As February winds to an end, it seem only fitting that we spent the end of Black History month exploring the Kingsley Plantation. The plantation was first built when Florida was a Spanish colony. American planters came across the border from Georgia looking for rich lands where they could grow cotton, tobacco, sugar cane, corn and other crops.
The Kinsley Plantation was built by slaves in 1798 as the centerpiece of a massive plantation on Fort George Island. It is the oldest plantation house in Florida. The front of the home faces the Fort George River, which would have been the primary route of transportation and communication. Schooners and barges were loaded there with Sea Island cotton and other crops for transport to market.
In 1814 the plantation became the home of Zephaniah Kingsley and his African wife, Anta (Anna) Madgigine Jai. Kingsley had purchased Anna after as a slave in Cuba in 1806. He legally freed both her and their children in 1811.
We spent a considerable amount of time digging through Anna Kinglsey’s history. How she was a free woman in Africa- possibly of royal ascent. A woman who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Captured as part of a slave raid by other African Americans ( essentially a war between villages) and then sold to the Europeans as a slave.
The Kingsley family prospered under Florida’s Spanish government. Anna was her husband’s partner in the operation of the farm and she also owned land and slaves of her own.
However, things changed in 1821 when the United States gained possession of Florida. Laws were implemented greatly restricting the activities of both slaves and free blacks. Zephaniah Kingsley fought against such laws. Despite the fact that he owned slaves, he was an early proponent of treating people according to their abilities, not their color.
He debated with lawmakers over the civil liberties of free blacks and even wrote a major treatise on the subject. By the 1830s, however, the situation became intolerable for the Kingsleys and they decided to leave the country- which meant that the fifty slaves would be given their freedom because they were relocating to Haiti- which had become a free black republic following a bloody revolution.
The Kingsley Plantation is now maintained by the National Park Service as part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. The park preserves not only the main house and kitchen, but thousands of acres that were once part of Zephaniah and Anna Kingsley’s farm.
Dotting the landscape can be seen many features of the plantation, including an original barn, the waterfront, a garden where samples of Sea Island cotton, indigo and other crops can be seen and the ruins of the slave cabins.
The slave quarters of the farm, one of which has been restored, were actually not very different than the homes lived in by most average Floridians of the time. Each had two rooms, one of which included a fireplace for cooking and heat, while the other served as a bedroom.
The cabins are uniquely arranged in a long semicircle, similar to the design of many African villages.
Once we finished the education piece of the day, we headed off to explore Big Talbot State Back and Boneyard Beach to unwind. It took a mile long hike and then we had to scale down 8 feet while holding onto nothing but tree roots- but it was totally worth it.