Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Richest Woman in Florida

Sometimes you encounter a story that is so wild that it gives new meaning to the concept that we humans are a complex race. I was doing my usual search for places we could wander around and take pictures and stumbled upon a mention of the Kingsley Plantation. It was close-by which added to its appeal, and off we went.

What we discovered once we got there was far stranger than anything we could have imagined. It seems the Kingsley Plantation is named after Zephaniah Kingsley who was involved in shipping molasses and slaves between the Caribbean, New England, and Africa. He frequently bought slaves from members of the Wolof nation in a region that is today part of Senegal. By a strange twist of fate the slave trade family from whom he bought slaves found itself captured and sold into slavery and the daughter Anta Majigeen Ndiaye was sent to Havana, Cuba. When Kingsley found her in Havana he bought Anta and later married her upon his return to Florida.

Feel free to click each photo for an enlarged view.

The couple had four children and while Kingsley continued his slave trading voyages, the running of the plantation fell to Anta or Anna Kingsley as she was called in Florida. In less than ten years she would become the wealthest woman in Florida and one of the largest land holders in the northeast Florida area. Their seven plantation operation produced timber, cotton, citrus, and rice crops which would be sold throughout the world.






The Plantation House

We were really disappointed we could not go inside the house because of termite damage, but you can see it is a comfortable structure that faces the ocean inlet making it easy for Kinsgley ships to come in and pick up shipments.




I joined several photos together to give a panoramic view of just how large the house actually is. In the style of the day the building on the right is the kitchen which was generally kept away from the main house due to heat and fires.



The Task System

The Kingsley Plantation relied on the "task" system of operation in that each slave had a task to complete for the day and once that task was completed they were free to work their own gardens to add to their rations. Under the "gang" system, work was done under the supervision of a driver who compelled the slave to work the entire day. According to the tour guide, during harvest time under either system the slave was expected to work 15 to 16 hours per day.


Slave quarters ring the plantation in a semicircle as you enter the grounds which makes me think these land owners were proud of their possessions and wanted visitors to see them as they entered.



Each slave house was a two room arrangement that had a front room with a fireplace and a second room that must have been the bedroom. It appears small by present day standards but I could see where at that time it probably gave a sense of ownership. The tour guide indicated that they even were allowed to have locks to protect their possessions.



The Influence of Indigo

Initially the plantation produced indigo which was very popular during the era because the British and others loved the color blue. However there were pollution problems and the smell was so bad no one wanted to live near the site of production.



This major drawback resulted in a search for other crops especially when you consider that it took 100 pounds of material to produce 4 ounces of indigo that sold for $40. When British rule ended the production of indigo disappeared.






Sea Island cotton

They finally settled on Sea Island cotton because it could grow in the salty soil of the area. Unlike the cotton we saw in Charleston S. Carolina, Sea Island cotton could grow up to seven feet tall and bloom continuously from June to December.


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There was high demand for this cotton because it produced a cloth that was very much like silk or satin and made the Kingsleys very wealthy.

Wealth and Flight

This wealth did not sit well with other plantation owners in the area and once Florida was purchased from Spain, laws were passed that made it difficult if not impossible for Anna and their mixed race children to remain in the area. Zephaniah ultimately moved Anna to Haiti where she could continue to operate as a free woman. After Zephaniah's death in 1843 Anna sued and won the right to inherit the property given to her in his will and lived out her days in the Jacksonville area.

Truth really is stranger than fiction. Complex stuff indeed...


7 comments:

  1. Anna Kingsley was really something for her time. I never knew cotton could grow like a tree!

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  2. Thank you for this post, Cherrie ! I find this story truly fascinating, and your pictures make it all the more vivid. So many tales of slavery that we tend to ignore ! the mere thought of it distresses me (working 15 to 16 hours a day !). And this site looks so beautiful and peaceful today... I wish us a good and merciful day.

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  3. This is such an interesting story. I would really like to visit this place someday myself, but your pictures are great!

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  4. Grace,
    I have to admit I had never heard of Anna Kingsley until I stumbled upon the mention of the plantation. The location is lovely but the story is also sad in that the plantation has not been adequately maintained. Do a google search and see what you come up with.

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  5. I realize my English is sometimes faulty : I hope you don't misunderstand me ! I was horrified to learn about the way slaves were treated on that Kingsley plantation and made to work 15 to 16 hours a day - Senegal used to be a French colony and no doubt we are historically responsible for the slave trade and its cruelty. Have a good day.

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  6. JLBO

    The message I wanted everyone to take from this post was first that the Kingsleys were unconventional for their time, second they were also part of the slave system, and third that they attempted to be humane based on the standards of that time.

    The people who were responsible for what happened are long dead and we the living can only view it for what it was and then look forward to try and prevent it reoccurring.

    I understood you perfectly and it speaks to your character that you were so touched!

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