Exploring a piece of Florida's antebellum history at Kingsley Plantation

|
Slave quarters at the Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville were arrayed in a defensive perimeter as traditionally designed in the villages of Senegal.
Slave quarters at the Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville were arrayed in a defensive perimeter as traditionally designed in the villages of Senegal. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

When tourists think of visiting early American attractions, few might consider Florida. But the state has its share, and some are unlike anything else on the East Coast.

I was reminded of that on a recent tour of the Kingsley Plantation, a 1,000-acre island where coastal cotton was grown during the 19th century. It is now part of the city of Jacksonville and the Timucuan National Ecological and Historic Preserve run by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Florida was the only colony on the East Coast that was controlled by Spain and not England, so its early American experience was unique. Like England, Spain allowed Africans to be enslaved, but its laws were more liberal and the unusual history of the Kingsley Plantation shows a side of early culture in the Americas that many visitors may be unaware of.

For one thing, Africans had more influence in the design of the plantation.

The slave quarters at the Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville were built from tabby, a concrete made from oyster shells.
The slave quarters at the Kingsley Plantation in Jacksonville were built from tabby, a concrete made from oyster shells. Photo Credit: Tom Stieghorst

The main house on the plantation, which dates to 1798, looks like an English-style construction one might see in Virginia or North Carolina.  But the slave quarters, instead of being in a straight line,  are arranged in a semi-circle along the perimeter of the property, a defensive arrangement derived from the villages in Senegal where many of the enslaved workers used by plantation owner Zephaniah Kingsley were from.

The social system was also different.

Kingsley's African wife, Anna Madgigine Jai, was born in Senegal and Kingsley purchased her as a slave in Havana in 1806. But he freed her and her children in 1811, as provided for by Spanish law.

In addition, Anna had her own quarters in a separate structure on Kingsley's plantation. She functioned as his business partner, and eventually owned property and even slaves of her own.

Everything changed for the Kingsley enterprise in 1821 when the United States acquired Florida from Spain.

Legislators in the new U.S. Territory enacted laws that greatly reduced the liberty of free blacks such as the Kingsley family members.

Kingsley fought to preserve the old Spanish privileges, but to no avail. In 1837 he moved Anna, their two sons, and 50 freed slaves to Haiti.

Touring the grounds affords a close view of the two-room slave homes, which were built from concrete derived from oyster shells, and thus are more durable than most. The Park Service ranger does a great job of re-creating life on the plantation, based in large part on the archeological clues left by the enslaved population.

The plantation continued to grow cotton through the end of the 1900s, after which most of the land reverted to forest. Except for a small demonstration plot maintained by the Park Service, there's little to suggest any agricultural crops were once produced there, except for the remains of 25 two-room slave cabins at the property's edge.

The plantation, about a half hour north of downtown Jacksonville, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free.

Comments

From Our Partners


From Our Partners

2021 WOL Webinar
The World of Luxury for 2022
Register Now
2021 Silversea Webinar
The Silversea Way - Two New Fares, One Incredible Experience Aboard Our Ultra-Luxury Ships
Register Now
Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort & Spa and Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa
Grand Palladium Lady Hamilton Resort & Spa and Grand Palladium Jamaica Resort & Spa
Read More

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI