Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Kingsley Plantation

Anna knew that her life would change forever when she saw the tall ship anchored off shore, but she never dreamed that it would take her a world away.
Anna Madgigine Jai was kidnapped and sent to Cuba where she was placed into the slave trade.  Mr. Zephaniah Kingsley stepped off his boat in Havana, looking to increase his holdings.  In the early 1800s, before the Civil War, a southern man's wealth was measured in terms of how many slaves he owned.  Anna became one of Kingsley's slaves.  On the voyage back to the United States, 41-year-old Zephaniah Kingsley "married" 13-year-old Anna.  By the time she arrived in America, she was carrying his first child.  In 1811, living in Spanish-controlled Northeast Florida, Zephaniah signed documents that allowed his wife the social standing of a freed slave.  In time, she would come to own her own land and her own slaves and provide Zephaniah with two more children.

Kingsley Plantation, located on Fort George Island in Jacksonville, Florida, changed hands a few times before the Kingsley's moved there in 1814.  It does not resemble a typical southern plantation.  It was built according to the cracker vernacular style and was not built to impress.  Since pirate ships would travel the St. John's River in front of the plantation, the owners did not want to display their wealth for fear of raids.  The original house had four corner rooms that were only accessible by the front and back porches.  The Rollins family purchased the plantation in 1869 after it had been abandoned.  They made numerous improvements such as access to these four corner rooms through the inside of the home.  They also added an additional room to each side, between the corner rooms, so that the house would have more functional space.  A stairwell was added to the center of the house so that the upstairs could be accessed from within.

Back of main house
Close up of barn
Cash crops such as indigo, Sea Island cotton, sugar cane, and citrus were grown here as it functioned as a plantation.  Indigo and sugar cane were the deadliest crops to the slaves.  Stale human urine was used in the manufacturing of the indigo dye.  This created a very alkaline mixture which the slaves had to stomp around in to add oxygen.  The life expectancy of a slave responsible for indigo production was just five years.

The slaves lived in small dwellings on the opposite side of the plantation, between the main house and the fields they tended.  These 32 homes were made from a material called tabby, which contains oyster shells, sand, and water.  Other structures on the site were constructed from tabby as it could be used to make long, wide bricks; mortar; and a substance like plaster.

Kitchen with Whistle Walk
The kitchen was not attached to the house.  Since a fire was likely burning 24 hours a day in the kitchen, they did not want to run the risk of setting the whole house on fire.  The original kitchen building had just one small room, but Anna Kingsley had a room built on top of the kitchen where she could reside.  This was one of the customs of the tribe she was born into in Africa.  The women oversaw the slaves and servants and stayed separate from the men.  The semicircle of the slave quarters was another tradition Anna brought with her.  It is interesting that Anna came from a culture where slaves were used, yet she herself became a slave.  Not only that, after she became a freed slave, she owned slaves again.

We visited the site on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s, birthday.  With that frame of reference, we were able to be thankful for the changes that have occurred in our country since the 1700s and for the outcome of the Civil War.  We were able to be thankful for people like Dr. King who fought for equal rights of all citizens.  I am grateful that slavery in that form no longer exists in our society, thankful that it is not okay to steal people away from their homes and make them work under the threat of punishment, to strip away all of their rights and dignity.  I know slavery still exists in different forms today, but that is a conversation for another day.

Kingsley Plantation is maintained by the National Park Service.  The main house is normally closed during the week with tours given on the weekends at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. with reservations.  We were honored to have a guided tour by a NPS employee who has studied Kingsley Plantation intensely.  He took us through the house and shared some very interesting stories and details.  The grounds and the tour are free.  An audio tour is also available.

There is a great deal more information to learn about the plantation.

Read more about the Kingsley plantation and family here.

An ethnohistorical study of the plantation is located here.