Kingsley came to St. Augustine and took the Oath of Allegiance to Spain so he could acquire a land grant. Soon after, he began to buy large amounts of land in Northeast Florida. He then settled on Fort George Island in 1814 after leasing the plantation from John McIntosh of Georgia.
Kingsley would go on to own as many as 32,000 acres in Northeast Florida -- which is pretty much all of current day Jacksonville. His land was divided into four plantations around the lower St. Johns River and Drayton Island in central Florida.
During this time, a violent uprising occurred in Senegal in 1806 and the Ruler of the Kingdom of Jolof’s daughter was separated from her royal family. Captured and shackled, the 13-year old Anta Madjiguene Ndiaye was boarded onto a slave ship bound for Havana, Cuba. Kingsley purchased the African princess. This began a lifelong relationship and a major influence leading this slave-owner to eventually become an emancipator.
Anta became known as "Ana" or "Anna" and had three children with Kingsley. In 1811 he legally freed her and their children, allowing her to own her own land and slaves. He also put her in charge of running his Laurel Grove plantation in modern-day Orange Park. Anna would eventually become one of the most wealthy women in Northeast Florida and Kingsley went to great lengths to name their children as his heirs.
Kingsley's legal emancipation submitted to the Spanish colonial government read:
“Let it be known that I ... possessed as a slave a black woman called Anna, around eighteen years of age, bought as a bozal [newly imported African] in the port of Havana from a slave cargo, who with the permission of the government was introduced here; the said black woman has given birth to three mulatto children: George, about 3 years 9 months, Martha, 20 months old, an Mary, one month old. And regarding the good qualities shown by the said black woman, the nicety and fidelity which she has shown me, and for other reasons, I have resolved to set her free ... and the same to her three children” (source – “Against the Odds: Free Blacks in the Slave Societies of the Americas” by Jane G. Landers 1996).
Marriages between white plantation owners and African women were common in Florida. Spanish tradition had relatively liberal policies regarding race. Additionally, slavery was not considered a lifelong condition. This led to free blacks becoming involved in the economic development of the region, many of them owning their own slaves.
Anna oversaw 60 slaves at Fort George Island which grew sea island cotton, citrus, corn, sugarcane, beans, and potatoes.
Though Anna was considered as Kingsley's "principal wife," he also maintained relationships with three other African women who acted as co-wives or concubines: Flora H., Sarah M., and Munsilna McGundo. It is unclear how many offspring resulted from these relationships. Yet, Anna Jai still remained the matriarch in the polygamous family. Historian Daniel Schafer posits that Anna Jai would have been familiar with the concepts of polygamy from her native Africa and also the concept of marrying a slave master to acquire one's freedom.
While living in Florida, Kingsley was known as a huge advocate of Spanish law regarding race and slavery. Kingsley advocated for Spain's three-class system, where enslaved people were the bottom tier, free blacks the middle, and white people as the top class. Despite fears of being ostracized, he crusaded to alter the views of Southern law makers. He wrote a series of editorials, speeches, and addresses, which became public and widely circulated. He became well-known for his series of Treaties, published between 1828 and 1834.
A large motivating factor for Kingsley would have been that these Spanish policies would legally recognize his children with Anna. Kingsley hoped that these three children would be allowed to become his heirs. As such, he provided them with the best education possible. Visitors to the plantation even recalled being invited to a dinner table where Kingsley displayed his multi-racial children with pride.
His pleas were ignored, and it was ultimately Kingsley's dedication to his large family and lifestyle that motivated him to leave Florida. As American territorial law spread throughout the colonies, political and economical tensions grew. Out of fear of rebellion, many plantations were in favor of stricter, more oppressive laws regarding slaves. As a result, conditions for Florida's black population (free and enslaved) deteriorated.
Kingsley ultimately moved his large family to Haiti, which was the only free black republic in the hemisphere. Here, they established their own colony in 1837. Fort George Island was sold to his nephew.
Free blacks and several private owners lived at the plantation until it was transferred to the State of Florida in 1955. It was acquired by the National Park Service in 1991. The most prominent features of Kingsley Plantation are the owner's house and an attached kitchen house, barn, and remains of 25 anthropologically valuable slave cabins that endured beyond the U.S. Civil War.
Archeological evidence found in and around the slave cabins has given researchers insight into African traditions among slaves who had just arrived in North America via Cuba and other islands.
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!