Jacksonville – Located on St. George Island along the St. John’s River, the Kingsley Plantation, like Fort Caroline, is part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve in Jacksonville, FL. Established in 1756 while Florida was under British Control, the Plantation went through a number of owners as Florida shifted from a British Colony, back to a Spanish Colony, and was finally ceded to the United States. It was named after Zephaniah Kingsley, who owned it for the longest period of time. If you plan to visit, I’ll warn you that there once you get off of the highway, there are two roads that lead to the Plantation; both are dirt roads and both are in bad need of repair. I don’t think either of them has seen a grader in quite a long time. If you go to fast or don’t go around some of the holes, you could damage a low sitting vehicle.
The history of the Kingsley Plantation is an interesting one. One of Zephaniah Kingsley’s wives (he was polygamous), Anna Madgigine Jai, was an African Slave who he married and freed. She would come to manage plantations and also own slaves. Sea Island cotton was grown and harvested by slaves at the plantation using the “task system.” The remains of the slaves’ tabby cabins are the first thing you see when you drive through the Plantation’s gates. One of them has been restored while others are in various states of repair alongside in a semi-circle. Up the road from the Slave Cabins are the Kitchen House, a barn, and the Plantation House, which was built in 1798 and added to over the years. Also on the grounds is a clubhouse built in the 1920s when the plantation had become a private club (it is now the plantation’s Visitors Center).
The Slave Cabins and Barn are open to explore and walk through and parts of the Kitchen House are open to walk through and have exhibits about life on the plantation and life as a slave as well as the lives of Zephaniah and Anna Kingsley. The Plantation House is closed to visitors except during twice-daily guided tours; they limit access for preservation purposes. It appears that the Plantation House is also undergoing some repairs or renovations.
What I saw and learned at Kingsley Plantation made me want to learn more about Zephaniah and Anna Kingsley seemed to just scratch the surface of two complex individuals, so I bought a couple of books at the Visitors Center and I look forward to learning more. Kingsley held different, yet confusing views on people of color and slaves. He owned slaves yet he also tried to get the United States to recognize the status that free blacks held in Florida when it was ceded to the United States by Spain. He had four female slaves as common-law wives (as mentioned above, he freed at least one) and had nine mixed-race children to whom he provided a high level of education and attempted to protect them from bigotry.
The Kingsley Plantation does a great job of showing the disparity between the Slaves and the Plantation owners. You can’t miss the difference in the Plantation House that the owner and his family lived in and the tabby cabins that the slaves lived in. This is a historic site that everyone should visit because it clearly illustrates the differences between the enslaved and the slaveholder.