In 1814, Zephaniah Kingsley moved to Fort George Island and what is known today as the Kingsley Plantation. He brought his wife and three children (a fourth would be born at Fort George). As you may recall from our previous post, his wife, Anna Madgigine Jai, was from Senegal, West Africa, and was purchased by Kingsley as a slave. She actively participated in plantation management, acquiring her own land and slaves when freed by Kingsley in 1811.
The plantation on Fort George Island produced Sea Island cotton, citrus, sugar cane, and corn. The Kingsley’s had an enslaved workforce of approximately 60 sixty people, whose labor was a deciding factor in the success of the plantation. Kingsley continued to acquire property in north Florida and eventually possessed more than 32,000 acres, including four major plantation complexes and more than 200 slaves.
For a time, Anna moved in between Fernandina and Fort George Island, taking over managing the plantation while Kingsley was away on business. At some point in the 1820s, they built a separate kitchen connected to the main house by a covered walkway. Sometimes called the John “Don Juan” McQueen house, after the person who first built Kingsley Plantation, it had a room above it where Anna lived with her children. As odd as it may seem, this followed the common West African custom of wives’ living separately from their husbands, particularly in polygamous marriages. Kingsley took three other wives, all slaves, while at Fort George Island. Two of them gave him children.
On the island, the slaves were quartered a fifth of a mile from the plantation home in tabby cabins. Arranged in a semicircle, there were originally 32 cabins, 16 on either side of the road. This area was the heart of the slave community–the homes of the men, women, and children who lived and worked on Kingsley Plantation more than 150 years ago.
The enslaved people were barred from both reading and writing; without written sources recounting their experiences, a true understanding of their lives proves difficult. Archaeology, oral histories, accounts authored by Zephaniah Kingsley, official documents and photographic evidence help to provide clues, though.
In 1821, the United States purchased Florida from Spain in 1821. It’s important to note that Spanish society had relatively liberal policies with regard to race, but the new American territorial laws brought many changes. Conditions for Florida’s black population, free and enslaved, deteriorated rapidly and Kingsley, who was against the restrictive laws, found himself arguing that more humane treatment would ensure peace and the perpetuation of slavery. In 1828, he published these opinions in “A Treatise on The Patriarchal, or Co-operative System of Society As It Exists in Some Governments . . . Under the Name of Slavery.”
When they felt that the political climate was irreversible, Kingsley, Anna Jai and their sons moved to Haiti in 1837. Kingsley reported that this was to escape a “spirit of intolerant prejudice.” Kingsley established a colony for his family and some of his former slaves. In 1839, Fort George Island was sold to his nephew Kingsley Beatty Gibbs. Zephaniah Kingsley died in New York City in 1843.
Stay tuned for our next post, when we start to really examine the tale of Old Red Eyes!