The Kingsley Plantation, one of the legendary Florida plantations established during the Second Spanish Period, was located just north of Jacksonville on windswept Amelia Island then called Fort George Island. The beautiful plantation, with its face to the sea, was founded by the eccentric Zephaniah Kingsley, who was born in Scotland on 4, December 1765. His family immigrated to America, arriving in South Carolina in 1773, just before the American Revolution. His father became a successful merchant who remained loyal to England so the family emigrated to Canada after the Revolution.
In 1803, at about age thirty-eight, Kingsley arrived in St. Augustine in pursuit of land grants. He also became a slave trader. After obtaining huge tracts of land in East Florida, Kingsley built a plantation at Laurel Grove on Doctor’s Lake. He became one of the most successful slavers operating at the time. He traveled frequently to Cuba, and in 1806 he met a black woman there who would become his wife and life-long companion.From “Notes on Black Florida History” by Marvin Dunn: an unpublished manuscript, p.3.
Anna-Jai was a royal princess of the Wolof tribe in present-day Senegal. She was captured when she was thirteen years old and was brought to Florida in 1806 by Zephaniah Kingsley whose plantation house has been preserved. Kingsley was a slave trader who got the child pregnant during the voyage from Africa. They had several children together and when he died in 1843, he left much of his fortune to his black wife and racially-mixed children. His will was challenged by his white relatives.
Kingsley traveled frequently to Cuba, and in 1806 he found a black woman there who would become his wife and life-long companion. Kingsley took notice of the tall Wolof girl……among the hundreds of Africans for sale that day. A native of Senegal, West Africa, her name was Anna Madgigine Jai.Dunn, A History of Florida Through Black Eyes, p.2.
She and her mother were both daughters of distinguished Wolof families. Anna and her mother were taken captive in 1806 by warriors from another tribe. They became slaves of Amari Ngoone Ndella, the king of Kajoor. Being of royal lineage, it was humiliating for Anna and her mother to be captured and sold to slavers. In exchange for the captives, Ndella had received cloth, liquor, and luxury goods from European slave traders. With about 150 other slaves, Anna and her mother were crowded aboard the Sally, a Danish ship, and arrived in Havana, Cuba, several weeks later. She was auctioned off to the highest bidder, Zephaniah Kingsley. She was about thirteen years old.Dunn, A History of Florida Through Black Eyes, p.3.
The Wolof people
The Wolof people are a West African ethnic group found in northwestern Senegal, The Gambia, and southwestern coastal Mauritania. In Senegal, the Wolof are the largest ethnic group comprising about 40 percent of the population today. They refer to themselves as Wolof, and speak the Wolof language – a West Atlantic branch of the Niger-Congo family of languages.
Wolof men of Senegal, Africa
He could smell the beast hours before he finally saw it. It was an enormous bull elephant with tusks over seven feet long. He had been tracking it through the bush for two days. The bull was in a heightened state of sexual excitement. In that condition, bull elephants urinate almost constantly emitting a powerful odorous trail that could be detected from over a mile away. Bull elephants in this condition are very aggressive and dangerous. Once Abdu finally saw it, he had second thoughts. Maybe he wasn’t really ready after all. He was sixteen years old and it was a Wolof tribal custom that when a boy reached sixteen years, in order to be recognized as a man he must go into the bush alone and kill a bull elephant or a male lion with only a knife or with a very long spear called an assegai
Abdu (“the son of royalty”) as had his own father and grandfather, chose to use his assegai the point of which had been dipped in a powerful poison derived from the highly toxic sap of the candelabra tree. If he managed to prick the animal’s skin just deeply enough the poison would work its magic. As the sun set and a chill descended upon the savannah, Abdu moved quietly towards the behemoth. As it lifted its head to eat from the tall branches of a gum tree, Abdu emerged and quickly threw his assegal with all the force his young arm could muster. Whether by skill or sheer luck, the spear lodged itself deep in a vein in the animal’s neck.
Blood began spilling out in large spurts soaking the ground and bushes. Trumpeting and in full stampede, the elephant headed for the cover of thick bush and the gathering darkness. Knowing that the fresh blood would attract lions and hyenas, he moved a short distance away and built a small fire to fend off animals in the night. Then he settled himself into the softness of the Bermuda grass bed he had made for himself. He was at peace as he watched a purple and orange curtain descend upon the savannah.
There was no reason to rush. The blood trail would be fresh in the morning and he knew that the elephant would die. By the time the sun rose, lions would be feasting on it. This did not matter. He merely needed to know where to find the bones when the lions, hyenas and vultures were finished. He would then return, perhaps in six weeks, and take the tusks back to Koldo, his village. And so, under a million stars that cold night Abdu wrapped himself tightly in his Zebra-skin blanket and clutching his assegal to his breast realized that he had become a Wolof man.
Hundreds of years ago, the Wolof conquered many tribes in the northwestern Senegal area in Africa. They had come from the northeast in about the eleventh century. They are a tall, dark-skinned people and likely came from the Nile Valley where they had been a part of the ancient Egyptian civilization. By the end of the 1300s, the Wolof had grown into a large empire of separate, self-governing states, including the Waalo, Baol, Cayor, Sine and Saloum kingdoms. Anna Jai was born a princess in the Waalo Kingdom. Abdu Dupeh, the boy who hunted the bull elephant that day, was her father.From “Ana Jai: Florida’s Princess” by Marvin Dun: an unpublished novel, p.2.
Zephaniah and Anna remained in Cuba for three months, and on October 10, 1806, they sailed for St. Augustine. After he registered his cargo, they sailed north to the St. Johns River and made their way inland. By the time Anna arrived at the Laurel Grove Plantation, which was located near Orange Park, Florida, she was already pregnant with Zephaniah’s first child. She became the household manager at Laurel Grove. Eventually, she assumed supervisory responsibilities for the health of the labor force, and managed the plantation on occasions when her husband was absent. On March 4, 1811, Kingsley formally manumitted (freed) Anna and their three children, George, Martha, and Mary.
As a free woman, Anna was eligible to receive land from the Spanish and was granted five acres on the St. Johns River. She started her own business and lived on her property with her children and six slaves until 1812, when Americans from Georgia tried and failed to take Florida from Spain, in the so-called Patriots Rebellion. In an act of defiance, Anna burned her home and slave quarters. She was viewed afterwards as a hero by the Spanish. Reacting to Anna’s heroic deed, the Spanish government granted her more land. However, her home for the next two decades would be at Kingsley’s Fort George Island plantation.Dunn, A History of Florida Through Black Eyes, p.6.
The house provided the spatial separation for husband and wife that the times required of a white man with a black wife. Meals were prepared on the first floor of Anna’s house where there was a fireplace and hearth. The prepared food was taken to the basement warming kitchen of the main house. Dinners were served on the first floor of the main house in the great room with Anna and the children.Dunn, A History of Florida Through Black Eyes, p.8.
Anna Jai’s house
Anna lived in a separate dwelling connected to the plantation residence by a walkway. Her house was constructed of tabby bricks on the first floor with a wooden frame upstairs. The house provided the spatial separation for husband and wife that Anna expected because of her African experiences with polygamous families.
Meals were prepared on the first floor of Anna’s house where there was a fireplace and hearth. The prepared food was taken to the basement warming kitchen of the main house. Dinners were served on the first floor of the main house in the great room. The long rectangular room with fireplaces at each end and windows looking across an open porch to Fort George Inlet and Talbot Island was a grand setting for family gatherings.From “Notes on Black Florida History” by Marvin Dunn: an unpublished manuscript, p.6.
President James Monroe
After Florida became a United States territory in 1821, Kingsley was appointed to the Second Florida Legislative Council by President James Monroe. Kingsley was an advocate for the fair treatment of free blacks. He believed that it was necessary to enlist the support of free blacks in controlling slaves, even though the majority of Southern slave-owners feared free blacks. In response to this fear, the Florida legislature aggressively enforced restrictive laws pertaining to free blacks in Florida. Two laws directly affected the Kingsley family. The first prohibited inter-racial marriages and made children of mixed-race couples ineligible to inherit their parents’ estates. The second imposed severe penalties on white men found guilty of sexual liaisons with black women.
In 1829, Kingsley published his opinions on a patriarchal system of slavery and furthered his demands for liberal provisions for free blacks, further alienating his fellow plantation owners.From “Notes on Black Florida History” by Marvin Dunn: an unpublished manuscript, p.9.
Move to Haiti
In the sunset of his life, Kingsley decided to move his family to Haiti, the first independent black republic in the New World. In 1835, Anna, the children, and fifty former Kingsley slaves moved to Mayorasgo De Koka on the northern coast of Haiti. The Fort George plantation was sold to Kingsley’s nephew and Zephaniah Kingsley died 30, September 1843. His will directed his executors to liquidate his properties and financial investments and to divide the net proceeds primarily between Anna and their children. After the will was read, several white relatives sued to break it, charging that the beneficiaries were of African descent. The state supreme court sided with Anna and the children.
In 1860, Anna returned to Florida to live with her daughters who were married to prosperous land owners in Jacksonville. She and her family were Unionists during the Civil War; therefore, when the Confederates took control of Jacksonville, the family fled north. In 1865, after Union forces occupied Jacksonville permanently, Anna Kingsley returned to Duval County where she died in 1870; however, her final resting place is unknown.From “Notes on Black Florida History” by Marvin Dunn: an unpublished manuscript, p.10.
The Sexual Oppression of Blacks
Given the power relationship between white men and black women at the time, it could be argued that any sexual contact between a white man and a black woman was rape. Allowing for the possibility, no matter how remote, that in some rare cases black women and white men were actually in love, it must be said in fairness that all black women who slept with white men were not necessarily raped. In some instances, the master treated his concubine as if she were his wife. As noted earlier, the Jacksonville slaver, Zephaniah Kingsley, lived openly with his African wife Anna Jai who ran his Florida plantation when he was in Africa buying even more slaves. William Ashley, who was white, appears to have been in love with his slave named Nancy. He lived openly with her in Tampa and had her buried next to him in the town cemetery. The tombstone’s engraving reads: “Here Lie William Ashley and Nancy Ashley, Master and Servant; faithful to each other in that relation in life, in death they are not separated. Strangers, consider and be wise – in the grave all human distinctions of race or color mingle in one common dust.Dunn, A History of Florida Through Black Eyes, p.8.
Despite Anna’s role in his life, Kingsley was sill a slaver. He instructed his ship captains to land his slaves directly on Fort George Island. From a small deck built atop his big house, he could often be seen peering out to sea through his long glass looking for the masts of his slave ships in the distant sea-green mist.From “Notes on Black Florida History” by Marvin Dunn: an unpublished manuscript.
Ruins of slave cabins
Ruins of slave cabins on the Kingsley Plantation located on the Atlantic Ocean north of Jacksonville. These are the only preserved slave quarters in Florida. Thirty-two cabins were built in a semi-circle. They have lasted since the early 1800s because they are constructed of tabby, a mixture of seashells, lime and water. The plantation grew Sea island cotton and was at times was left in the hands of Anna Jai, the African slave who was owned by the plantation owner, Zephaniah Kingsley, who also married her and had four children with her. The plantation is now restored and is a national park. It is the subject of my next book which I hope to publish by the end of this year.
Jefferson’s home at Monticello, Virginia
Jefferson allowed two of their children to escape and freed the other two in his will. He offered his son, James Hemings, who he had freed in 1796, the position of White House chef. James refused. He later became depressed and turned to drinking. Ultimately, he committed suicide at age 36. Of the nine presidents who owned slaves, only Washington freed his. When Jefferson retired from the presidency, he returned to his estate at Monticello and Sally went to live there as well. Thomas Jefferson died in 1823 at age 83. His life had been a uniquely American paradox: The man who penned the Declaration of Independence extolling the rights of mankind died owning 600 slaves freeing none but his black concubine and their mixed-race children. Sally Hemings died in 1835 at the age of 62. Their children, as did Kingsley’s children, melted into white society.Dunn, Understanding Our Past.
|↑1||From “Notes on Black Florida History” by Marvin Dunn: an unpublished manuscript, p.3.|
|↑2||Dunn, A History of Florida Through Black Eyes, p.2.|
|↑3||Dunn, A History of Florida Through Black Eyes, p.3.|
|↑4||From “Ana Jai: Florida’s Princess” by Marvin Dun: an unpublished novel, p.2.|
|↑5||Dunn, A History of Florida Through Black Eyes, p.6.|
|↑6, ↑10||Dunn, A History of Florida Through Black Eyes, p.8.|
|↑7||From “Notes on Black Florida History” by Marvin Dunn: an unpublished manuscript, p.6.|
|↑8||From “Notes on Black Florida History” by Marvin Dunn: an unpublished manuscript, p.9.|
|↑9||From “Notes on Black Florida History” by Marvin Dunn: an unpublished manuscript, p.10.|
|↑11||From “Notes on Black Florida History” by Marvin Dunn: an unpublished manuscript.|
|↑12||Dunn, Understanding Our Past.|