Within the 46,000-acre Timucuan, Ecological and Historic Preserve sits Kingsley Plantation, another historical gem that provides a glimpse of Florida as it may have been hundreds of years ago. Friends described the property as a beautiful and peaceful spot for a picnic and to experience the splendor of the winding Fort George River. My husband and I found the property breathtakingly beautiful but were immediately interested in the stories of the people that lived and worked on the site many years ago.
When the Kingsley’s lived here, Fort George Island was only reachable by boat. Today, a canopy of live oak trees frame the rugged road leading to the plantation that guided us deeper into the forest where the landscape is untouched by outside development.
At the visitors’ center, I had the opportunity to talk with a knowledgeable park ranger. She encouraged me to research the history of the site and the vital role Anna Kingsley played in the plantation’s history.
Because of my opposing beliefs about slavery, it was difficult to write about the norms and practices of these times. However, I felt it important to recognize Anna's story by highlighting her strength, bravery, and accomplishments, during a tumultuous period in our history. This brief account is relevant to the site and includes resources and links for a more in-depth study.
Zephaniah Kingsley Jr. (1765-1843) was a complex and controversial figure. He was a ship captain, maritime merchant, coffee trader, author, and plantation owner. He actively took part in slave labor on his plantation as a business practice, yet he advocated for the emancipation of slaves.
In 1806, Kingsley purchased three female slaves in Cuba, including Anta Madjiguène Ndiaye, a princess in the Kingdom of Jolof, who was captured in Senegal and sold into slavery. Soon after arriving at Laurel Grove, his original plantation on the St. Johns River, Kingsley named Anta his wife and she became know as Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley and the mother of their four children. Kingsley emancipated Anna and their children in 1811, marking the beginning of her incredible life as a free woman. Anna was granted a title to land, purchased goods and livestock to start her own business, and perhaps surprisingly, purchased slaves.
In 1812, Laurel Grove became one of the many casualties of the Patriot Rebellion. With the loss of his plantation, Kingsley looked for a more defensible location and purchased a large plantation, established in 1760 by John McQueen, on Fort George Island. In 1814, he moved his family and remaining slaves to what is known today as Kingsley Plantation, where they remained for two decades. The plantation structures had also been destroyed during the rebellion and where quickly rebuilt upon their arrival.
The remains of the slave cabins are the first thing we saw upon entering the plantation gates. The tiny cabins were made of a concrete material called tabby and divided into two rooms with a fireplace. Sleeping lofts could be added for children. The four larger cabins are thought to have been given to the “drivers” or foremen for the plantation to reward their greater responsibility. I tried to envision what it must have been like to live under these cramped conditions.
Kingsley encouraged enslaved workers to live in their family units, practice their African cultures, and were allowed to spend their time as they wished after they completed their day’s assignments. He believed this would increase satisfaction, decrease rebellion, and benefit his business.
Stable and Garden
If you prefer to walk, a path leads from the slave cabins to the stable or you can drive and park in the lot next to the main buildings. The stable was used as a work area, storage for livestock, and equipment. Inside, we found plaques positioned throughout the barn that provided insightful facts about the daily lives of the enslaved workers.
Across from the stable, we observed a flourishing garden that represented the produce grown on the plantation for consumption such as potatoes, peas, and okra. The main cash crop was Sea Island cotton.
Kitchen and Anna’s House
The kitchen, known as Anna’s house, was built in 1820. Cooking was done in this building and then taken to the main house and water was drawn from the well on the property. African cooking may have been mixed with that of European cuisine within this small kitchen. I wonder if any of the recipes we use today were born from the mixing of the two cultures and imagine the robust activity centered there.
Waterfront and Owners Home
Anna and her children lived in the main house from 1814 to 1837, yet would sporadically take up residence in Anna’s private dwelling on the second floor of the kitchen. This gave her greater access to oversee the workers.
The Kingsley’s main home faces the Fort George River and is the oldest standing plantation house in the state of Florida. Being located on the water was common because it was the easiest way to ship their crops and bring in supplies. It is a two-story house with a full basement and a widow’s walk on top of the house. Currently, the house is not open for tours on the weekdays.
I came away with a better understanding of this unique period in our history and an interest in learning more.
My next blog will bring me back to the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, hiking trails where Pre-Columbian and Timucuan Indians once lived. I will visit the exhibit of Fort de la Caroline and learn about the French colonists who settled in the 1500s.
Please join me on the next trail.
Location: From I-95, exit at Heckscher Drive and follow signs
Hours: 9:00 am to 5:00 pm seven days a week except for holidays – Call ahead to confirm guided tours on the weekend.
Gift Shop: The site has a nice gift shop and books on the Plantation.
Bring: Bug spray and water in hot weather.
Tour Time: Approximately 1 hour
Walking: The paths are well-groomed to allow walking with ease and areas to sit and enjoy the property.
Schafer, Daniel L
Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley: African Princess, Florida Slave, Plantation Slaveowner, University of Florida Press: Gainesville, 2003
Schafer, Daniel L
2013 Zephaniah Kingsley Jr. and the Atlantic World: Slave Trader, Plantation Owner, Emancipator. University of Florida Press: Gainesville, 2013
National Park Service
The Jacksonville Historical Society – The Patriot War of 1812