From slave to plantation owner

The story of Anna Kingsley continues to attract visitors to old Florida estate.

Kingsley
GEORGE SKENE/ORLANDO SENTINEL/TNS
The remains of slave cabins can be seen at the Kingsley Plantation.

BY ELEANOR HENDRICKS MCDANIEL
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER

Sultry air. Sandy soil. Tabby structures. Your first impressions of Kingsley Plantation of Fort George Island, Florida.

A narrow road, cleared through a jungle of moss-hung oaks and tall palm trees, leads to a parking lot located only a few yards from the remains of slave quarters. Twenty-three tabby cabins form a welcoming semicircle. A tabby is a concrete-like building made up of oyster shells, lime, sand and water.

From there, you walk until you see a barn constructed of poured tabby and tabby brick. Still growing in the garden is Sea Island cotton, which was once the dominant crop of the island.

When you reach the kitchen house, enter and prepare to hear the fascinating and unique story of Anna Kingsley, born Anta Majigeen Ndiaye.

Abducted and sold

She was a teenager when abducted in 1806 from Senegal, West Africa, and sold to Zephaniah Kingsley, a ship captain and plantation owner. The middle-aged Kingsley married the 13-year-old Wolof maiden, and their union would last until his death, 37 years later.

Holding liberal views of a woman’s role and because he had to travel extensively, Kingsley freed his wife and drafted her to manage their plantation. He was a reasonable and clever man – many of his contemporaries called him “soft” and “easy.”

Unusual view

His views of slavery were unusual for the times. He believed that rather than restricting the liberties of free Blacks, it would be prudent to enlist their allegiances by giving them the same rights as Whites. Together, they could easily control the much larger number of slaves whose labor was essential to maintain the plantation system.

On his own property, Kingsley preferred the “task” order of planting. Each enslaved person was assigned a daily task. After completing the job, the slave was free to work in his own garden, fish or hunt to provide food for his own table. The rest of the South required slaves to labor from dawn to dusk for their owners.

A place of her own

Anna Kingsley, with her independent spirit, wanted a place of her own.

She and her children moved across the St. John’s River to a homestead that was granted by the Spanish government. She also took slaves along with them. Although formerly enslaved herself, she came from a society in Africa where bondage was commonplace and accepted.

She worked hard and created an estate much admired by her neighbors. Though physically separated, the Kingsleys continued their relationship as husband and wife.

Foreign invaders

In 1813, with the threat of an imminent invasion by American patriots who wanted to seize Florida from the Spanish, Anna, her children and her 12 slaves evacuated her home. They emptied the house of its furnishings and stowed them in the woods.

From their hiding place, Anna crept back to the plantation and torched her home and those of the slaves. She refused to allow the rebels to use those structures as a fortified blockhouse. For her loyalty and bravery, the Spanish king awarded her a 350-acre land grant.

From Florida to Haiti

Florida, under Spain, had more liberal laws regarding slavery than the rest of the southern states, but they were jeopardized when the United States purchased Florida in 1821.

A year earlier, Kingsley had established a colony with other Floridian migrants, including many of his emancipated slaves. He sent Anna and their sons to his Haitian estate for their safety. Their two daughters had already married wealthy businessmen of Scottish decent and remained in Florida. Direct descendants of Anna and Zephaniah Kingsley still live in the Dominican Republic.

The later years

After her husband’s death in 1843, Anna eventually returned to Florida, and, in 1847, purchased Chesterfield, a 22-acre farm north of Jacksonville. The wily businesswoman’s holdings grew as she managed her financial affairs, and fought for the right to retain the wealth and property her late husband had left her.

At age 67, because of failing health, she sold Chesterfield and moved to the estate of her daughter, Martha. She died in 1870, and is buried in the family cemetery of her daughter, Mary Sammis.

The historic site

The restored plantation is now owned by the National Park Service, and cared for by the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. A park ranger will relay even more of Anna’s intriguing history in the building, known as the “Ma’am Anna House.”

While living on this plantation, Anna had retained a separate residence that also served as the cookhouse, and is connected to her husband’s house (also called Zephaniah’s House) by a brick walkway.

View the exhibit in the Ma’am Anna house. Then tour the Zephaniah house, and visit its museum where you can see portraits of the Kingsley family. Unfortunately, no likeness of Anna remains. The other structures on the site are open to visitors too.

If you go

The Zephaniah house, or main house, faces the lazy George River. Feel the presence of Anna Kingsley as you stroll the grounds. You will marvel at the strength and courage of this amazing African woman who conquered a strange land after arriving in the most humble and dehumanizing situation.

The Kingsley Plantation is located on Fort George Island, 25 miles northeast of Jacksonville, and is open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free.

For more information, visit nps.gov/timu/learn/historyculture/kp_visiting.htm.


Eleanor Hendricks McDaniel is a seasoned travel journalist. Formerly of Philadelphia, she now resides in Ormond Beach. Follow her on Twitter: @ellethewriter, Instagram: @eleanor1004, Facebook: Eleanor.hendricks. mcdaniel, and her website: flybynighttraveler.com.

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