Friday, 27 June 2014


                      BLACK           SOCIAL         HISTORY                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Kingsley Plantation (also known as the Zephaniah Kingsley Plantation Home and Buildings) is the site of a former estate in Jacksonville, Florida, that was named for an early 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 (4.0 km2), most of which has been taken over by forest; the structures and grounds of the park now comprise approximately 60 acres (242,811.385 m2).[2] Evidence of Pre-Columbian Timucua life is on the island, as are the remains of a Spanish mission named San Juan del Puerto. Under British rule in 1765, a plantation was established that cycled through several owners while Florida was transferred back to Spain and then the United States. The longest span of ownership was under Kingsley and his family, a polygamous and multiracial household controlled by and resistant to the issues of race and slavery.
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—a structure of architectural significance built probably between 1797 and 1798 that is cited as being the oldest surviving plantation house in the state[3]—and an attached kitchen house, barn, and remains of 25 anthropologically valuable slave cabins that endured beyond the U.S. Civil War (1861–1865). The foundations of the house, kitchen, barn and the slave quarters were constructed of cement tabby, making them notably durable. Archeological evidence found in and around the slave cabins has given researchers insight into African traditions among slaves who had recently arrived in North America.
Zephaniah Kingsley wrote a defense of slavery and the three-tier social system that acknowledged the rights of free people of color that existed in Florida under Spanish rule. Kingsley briefly served on the Florida Territorial Council, planning the transition when Florida was annexed by the United States. During his time on the council, he attempted to influence Florida lawmakers to recognize free people of color and allow mixed-race children to inherit property. In addition to the architectural qualities, the site is significant as his home and that of his unique family.


Pre-Columbian settlement and colonization

Black and white photo of a mound of oyster shells, approximately 20 feet high, covered by vines at the top and the middle exposed. A wooden wheelbarrow sits in front of it.
Shell mound left byTimucua inhabitants of Fort George Island was used as building material at Kingsley Plantation
Fort George Island is located in Duval County, several miles northeast of downtown Jacksonville. It is a marsh island at the mouth of the St. Johns River, surrounded by tidal estuariesLittle Talbot Island, and the Nassau River.[4] The north Atlantic coast of Florida had been inhabited for approximately 12,000 years when Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León landed near Cape Canaveral in 1513. The Spanish met the Saturiwa, a Timucua tribe, who were the largest group of indigenous people in the region, numbering about 14,000. Bands of Timucua extended into central Florida and south Georgia. An estimated 35 chiefdomsexisted in the territory,[5] and their societies were complex with large villages sustained by fishing, hunting, and agriculture, but they frequently warred with each other and unrelated groups of Native Americans.[6] The Spanish concentrated their efforts of exploration and settlement on the Gulf Coast of Florida. By 1562, Jean Ribault led French explorers to the mouth of the St. Johns River where they built a garrison in 1564, calling it Fort Caroline. Within 200 years the population of the indigenous people of Florida was decimated by disease and constant fighting.[7] They left behind evidence of their existence in massive middens or shell mounds filled with discarded food byproducts. On Fort George Island, the shells were primarily oysters.
Ownership of Florida transferred to the United Kingdom in 1763. Spanish settlers had established missions—including one on Fort George Island named San Juan del Puerto that eventually gave the nearby St. Johns River its name—but their frequent battles with the Timucua and a decline in mission activity curbed development.[7][8] When the British controlled Florida, they established several plantations in the region. Richard Hazard owned the first plantation on Fort George Island in 1765, harvesting indigo with several dozen enslaved Africans. Spain regained ownership of Florida in 1783 after the American Revolution and recruited new Americans with promises of free land.[9]
In 1793, American Revolution veteran John "Lightning" McQueen (1751–1807) was lured to Fort George Island from South Carolina by the Spanish government, which rewarded McQueen with the island. McQueen settled with 300 slaves and constructed a large house in a unique architectural style exhibiting four corner pavilions surrounding a great room. McQueen was soon bankrupt due to misfortunes, and the possession of the plantation turned over to John McIntosh (1773–1836) from Georgia who revived it in 1804.[10] McIntosh, however, took a leading role in the Patriot Rebellion, an insurgency by Americans to hasten the annexation of Florida to the United States. The rebellion was unsuccessful, and McIntosh fled back into Georgia to escape punishment from the Spanish.[11]

Kingsley's family

Born in Bristol, England and educated in London after his family moved to colonial South CarolinaZephaniah Kingsley (1765–1843) established his career as a slave trader and shipping magnate, which allowed him to travel widely.[12] He settled on Fort George Island in 1814 after leasing it from McIntosh. He purchased the land and buildings for $7,000 in 1817 ($94,019 in 2009). Kingsley owned several plantations around the lower St. Johns River in what is today Jacksonville, and Drayton Island in central Florida; two of them may have been managed part-time by his wife, a former slave named Anna Madgigine Jai (1793–1870).[12] Kingsley married Anna in 1806 when she was 13 years old, recently arrived in Cuba from West Africa.[13] He freed her in 1811 and charged her with running his Laurel Grove plantation at Doctors Lake in modern-day Orange Park. His legal emancipation submitted to the Spanish colonial government read
Let is 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][14] 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.[15]
Drawing from the 1870s of the Kingsley house, a large oak tree, and a pair of ladies strolling under a parasol
Etching of the owner's house on Fort George Island, showing one of the unique pavilions
Marriages between white plantation owners and African women were common in East Florida.[16] The Spanish government provided for a separate class of free people of color, and encouraged slaves to purchase their freedom. Slavery under Spain in Florida was not considered a lifelong condition, and free blacks were involved in the economic development of the region, many of them owning their own slaves.[17] Anna oversaw 60 slaves at Fort George Island which grew sea island cottoncitrus, corn, sugarcane, beans, and potatoes. John Maxwell, the fourth child, was born in 1824 when Kingsley and Anna lived on Fort George Island.[18] Kingsley also maintained relationships with three other African women who acted as co-wives or concubines: Flora H., Sarah M.; and Munsilna McGundo. Anna Jai remained thematriarch in the polygamous family. Historian Daniel Schafer posits that Anna Jai would have been familiar with the concepts of polygamy and marrying a slave master to acquire one's freedom.[19][note 1] Visitors to the plantation were invited to a dinner table where Kingsley displayed his multi-racial children with pride. He provided them with the best education he could afford, and considered them a shield from any potential racial uprising.[12]
Authors of an ethnological study of slavery at Kingsley Plantation characterized Kingsley as a man of complex paradoxes, defiantly proud of his success as a slaveholder, yet dedicated to his multiracial family.[20] Kingsley published a defense of slavery in 1828, identifying himself only as "An Inhabitant of Florida". He rationalized the institution as a necessary condition for any society, beneficial to owner and slave alike, and to the overall economy.[21] He did not consider race the only factor that should determine servitude status, writing, "Few, I think will deny that color and condition, if properly considered, are two very separate qualities ... our legislators ... have mistaken the shadow for the substance, and confounded together two very different things; thereby substantiating by law a dangerous and inconvenient antipathy, which can have no better foundation than prejudice."[21] In 1823 President James Monroe appointed Kingsley to Florida's Territorial Council, where he tried to persuade them to define the rights of free people of color. When it became apparent to him that they could not, he resigned.[22] The council passed laws that increasingly restricted the rights which free blacks enjoyed under Spanish control. The treatise was Kingsley's response to these restrictions; he favored the Spanish three-tier system of white landowners, black slaves, and freed blacks.[21][23] The pamphlet was reprinted again in 1834, and Southerners used its arguments to defend slavery in debates leading to the Civil War.
The Florida Territorial Council passed laws forbidding interracial marriage and the right of free blacks or mixed race descendants to inherit property. To avoid difficulties with the new government in what he termed its "spirit of intolerant prejudice", Kingsley sent his wives, children, and a few slaves to Haiti, by that time free black republic. His two daughters had already each married white planters and remained in Florida.[24][25] He sold the plantation to his nephew, Kingsley Beatty Gibbs in 1839, and transferred some of the slaves to his plantation in San Jose, now a neighborhood in Jacksonville.[note 2] Kingsley started a plantation in Haiti that was worked by former Fort George Island slaves, who had becomeindentured servants; slavery was not allowed in Haiti. They were to earn their freedom in nine years.[17] In 1842 Kingsley gave an interview to the abolitionist Lydia Child. When she asked him if he was aware that his occupation as a slave trader might be perceived as being akin to piracy, he responded "Yes; and I am glad of it. They will look upon a slaveholder just so, by and by. Slave trading was a very respectable business when I was young. The first merchants in England and America were engaged in it. Some people hide things which they think other people don’t like. I never conceal anything."[26]
He went on to exhibit considerable pride in the Haitian plantation built with the help of his sons:
I wish you would go there. [Anna] would give you the best in the house. You ought to go, to see how happy the human race can be. It is a fine, rich valley, about thirty miles from Port Platte; 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, till you could eat no more. My sons have laid out good roads, and built bridges and mills; the people are improving, and everything is prosperous.[14]
Kingsley died in the next year, while en route to New York City to work on a land deal.[27] Anna returned to Florida in 1846 to settle an inheritance dispute with some of her husband's white relatives; because the will had been made under Spanish law, when inheritance by free blacks was legal, the court ruled in her favor and control of the Kingsley's holdings in Florida remained with her and her children for several years.[28] Kingsley Beatty Gibbs sold the Fort George Island plantation in 1852 and moved to St Augustine.[29]

Post-Kingsley inhabitants

Black and white photo of an elderly African American woman looking at the viewer, wearing turn of the 20th century work clothes, a do-rag, and seated with her hands on her knees
Esther Bartley, born a slave on the plantation, shown living on the grounds in the early 20th century
Anna Jai moved with about 70 former slaves to the Arlington neighborhood of Jacksonville to live out her remaining years. The ownership of the island and farms immediately following its sale by Gibbs is unknown, but after the American Civil War, the Freedmen's Bureau managed the island and recently emancipated freedmen lived in the former slave quarters and farmed the land.[30] A New Hampshire farmer named John Rollins purchased the island in 1869 and, finding agriculture in Florida not as successful as he wished, transitioned the island into a tourist resort, building a large luxury hotel and attracting celebrities such as banker William Astor and writer Harriet Beecher Stowe. The slave quarters were displayed as tourist attractions. After the hotel burned down in 1888, the Rollins family successfully cultivated citrus until a freeze in 1894 destroyed their crop. Rollins' daughter's family was the last to live in the main house; she sold the island to private investors in 1923.[31]
Two clubs were constructed on the island for wealthy Jacksonville residents. One used the plantation house as a headquarters until they constructed their own building. Private clubs were popular until the Great Depression and they subsequently went out of fashion during World War II. The Florida Park Service acquired most of Fort George Island in 1955, including the plantation houses, barn, and slave quarters, calling it the Kingsley Plantation State Historic Site. An effort to restore the property to its appearance while the Kingsley family was in residence began in 1967.[32] The Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve was created by the National Park Service and established under President Ronald Reagan in 1988. Several sites, including Fort Caroline and other ecologically significant properties in Jacksonville, are under the management of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. Kingsley Plantation was transferred to the National Park Service in 1991.[33]