research

The Kingsley Plantation Ghost, Part II

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). Drawing of the Kingsley mansion at the Kingsley PlantationAs 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.

Kitchen house at Kingsley Plantation - Jacksonville, Florida 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.

Drawing of tabby houses at the Kingsley Plantation

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!

Tracking the Kingsley Plantation Ghost

A Tree found on the Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville, FloridaOld 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!

 

Believers and Skeptics: a large-scale test

I was recently browsing Google Scholar and came across an interesting publication. Titled Paranormal psychic believers and skeptics: a large-scale test of the cognitive differences hypothesis, the article was written by Stephen J. Gray and David A. Gallo, both affiliated with Department of Psychology, University of Chicago.
The essence of the article is this (taken from the abstract):

Why do some people believe, while others are skeptical? According to the cognitive differences hypothesis, individual differences in the way people process information about the world can contribute to the creation of psychic beliefs, such as differences in memory accuracy (e.g., selectively remembering a fortune teller’s correct predictions) or analytical thinking (e.g., relying on intuition rather than scrutinizing evidence). While this hypothesis is prevalent in the literature, few have attempted to empirically test it. Here, we provided the most comprehensive test of the cognitive differences hypothesis to date.

The Brain from a Paranormal PerspectiveI was intrigued, so I pulled up the full article and read more. The primary goal of the study was to conduct a comprehensive test of the memory distortion hypothesis; they achieved this by testing the prediction that there would be individual differences in memory accuracy and distortion between those who believed in paranormal/psychic phenomenon and those who did not. The researchers also looked for potential links between psychic beliefs and measures of analytical thinking and personality characteristics.

The test was done through a combination of laboratory and online tasks and through multiple memory measures. They included both episodic memory and autobiographical memory tasks. Working memory was also tested, as it’s been linked to the belief/disbelief in other studies.

Rather than drone on and on about the testing process, etc, I’ll simply link you to the article (pdf here) and give you their summary of results (emphasis mine):

Our cognitive testing showed that there were no consistent group differences on tasks of episodic memory distortion, autobiographical memory distortion, or working memory capacity, but skeptics consistently outperformed believers on several tasks tapping analytical or logical thinking as well as vocabulary.

These findings demonstrate cognitive similarities and differences between these groups and suggest that differences in analytical thinking and conceptual knowledge might contribute to the development of psychic beliefs. We also found that psychic belief was associated with greater life satisfaction, demonstrating benefits associated with psychic beliefs and highlighting the role of both cognitive and noncognitive factors in understanding these individual differences.

Rather interesting results. I hope to see a continuation of their research; perhaps examining those who score equally on these tasks on a believer/nonbeliever basis to see if there are any other differences between the two groups.

What do you think?

That’s Not Paranormal Evidence—Its Your Mind Playing Tricks On You!

Investigating Our Perceptions of the Paranormal

If you’ve ever spent time researching the paranormal, you’ve probably noticed that much of the discussion surrounding the topic can be summarized as nothing more than opinions being debated among believers and non-believers alike. While this statement might not sit well with those of us who dedicate our time to the field of paranormal research, the truth we must admit to ourselves is that nearly every premise we operate under is unproven; they are merely surmises generated by a collective of individual perception and personal belief.

For those who have never been involved in a lively debate on, for example, the types of paranormal activity, this concept might not make sense at first glance, but you’ve probably seen at least one television show peppered with the term ‘personal experience’. This term is the key to the entire field of paranormal research. Everything we do is affected by our personal experiences, and those experiences are all based on our individual perception of the world around us. This long-standing situation has allowed those outside the field to target our research as pseudoscience.

All of this begs the question: Should the ‘data’ collected through paranormal research—photographs of orbs, video of strange shadows, audio recordings of what most interpret as a voice—which relies on individual perceptions be considered evidence? Its a difficult question to answer. The collection of data might seem to be science-based as it makes use of technology, yet even with modern recording devices, it all begins in the mind.

What Do You Hear?

The easiest way to understand just how much perception affects our evidenceis to test your own skills. Listen to the audio clip below, then challenge your friends to listen to it. Compare what you each think you’ve heard.

http://soundcloud.com/thegrimsociety/sonyaudio-2805

Just a tip: clicking on the link above will navigate your browser to SoundCloud.com. If you’d like to open the sound file in a new window, right click on it and choose to do so; if not, just hit your browser’s back button to return to the article once you’re done listening to the file.

Evidence: What It Is and What It Isn’t

While it might seem natural to begin by digging further into the actual data itself, the first item of issue that must be addressed is the definition and concept of evidence. Ask anyone on the street if they know what evidence is and you’re certain to hear a resounding yes. Then ask them to give you the definition. You might just be amazed at the variety of responses you receive. I recently surveyed a group of family and friends, asking them this question: Without looking it up, can you define evidence? Here are two of their responses:

“I would say, ‘that which supports a claim’. I’m certain that there is some Latin involved which would explain the exact word.”

“Physical props that confirm a theory?”

Who has the right answer? Do you know? Here’s the Dictionary.com definition for the word:

1. that which tends to prove or disprove something; ground for belief; proof.

2. something that makes plain or clear; an indication or sign: His flushed look was visible evidence of his fever.

3. Law. data presented to a court or jury in proof of the facts in issue and which may include the testimony of witnesses, records, documents, or objects.

Instead of helping to clarify the point, the alternative definitions for the word merely confuse the issue—and that is before we have even added in modern philosophical debate to the mix. There are two well-known quotes on the topic of philosophy and evidence which sum up the problem quite well. The first is from the book Philosophy in the Twentieth Century, written by A.J. Ayer, who observed,“For my own part, I think that if one were looking for a single phrase to capture the stage to which philosophy has progressed, ‘the study of evidence’ would be a better choice than ‘the study of language’.” This concept is further expounded upon by R.G. Collingwood in The Idea of History, where he wrote,“And when we try to define ‘evidence’ … we find it very difficult.” Difficult indeed!

This philosophical mire is exactly what the paranormal investigator wades into each time he or she uses the term evidence. Do they define that evidence as something which they believe proves or disproves the existence of ghosts, or is it ‘hard evidence,’ like that we’d find in a courtroom? And if they do indeed speak of that ‘hard evidence’ variety, does it not follow that it should be physical evidence or material facts that can not be debated or disproved?

The most frustrating factor of this confusion over the actual meaning of evidence is that it is only one facet of the larger debate surrounding paranormal research. If we accept that evidence is a reference only to a data set that is convincing to those who do not currently believe in the existence of paranormal activity, we’re excluding scientific research from the field on a wholesale level. If we instead choose to embrace the ideal of evidence as data which offers proof of fact, we bring the data itself into question, which in turn leads us back to our question of perception.

Data and Perception: Interpretation of Stimuli

At this point, you’re probably wondering exactly what perception has to do with a photograph or video. The answer is surprisingly simple: not everyone’s brain will interpret stimuli in the same manner. therefore, many ‘paranormal’ experiences are actually just normal experiences interpreted differently. This concept applies to everything from a ghostly encounter to a digital photograph.

These altered perceptions are often described by professionals as mistaken or illusive. Examples of this type of alteration abound, such as a situation when a coat rack is mistaken for a man due to low lighting and indistinguishable shadows. Altered perception can also be explained as plain imagining, such as when the shadows appear to be something they aren’t, taking on a shape and substance of their own. As an example, let’s revisit the picture below, which we discussed in our blog post Psychology of the Paranormal Pt. 1:

optical illusion

It’s all in the perception. It is for this reason that all data collected through a paranormal investigation not issuing from a scientific implement is suspect, even those seemingly-irrefutable videos and photographs. In fact, even when dealing with exact measurements such as time, temperature, pressure, etc, your collected data can be refuted if you’ve used the equipment improperly or failed to be exacting in your documentation. Yet those numbers are still removed from interpretation by an individual, whereas photographs and audio or video recordings are still external stimuli that our brain has to interpret.

As a community, paranormal investigation teams need to accept that no individuals perception of experiences will ever be credited as being scientific proof for an encounter with the paranormal. Science is much more likely to accept that those shadowy ghosts or that whispered response you’re perceiving are merely a trick of the mind is known as pareidolia. Pareidolia is, “the imagined perception of a pattern or meaning where it does not actually exist, as in considering the moon to have human features.”

To learn more about how our mind works to interpret the stimuli around us, you can research both pareidolia and the fusiform face area, a region of our brain where we process faces and possibly other stimuli that we are extremely familiar with.

At The Threshold of Personal Belief

All of this information leads one to wonder if perhaps our inability to understand paranormal experiences is due to a lack of ‘belief’ in the experiences, or a deeper inability to understand the workings of our own minds. If we are unable to develop a research methodology that is removed from the acts of perception, how will we ever be able to scientifically quantify what occurs during a paranormal event—or if those events even happen to begin with? With the understanding that our mental processes are affecting each piece of data we collect, how do we, as investigators, separate the personal experiences from the evidence? At this point, there are no obvious answers, but we are certain that, through the dedicated efforts of research teams across the country, the puzzle of these investigation methods will be solved.

Einstein once said,”Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

Though unintended, this statement sums up the current situation in field of paranormal research. The most effient way of achieving our end goal of understanding is to find a common ground between accepted science and paranormal research. Without scientists to help guide our research, the field investigations that paranormal teams conduct will never offer real evidence; without teams to carry out the field research, scientists will continue to miss out on opportunities to find an explanation for phenomena that are reported across the globe. Until we truly accept one another and embrace a new partnership, we continue to simply debate our personal beliefs.

Remote Reading

The GRIM Society is looking for a psychic or a medium who can do readings based on images and who would be willing to spend a few minutes looking at something for us. We have a couple photographs that we’d like to have read, as they seem to be generating an odd response.

If you’re interested in taking a look, email me at thegrimsociety at gmail.com and I’ll forward you the pictures.

Ghost Stories versus Historical Research

I love a ghost story. Any ghost story. My book shelf is loaded with books on Florida ghosts, Irish Ghosts, New England ghosts, lighthouse ghosts, battlefield ghosts; basically, I have a lot of books with ghost stories in them.

Likewise, I find myself often watching T.V. shows about ghosts. I enjoy the stories for what they are – entertainment. The problem comes when you start looking into the actual facts of these stories. Often, the tales are impossible to research because they fail to give important details such as names and dates.  Do stories that are unsubstantiated have less value than those with verifiable facts? I suppose it depends on your outlook.  If all you’re looking for is entertainment, then no.  But if you’re looking for something more, something deeper, you have to be able to weed out the urban legends and get down to the bones of a story.  That is where historical research comes in.

I know we don’t update the website very often, but that isn’t because we’re not active.  While you won’t find us posting endless hours of EVPs or countless orb photographs, that doesn’t mean we’re not hard at work.  We’re usually plodding away in search of a stray fact, some dusty truth hidden below the fantastic tales told by so many websites and books.  Here is where we conduct most of our paranormal investigations:

P1080871

Yep- we do most of our investigating at the local library.  You’d be amazed what you can find in there! The items in that image are the tools of the trade that often get overlooked when you drop by a ghost hunting website and check out their recommended equipment. A pen, some paper, old newspapers on film and a microfiche reader. They pair nicely with HeritageQuest, NewsBank and Ancestry.com. In fact, it doesn’t need to get much more high-tech than that to debunk most ghost stories we come across.  Fact checking the tales is tireless, often unrewarding work.  Often, we discover some tidbit of information in an old newspaper article or locate a headstone that proves without a shadow of a doubt that the tale we’ve been investigating is, well, complete make believe.  It can be quite a let-down, and being the voice of reason when everyone else wants to hear a good story can be daunting at times.  It’s a bit like being a detective, a genealogist, a historian and a lawyer arguing an unpopular case all rolled into one.

Despite all that, there is sometimes a reward; a pot of gold at the end of the research rainbow.  A good example of this can be found in the Boston House.  We’ve been researching the claims attached to the building for years.  Many of them have proven to be nothing more than a really great story to tell around a campfire.  Yet as we debunked those tales, a different picture emerged.  The Boston House has been dubbed haunted for many, many years- something well documented in the local papers.  Those reported paranormal encounters pre-date the currently popular explanation for the hauntings.  Even more interesting is the fact that the home played host to a number of tragedies, any of which could have resulted in paranormal activity.  Finally, as if it were icing on the cake, many credible witnesses have come forward over the years to share their experiences.  These experiences create the perfect situation for furthering the investigation; specific claims that can be investigated on site.

I often wonder how other groups work through their cases.  I find it hard to believe we’re alone in the stacks, the odd group out as we sift through the sensational stories to find the gems that call for further investigation.   I can only hope there are, and that groups with this methodology prevail in finding out the truth behind all the ghost stories we love to tell.

Psychology of the Paranormal Pt. 1

Have you ever heard a voice in your head? Seen something that you can only describe as visualized, or perhaps seen with the Mind’s eye? Many paranormal encounters are described with terms such as these- and just as many scientists discredit them as being instances of Mental Imagery.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosphy, Mental Imagery is quasi-perceptual experience. This means that it resembles a perceptual experience, but occurs without the appropriate triggers- scent without a source, piano music without a piano, etc.

The argument from a scientific standpoint, as it appears to me at least, rests on the heels of perception. Not everyone’s brain will interpret stimuli in the same manner; therefore, many ‘paranormal’ experiences are merely normal experiences interpreted differently.

This altered perception is often described as mistaken or illusive perceptions (such as seeing a small bush some distance away and, because it is dark and indistinguishable, perceiving it to be a bear) or as plain imagining- like seeing a shape in a cloud. As an example, check out the picture below:

optical illusion

Did you see a duck? Or was it a rabbit? Both?  It’s all in the perception, and that is why no individuals ‘mental imagery’ experiences can be credited as being scientific proof for an encounter with the paranormal.

The thing I find most interesting about this out-of-hand dismissal of so-called mental imagery can be found in the fact that scientists themselves can’t really figure out what mental imagery is; they’re not sure what causes it, they don’t know if it has a singular purpose or if it is simply a part of the ‘way we work’. There are several active theories that attempt to explain mental imagery, but each one is highly contested by other theories.

Which leads me to wonder if perhaps our inability to understand and quantify paranormal experiences is due to a lack of ‘belief’ in the experiences, or a deeper inability to understand the workings of our own minds.