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!
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!
We would like to thank Curtis Boyd for providing access to The Governor’s House (also known as the McCarty House). He granted us the unrestricted opportunity to investigate and research, which we took advantage of on multiple occasions. Without his support and patience, we would not have been able to conduct such an extensive and complete investigation. Hopefully, the documentation captured there will help to further the field of Paranormal Research.
Having grown up in Fort Pierce, I had driven past the old Governor’s House countless times. It stood on the hill over looking the Indian River Lagoon and it made one wonder about the good times and the bad it had seen. Unfortunately, time began to take a toll on the house. The back to back hurricanes (Francis and Jean) in 2004 dealt a severe blow and Hurricane Wilma in 2005 was in “reality” the coup de gras. As the years past, the house began to take on the ominous look of a haunted house from a classic horror film.
Our interest in the house began to develop in 2007, when while conducting research on another nearby building we were given our first hint there might be something to investigate in this building too. This is from a post on our website in October of 2007:
The other night we were at our current extended-investigation location, taking pictures of the outside of the home when I was surprised to hear someone (female) say something that sounded like “Help Me” from the McCarty house next door. Let me set the scene….this is the McCarty House, built in 1905 and currently slated for demolition.
My husband, who was standing next to me at the time, did not hear a thing, which was interesting, but the oddest thing was that the sound came from the top of a tree in the back yard of the home. The tree is near a 2nd floor window, which is boarded up. We searched the area for about 20 minutes, but couldn’t find anything that would account for the noise. We finished up the pictures of the outside of the house we’re investigating and headed home.
The next morning a friend messaged me to tell me she had just had the chance to read our recently posted research. She also commented that she wished she were at work (as a 911 dispatcher), as they get a lot of calls from the area. I inquired about the calls and here is what she said:
We get “ladies of the evening” calling up that there are screams coming from that area but they never say its from that house you’re researching. They are about the house next door.
I of course ask if it is the McCarty house. She responds:
AH yes! That sounds right. they call to report a woman asking for help. they always say someone is calling from UP…..and we always get calls, can’t remember what time of the night or what nights are the “norm” but i do remember getting calls, and they are always drunk chicks and ‘ladies of the night’, always female now that i think about it and they always say it sounds like a female voice yelling for help. of course when the cops get out there the person calling it in is long gone and there’s never anyone screaming
There is one officer that you cant PAY to go to that location- she REFUSES to respond to either house, flat out, unless someone is getting shot at she ain’t going
Now we’re really interested. The house has no history of paranormal activity that we can find, other than these people reporting the woman screaming. Well, last night we went back to our investigation house but also spent a bit of time investigating the McCarty house. While we were there, we couldn’t find anything that would account for the ‘screaming woman’.
Then we came home and started reviewing our evidence. Here is what we found:
Note the two feral cats in the bottom left of the image. You can’t see them when you’re there in person, but we’d be willing to bet $100 that one was in the tree the other night. In case you haven’t heard a feral cat cry, they can sound just like a woman.
At that point, we had relegated the McCarty House “haunting” to wild cats, but the reports kept coming. Some of them were just the sound of screaming, though one report was of a person in the building banging on the window as people were walking by outside. Our interest was cemented and we began to conduct in depth research into the history of the location and of those who lived there.
In March of 2010, one of our team was given permission to photo document the house before it was demolished. During the photo session, the gentleman working to salvage fixtures from the house, Dean Thomason, shared with our group that he frequently heard footsteps, doors opening and closing, light switches being turned and the sounds of talking on other floors when he was the only one inside the building.
What will follow in the next few weeks is our research into the history, our investigations and finally, what we found during our many visits the McCarty House.
Most people we talk to have never heard of Deputy Sheriff Gerard Schaefer- we hadn’t, and we’ve been residents in the area since birth. It took a rumor overhead by a friend to tip us off to the strange history of Port Saint Luice; a little digging led to the truth and the story of Gerard Schaefer. This twisted individual was responsible for the deaths of possibly hundreds of women, with his victims remains having been found at both Blind Creek and in what is now Oak Hammock Park in Port Saint Lucie. For a full history of this man, visit Michael Newton’s article, “All About Gerard Schaefer“.
The murderous past of Oak Hammock Park was compounded in the years after Schaefer’s horrific crimes took place. Soon groups of Satanic worshipers moved in, claiming the tree Schaefer’s victims had been hung from as their own. They held rituals under what was fast becoming known as the Devil’s Tree, despite the attempts of others in the area to prevent their activity. Here are a few excerpts from the local papers over the past years:
“With Bibles in hand and a can of paint at their sides, a team of pastors set out to rid an oak tree of evil Thursday after reports that the tree has been the site of two murders and several satanic rituals. Chanting “demons be gone” and “this is holy property,” four pastors and two church members joined hands around a 150-year-old live oak on Southwest Leafy Road.”
Author: TERESA LANE, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Date: March 5, 1993
“A 150-year-old oak tree slated for the chopping block because of folklore tying it to evil will not be razed, the tree’s owner said Friday. Instead, an 8-foot wooden cross will be erected near the tree to warn devil-worshipers they’re not welcome on Southwest Leafy Road, said Alan Weierman, administrator of the children’s shelter that owns the 30-acre tract in western Port St. Lucie.”
Author: TERESA LANE, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer Date: March 6, 1993
The land on which the Devil’s Tree grew eventually found its way into the hands of the Parks and Recreation Department in Port Saint Lucie. As the story goes, the employees were instructed to cut the tree down in preparation for the land becoming a public park. Here is an excerpt from a standard “friend of a friend” accounting of what happened next:
“The city decided to remove the tree. They contracted the work out to a local tree removal service, who went in with their chainsaws and equipment to cut down the oak, however, their chainsaws wouldn’t fire up. Frustrated, but not ready to give up, they returned with some unused chainsaws, and were surprised to find they also wouldn’t start. All of the chainsaws worked properly later on.
The story got even odder because they came back again, planning to cut down the tree with an old fashioned two person pull saw, the kind made out of tempered steel. Oddly, the teeth broke off the saw.
At this point, the city felt they had run out of options and just decided to leave the tree. That is- until recently. I have heard rumor that perhaps the Devil’s Tree may have been cut down without anyone having been told. Since I haven’t been to Oak Hammock Park recently, I can’t confirm that though.”
In addition to the rumors of activity at The Devil’s Tree, it is said that the woman’s restroom at the park is also a spot with unexplained noises and other events. Today, we decided to take the chance and visit Oak Hammock Park in search of the infamous Devil’s Tree. We went off directions we’d found on another website, which pointed us towards the tree and explained that it was a very old, large oak with metal benches under its branches and a lot of Spanish moss hanging above. After following the directions to reach the tree, we came across one that seemed to fit the bill exactly. We took pictures and discussed the fact that none of us had an erie feeling from the tree, something everyone seemed to report. We continued on down the path, eager to explore the remainder of the park, which is an idyllic slice of ‘old Florida’.
It wasn’t long before we came upon the second tree. It was a very large, old oak. There were metal benches under the branches. The Spanish moss was there. All the signs, yet this was the second tree that fit the description. We thought it odd and, after taking pictures of this second tree, continued on down the path- where we found tree number three. There are five large, old oaks that fit the description of the Devil’s Tree along one path alone, making it nearly impossible to identify with the information we currently have.
Having said that, only one tree gave off an eerie feeling; only one tree seemed to be “creepy”. It also had a rather interesting branch, which you will be able to see in close up in the images below. We also took time to check out the women’s restroom, which didn’t seem like anything interesting during the day.
We’re not done exploring the Devil’s Tree- we are currently attempting to reach those who were involved in the original cases in an attempt to find someone who can verify which of these majestic oaks has the sordid past.
This location is going to prove difficult for any small research team. There are two separate trails; one leading to the graveyard and one leading to the burial mounds. Both paths are littered with debris and overgrown with weeds. The path to the graveyard winds through the woods and will be nearly impossible to find in the dark without the use of night vision.
Additionally, Spruce Bluff has been surrounded by housing developments. Roads encircle it, creating the typical traffic issues of shadows and sounds. There are electric and telephone lines on the outside of the park grounds, but no improvements within the park are visible. There are no underground cable or line markers; however, with such a large amount of housing in the area, there very well might be unmarked lines.
For those interested, here are some images from the scouting expedition.
After the end of the Second Seminole War, Congress passed the Armed Occupation Act, which provided for the settlement of the unsettled part of east Florida. (That was 1842; Florida became a state in 1845.) Under the Armed Occupation Act, any head of family or single man eighteen or over, was able to claim 160 acres of land, south of Cedar Key and Palatka, Florida. Under the law, the man must live on for five years and put at least five acres under cultivation. This Act enabled thousands of people to move to Florida to settle the region.
John Enos Fultz Jr., originally from South Carolina, was one of those people. He founded a settlement at a location called Spruce Bluff in 1889, when he moved to homestead 160 acres on Winter Creek. Other settlers soon followed. Through the 1890′s they tried pineapple farming, which was being done successfully all around Stuart, Jensen and up toward Ft. Pierce, clearing the land to make their fortune in pineapples, much of which was transported to northern markets, such as New York.
In the late 1890′s, William and Harley Crews came to Spruce Bluff to run a sawmill. John Fultz rowed and sailed the St. Lucie River to Stuart and back, to deliver mail, was paid $10 a month. Harry Hill raised bees and promoted the production of honey in local newspapers.
Times were hard for the settlers. Measles, Malaria, Chickenpox, and difficulties during childbirth took its toll. Many died very young. Mosquitoes were a constant problem. They built crude cabins, some with oiled-paper windows because they couldn’t afford glass panes. There were no roads in the area. All supplies and sale-able products came up from Stuart or Rio in boats. Occasionally traveling ministers came down the coast on sailboats to preach to gatherings of settlers. Spruce Bluff eventually grew large enough to have a school and post office.
A freeze in the winter of 1894/95 killed most of the pineapples in the area. When the crop didn’t thrive, there were few options. Some settlers (like Fultz) left, going to Stuart or Ft. Pierce and by 1905 the original families had left Spruce Bluff. When St. Lucie County was formed in that same year, Fultz became the first clerk of the court and lived in Ft. Pierce with his second wife and family. He owned over 600 acres of Spruce Bluff when he died in 1921. Today, very little is left of the small community.
There is a cemetery located at the back of the property. This small cemetery contains the remains of 7 residents of Spruce Bluff and is all that has survived of the settlement, identified by headstones were 6, which were vandalized and replaced with the marble monument.
In addition to this cemetery, visitors to Spruce Bluff are often surprised to find that, yet again, the town was erected next to an ancient Ais burial mound. In this case, there were rumored to be three original mounds; two were razed to make way for the roads in the modern town of Port Saint Lucie.
As we prepare for an in-depth exploration of the Old Fort Park, we felt it imperative to understand the history behind the location.
Old Fort Park is the site of Fort Pierce, a military installation constructed by the U.S. Army in Florida with the purpose of being a main supply depot for the army during the Second Seminole War. During the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), the U.S. Army began setting up military posts throughout the state of Florida. In 1837 Col. Benjamin K. Pierce (brother to the future 14th president) was sent down the Indian River from St. Augustine, charged with finding a location to build a base for operations in the area. Finding a fresh water spring, he chose his spot on a bluff overlooking the Indian River Lagoon. A year later, he built a fort out of palmetto trees.
Col. Pierce and his men were far from the first residents in the area, though the town is named after him. In fact, the fort itself was constructed near an ancient burial mound of the Ais Indians.
The mound is several hundred feet around, and a series of stone steps takes you to the top, where there is a beautiful view of the Indian River, named after the Ais. Although the Ais died out 250 years before the fort was built- long before the Seminoles migrated south from Alabama and Georgia- the survival of their structure compared to the vanishing of the soldiers’ fort, which burned to the ground in the 1840s, is quite remarkable.
We will be going out during the day to take pictures of the location and to scout for any situations that might interfere with the conduction of an investigation.