Florida's Kingsley Plantation - Part 2
Story and photos by Deborah Holmes
The Kingsley family itself has an intriguing history. Anta Majigeen Jai waspurchased as a slave by Zephaniah Kingsley in 1806. She was just 13 years old. By the time she arrivedin the Spanish colony that is nowFlorida she was pregnant with Zephaniah's child. She became known as Anna.
Kingsley never married Anna in a religious or civil ceremony recognized by either Spanish orAmerican law, but he described her as his wife, and considered their five childrenhis legitimate heirs. In 1811, Kingsley gaveAnna and their children their freedom. Anna was also given her ownplantation and owned slaves. After her plantation was destroyed by in anuprising against the Spanish, she and Zephaniah acquired St. Georges Island andthe plantation house. Anna managed Kingsley Plantation for 23 years,before ultimately fleeing to Haiti when Florida was annexed to the UnitedStates. Both Zephaniah and Anna feared for her freedom and that of theirchildren under harsh race laws imposed by the Americans.
For the 37 years that Anna was with Zephaniah, she maintained separate quarters. Zephaniahcontinued to have relations with other salve women and to father their children. Anna'sseparate quarters are not, however, a reflection of an inferior status, but an acknowledgement of her Africanheritage. In Anna's tribal culture in Senegal women and men did not share livingquarters.
The house already had a colorful history when Anna and Zephaniah settledthere in 1814. The history of Kinglsey Plantation begins several years beforeits construction, when Florida was still a Spanish colony. Eager to encouragesettlers and profits, the Spanish invited Americans to emigrate with promises of land and wealth.A bankrupt American revolution veteran, John McQueen,emigrated to Florida from South Carolina with his 300 slaves. He was rewarded with Fort George island in 1793. Five years later, McQueen hadthe house now known as Kingsley Plantation constructed.
The simple cracker style house would be, McQueen said, " a verycomfortable habitation and in any other country a handsome situation."
McQueen was successful for a few years with a sawmill and fruit trees. Hismost lucrative cash crop was Sea Island cotton, a plant imported from theBahamas. Sea Island cotton was prized for its fine, long fibers which wove intoa superior cloth. But badluck followed McQueen. In the same year that high waters destroyed his saw mill,his cotton crop was meager. Bankrupt again, McQueen sold the island andplantation home to a Georgian, John McIntosh.
McIntosh successfully revived the Sea Island cotton and other crops, becomingone of the wealthiest planters in the province. Politics brought his downfall.He participated in the Patriot Rebellion, an attempt by Americans living in EastFlorida to take the colony from the Spanish and turn it over to the UnitedStates. The uprising was met with stiff opposition from the Spaniards, whoallied themselves with the Seminole Indians. The United States withdrew its support of thepatriots. Fearing reprisals by the Spaniards, McIntosh and others fled back toGeorgia.
Kingsley was in Florida at the time, but had managed to stay on more favorable terms with theSpaniards. He leased Fort George Island from McIntosh in 1814,and purchased it in 1817. Anna and Zephaniah lived on the plantation until 1837,raising their children and managing a large slave population.
Anna and the children lived in a separate dwelling, a saltbox style houseconnected to the main house by a walkway. "Ma'am Anna House," is builtof tabby bricks, on the first floor with a wood frame above.
After Anna and Zephaniah
Florida's annexation to United States in 1821 brought an end to therelatively liberal race policies the Spaniards had established. Interracialmarriages were now illegal. The rights of free blacks to travel and own property wererestricted. Kingsley opposed the harsh American racial stratification and spokepublicly against it. Finally, fearing that increasing racism endangered his family, Kingsley begana colony in Haiti. In 1837, Anna Kingsley and her sons moved to Haiti, with anumber of slaves and former slaves.
When Kingsley died in 1843, the plantation home on St. George Island was notpart of his estate. It had been sold to nephews four years before. By 1866 theproperty had passed from family hands. After the Civil War, the property was amoderately successful citrus farm until severe freezes in 1894-95 brought an endto commercial agriculture on Fort George Island.
Anna returned to Florida in 1847 to another farm she purchased. She died in1870 at the age of 77.
Today, the National park Service maintains a portion of the originalplantation as an historic site. Original structures with exhibits and rangerprograms tell the stories of the island.
Kingsley Plantation is located on the Timucuan Ecological & HistoricPreserve, Northeast of downtown Jacksonville. The plantation is located justoff Route A1A north of the ferry landing. Grounds and exhibit areas are opendaily 9 to 5, except Christmas day.
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