Local legends tell a harrowing tale of a ghostly spirit known to haunt the historic Kingsley Plantation. What revenant wanders the pastoral landscape and crumbling tabby walls of the slave quarters? If you believe the lore, it is the spirit of Old Red Eyes. Weird Florida shares the story on their website:
“Old Red Eyes is the wicked spirit of a slave that raped, brutalized, and killed, several of the plantation’s female slaves. He was caught by the other slaves and hanged from an oak tree near the entrance to the plantation. Although there are no historical records that document these events.”
The disclaimer they’ve appended to the end is found with nearly every description of Old Red Eyes. This, of course, leaves quite a bit of room for folkloric embellishment, which left us curious with regard to the life and times of those purportedly involved in this frightening tale.
If you’re a long-time fan of The GRIM Society, you probably already know what it means when our curiosity is peaked; if you’re a new visitor to our site, we hope you’re prepared to learn to love learning! We’re breaking this story up into a few posts, since there is a lot of history to cover and we have some really wonderful photographs to share with you.
Anna Kingsley: Senegalese Princess
Forget what you were taught about slavery. Rid yourself of preconceived notions of slave traders, plantation owners, and even of the life led by those held in captivity. Now imagine a young slave trader who, thanks to his growing wealth, is able to purchase a young black woman from the slave markets in Cuba.
Her name was Anta and she was West African, captured in present day Senegal. Her home country was ripped apart by warring factions and slave raids were frequent. There are rumors that Anna was born into the royal family, but these have yet to be substantiated. It is believed that Anna was 13 years old when she was purchased from the salve market in the fall of 1806.
Anna now belonged to a man who was both slave trader and plantation owner: Zephaniah Kingsley. Later, Zephaniah wrote that he and Anta, were married in a traditional African ceremony “in a foreign land” (likely Cuba) and that her name had been changed to Anna. By the time she arrived at Kingsley’s plantation in Laurel Grove, she was pregnant.
The Kingsley’s Plantations: Slavery in Spanish Florida
The slaves at Laurel Grove worked under a task system. They were given a daily quota for whichever job they were assigned; once they reached this quota, they were free to pursue personal tasks. Many of the slaves had personal gardens, some were even craftsmen who sold their finished goods to neighboring plantations and kept the profits for themselves.
In 1811, Kingsley granted Anna legal emancipation. Kingsley also granted their three children emancipation at the same time. He later wrote of Anna, describing her as “a fine, tall figure, black as jet, but very handsome. She was very capable, and could carry on all the affairs of the plantation in my absence as well as I could myself. She was affectionate and faithful, and I could trust her.”
In 1813, now a free woman, Anna Kingsley petitioned the Spanish government for land and was awarded 5 acres across the river from Laurel Grove. To get the farm going, Anna purchased goods, livestock, and 12 slaves.
A New Start
Zephaniah Kingsley was kidnapped in 1813. His captors wanted him to endorse the Patriot Rebellion, an attempt by Americans to annex Florida to the United States. Americans and the allied Creek Indians raided towns and plantations in north Florida; any person of color who was captured was sent into slavery, regardless of their legal status. These Patriots seized Laurel Grove and 41 of its slaves. They used the facilities as a headquarters while carrying out additional raids.
Anna approached the Spanish and negotiated for her escape, bringing along her children and a dozen slaves. Then she did something so brazen it still rings with defiance: she burned Kingsley’s plantation to the ground while the Spanish watched, then asked the Spanish to escort her to her own homestead, which she also set ablaze, preventing its use by the Patriots.
After the war the Spanish government granted Anna 350 acres thanks to her actions.
We’re going to leave off here today. Next up, the founding of the Fort George Island plantation and Anna’s House. Don’t miss it!