Fort George Island Florida : The Zephaniah Kingsley Plantation

Source

The young man’s first view of Kingsley Plantation was of the big house facing the river. The brilliant whiteness of it hurt the young slave’s eyes as he was brought up from the gloom of the lower decks of the ship into the midday sunlight. This was to be his home for many years to come and perhaps his final resting place, as it had been for many others over the decades.

Having been sold by the chief of his village and then surviving the long ocean voyage to this new land, the young man was thankful to be alive and could not imagine anything worse than he had already experienced. The arduous journey itself seemed to soften up many of the slaves enough to make most of them resigned to their circumstances.

The weak and old had died quickly on the crossing. Only the strong could endure the unsanitary conditions and cramped space in the lower decks of the ship. The dead were collected daily and unceremoniously dumped over the side of the ship. A slave ship had its own escort of sharks, waiting for the next dumping of the bodies.

But the situation could have been much worse for the young slave, for the master of this island was not typical of the times. Zephaniah Kingsley had his own idea of how slaves should be treated and used to his, and their own, best advantage. Better a good master than a bad one, some might say.

A trip back in time

Oyster shell road :Kingsley Plantation
Oyster shell road :Kingsley Plantation | Source
Planted Palm trees near entrance to Kingsley Plantation grounds
Planted Palm trees near entrance to Kingsley Plantation grounds | Source
Slave dwellings flank the road : Kingsley Plantation
Slave dwellings flank the road : Kingsley Plantation | Source

Driving back in time

The planted palm trees on either side of the lane seemed almost eerie when we approached them after a lonely drive along the oyster shell road through the thick forest of live oak and palmettos. Much of this sub-tropical jungle was once cleared fields, planted in sea island cotton and other plantation staples. The profusion of midden mounds of oyster shells along the shoreline and waterways gave evidence of the island being occupied for thousands of years.

Shortly after encountering the avenue of ghostly palms planted among the thick oaks, the tabby columns of an ancient gateway indicated the entrance to the Kingsley Plantation grounds. A vast semi-circle of tabby slave cabins stretched on either side of the gateway, giving the appearance of two arms encircling the area where the house and outbuildings occupied the center area.

Past the big house itself could be seen the Ft. George river as it meandered past and into the Nassau Sound. The quietness, which seemed to blanket the area, was in direct contrast to the sounds which obviously once rang around the slave quarters and the big house. This is often the case in such a place as this. The memories demand it.

Tabby Slave Houses at Kingsley Plantation

The same view of the slave quarters, occupied at the time.
The same view of the slave quarters, occupied at the time. | Source
Another photo of the occupied tabby houses
Another photo of the occupied tabby houses | Source
The other section of the semi-circle slave cabins
The other section of the semi-circle slave cabins | Source

Kingsley Plantation : Earlier Owners

Although Zephaniah Kingsley was best know for operating this plantation, he was not the first to run a plantation on St. George Island.

The ancient huge live oaks and palms which covered the sea island had to be removed to provide room for the vast fields needed for the cotton he planned to grow there.

Of course, there were already some cleared areas created by the Timucuan Indians as they used the island for cultivating corn and squash, among other crops.

The first attempt at using Ft. George Island as a plantation was by a man named Richard Hazard. In 1765 he endeavored to grow indigo on the island using several dozen slaves to achieve cultivation of the lucrative plant used for creating the much desired indigo dye.

This was during a short spell of British rule over the island. Spain regained control in 1783 and the plantation was abandoned.

The next attempt at cultivating crops on St. George Island was in1793 when John McQueen made a deal with the Spanish government and was given title to the island.

Using the labor of several hundred slaves, McQueen built the original plantation house which has been altered over the years since then. But McQueen’s efforts were short lived and the plantation passed to John McIntosh.

John McIntosh soon fell out of favor with the Spanish when he was found complicit in the Patriot Rebellion and had to flee back to Georgia. He originally leased the plantation to Zephaniah Kingsley in 1814 and eventually sold him the island in 1817.

Kingsley already operated several other plantations in the Jacksonville area so the purchase was no hardship as far as slaves or supplies were concerned.

Crops grown on Kingsley Plantation

Sea island cotton was the chief moneymaking crop grown at Kingsley Plantation
Sea island cotton was the chief moneymaking crop grown at Kingsley Plantation | Source
Indigo, while a very lucrative crop, was very bad for the heath of those involved in processing it
Indigo, while a very lucrative crop, was very bad for the heath of those involved in processing it | Source
Indigo processing vats used to collect dye from the plants
Indigo processing vats used to collect dye from the plants | Source
The entrance to the Plantation house grounds
The entrance to the Plantation house grounds | Source

Zephaniah and Anna Kingsley

Zephaniah Kingsley was not the stereotypical southern “Massa” found in many historical accounts of slave owners of the era. His tenure of Kingsley Plantation was under the Spanish rule in Florida, which was more lenient in the treatment of slaves than the British version.

Kingsley believed slaves should be allowed to work and earn their freedom and have certain rights after this was obtained. When the Spaniards eventually ceded Florida to the British government, Kingsley moved his family and slaves to Haiti which had become a slave free country.

Kingsley gained his start from his father Zephaniah Kingsley Sr. by being educated in London and later by slave trading and shipping endeavors. His first plantation, Laurel Grove, was in the Jacksonville area. He began training slaves for highly sought occupations such as being a blacksmith, cooper, cabinet or furniture maker, or in other agriculturally related skills, thereby increasing their worth by one half or more when sold.

Helping Kingsley run the plantations was his wife Anna Madgigine Jai. Anna was a 13 year old slave bought by Kingsley while in Cuba. She quickly married him in an African ceremony and eventually bore him several children. He also had children by at least two other of his concubines, also African descent. He treated his offspring well, educating them in Europe and furnishing their every need.

Anna acquired land of her own to produce income, using slaves she purchased in the manner of her husband Zephaniah. She was eventually awarded over 300 acres of land by the Spanish for her loyalty in the Patriot’s Rebellion. She received this grant because at one time she burned her plantation home to keep it from falling into the Patriot’s hands.

Both she and Zephaniah were in favor of the Spanish laws concerning slavery. But the British and Americans had other ideas on how slaves should be treated. This eventually caused the Kingsley family to move to Haiti, then called Liberia, eventually founding a colony just for former slaves.

The "Big House"

The house and kitchen complex as seen from the slave quarters.  Well in foreground
The house and kitchen complex as seen from the slave quarters. Well in foreground | Source
One downstairs room of the kitchen complex
One downstairs room of the kitchen complex | Source
The other lower room of the kitchen complex.  A very hospitable area during the plantation era
The other lower room of the kitchen complex. A very hospitable area during the plantation era | Source

The Kingsley Plantation House

The large plantation house, constructed around 1797 by John McQueen, is said to be the oldest standing plantation house in North America.

The slave cabins and the foundation of the house, adjoining summer kitchen complex, and the large barn are all made of tabby.

This durable material was made from oyster shells found in mounds and piles all along the waterways of the island.

These were tossed into piles over a period of thousands of years by the native people. These mounds were mined for the oyster shells which were conveniently nearby.

The shells were burned and the resulting lime was mixed with sand, water, and more oyster shells and poured into a wooden form. The results was a concrete like material which would last for many years.

The slave cabins were well insulated against the elements by the use of this material. The chance of fire was also lessened somewhat. Seven of these cabins have been destroyed for the material which was used on other construction projects .

The house has gone through several renovations during its lifetime with electricity added in the 20th century. It is presently undergoing a face lift now and is closed for these repairs.

The kitchen complex is open and the accompanying photos give a glimpse of the interior. Anna lived upstairs and ran the plantation from this building.

The Plantation Lives On

Storage barn : now used as tour guide area
Storage barn : now used as tour guide area | Source
The view towards the river from the compound
The view towards the river from the compound | Source
Inside of the tabby storage barn.  Exhibits of plantation life are displayed here
Inside of the tabby storage barn. Exhibits of plantation life are displayed here | Source
The docks, where the slaves first saw their home for many years to come.
The docks, where the slaves first saw their home for many years to come. | Source

Kingsley Plantation ; The later Years

Zephaniah’s nephew, Kingsley Beatty Gibbs, bought the plantation from him in 1839 and lived there with his wife until 1852 when he sold the property to an unknown buyer.

After the Civil War ended the island was used by the Freedman’s Bureau with some former slaves still residing in the tabby cabins and cultivating crops in the old fields.

The island was sold to John Rollins in 1869 and a resort hotel built on the island. In 1888 the hotel burned and Rollins planted citrus groves on the land which was a successful venture for several years. Rollin’s daughter was the last to live in the big house, selling the island to private investors in 1923.

The Florida Park Service obtained the plantation grounds in 1955, preserving the site and beginning efforts to protect and improve the property. Ft. George Island is now part of the Timuacan Ecological and Historic Preserve, which highlights the rich history of this very small area. The first protestant prayer in North America was made on this tiny isle by the Jean Ribault settlers in 1562.

There is no doubt the slave complex and plantation grounds once rang with laughter and music. Hard times were had here, but there were some happy times too. Our history has its share of misery and sadness to account for.

But we hope there are lessons learned because of it. The true bearers of the burdens of building a new world are forever unsung. We must give them what due we can by never forgetting them altogether.

More Kingsley Plantation Photos

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Front porch of main house : Kingsley PlantationTabby house ruins on the road leading to Kingsley PlantationTabby slave ruins : Kingsley PlantationInside the tabby slave cabin located at the compound gate Another view of inside the renovated slave cabin at the gateThe semi-circular slave cabin complexThe tabby slave cabins while inhabited, probably after the Civil WarAnother photo with the tabby cabins in the backgroundAn aerial view of the slave complex. Note the 7 missing cabins on left arm used for the tabby in construction Another view of the tabby storage barn.  Cotton was ginned and stored here during plantation daysWorkroom in the lower kitchen complex : Kingsley PlantationCovered walkway leading to the main house :Kingsley Plantation Rear of Kingsley Plantation main house The kitchen complex and covered walkway.  Note the covered cupola with benches Map of the area where Kingsley Plantation is locatedWritings from a previous occupant of Kingsley PlantationOther reports of Kingsley PlantationAnna Kingsley came from an African village such as this oneAn artist's rendering of Kingsley Plantation during the slavery periodMap of Africa showing the origination of some Kingsley slaves : Kingsley PlantationRuins of tabby slave cabins.  Note the oyster shells visible in the walls.   Kingsley PlantationTabby slave cabin : Kingsley Plantation
Front porch of main house : Kingsley Plantation
Front porch of main house : Kingsley Plantation | Source
Tabby house ruins on the road leading to Kingsley Plantation
Tabby house ruins on the road leading to Kingsley Plantation | Source
Tabby slave ruins : Kingsley Plantation
Tabby slave ruins : Kingsley Plantation | Source
Inside the tabby slave cabin located at the compound gate
Inside the tabby slave cabin located at the compound gate | Source
Another view of inside the renovated slave cabin at the gate
Another view of inside the renovated slave cabin at the gate | Source
The semi-circular slave cabin complex
The semi-circular slave cabin complex | Source
The tabby slave cabins while inhabited, probably after the Civil War
The tabby slave cabins while inhabited, probably after the Civil War | Source
Another photo with the tabby cabins in the background
Another photo with the tabby cabins in the background | Source
An aerial view of the slave complex. Note the 7 missing cabins on left arm used for the tabby in construction
An aerial view of the slave complex. Note the 7 missing cabins on left arm used for the tabby in construction | Source
Another view of the tabby storage barn.  Cotton was ginned and stored here during plantation days
Another view of the tabby storage barn. Cotton was ginned and stored here during plantation days | Source
Workroom in the lower kitchen complex : Kingsley Plantation
Workroom in the lower kitchen complex : Kingsley Plantation | Source
Covered walkway leading to the main house :Kingsley Plantation
Covered walkway leading to the main house :Kingsley Plantation | Source
Rear of Kingsley Plantation main house
Rear of Kingsley Plantation main house | Source
The kitchen complex and covered walkway.  Note the covered cupola with benches
The kitchen complex and covered walkway. Note the covered cupola with benches | Source
Map of the area where Kingsley Plantation is located
Map of the area where Kingsley Plantation is located | Source
Writings from a previous occupant of Kingsley Plantation
Writings from a previous occupant of Kingsley Plantation | Source
Other reports of Kingsley Plantation
Other reports of Kingsley Plantation | Source
Anna Kingsley came from an African village such as this one
Anna Kingsley came from an African village such as this one | Source
An artist's rendering of Kingsley Plantation during the slavery period
An artist's rendering of Kingsley Plantation during the slavery period | Source
Map of Africa showing the origination of some Kingsley slaves : Kingsley Plantation
Map of Africa showing the origination of some Kingsley slaves : Kingsley Plantation | Source
Ruins of tabby slave cabins.  Note the oyster shells visible in the walls.   Kingsley Plantation
Ruins of tabby slave cabins. Note the oyster shells visible in the walls. Kingsley Plantation | Source
Tabby slave cabin : Kingsley Plantation
Tabby slave cabin : Kingsley Plantation | Source

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Comments 18 comments

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 5 years ago from London, UK

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this hub. I am sure you wrote it specially for me. I love reading story like this. Thank you very much for the pleasure of reading.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thank you HH! Actually, I wrote it for myself more than anything! I so love our countries history, even the bad parts of it reveal so much about our culture. I appreciate your thoughts!

Randy


Kaie Arwen profile image

Kaie Arwen 5 years ago

Just beautiful............ I'd like to be sitting on that front porch! Thank you for the history lesson ~ Kaie


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thank you right back, Kaie! You have some very nice history hubs yourself! Yes, a very beautiful but isolated plantation in its day!

Randy


earnestshub profile image

earnestshub 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia

Wow Randy. Just like being there!

Thanks for this great read, I knew nothing of the Island until reading your hub.

A thoroughly good piece of writing. The photos new and old are terrific.Always nice to learn new things.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Glad you enjoyed it, Earnest! I enjoyed being there and making the photos! Sorry it's too long, but I still left out many things I wanted to write about! Too much history on this 1000 acre isle!

Randy


habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia

Why aren't you happy with it? I love the way you led the reader into it. Beautiful place - why don't we buy it and form our "combine" (as Jade calls it) there? Might be cozier than a cave! lol


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

I couldn't seem to get the right feel for the content in the article. There is too much I had to omit about the inhabitants of the plantation and the other history of Ft. George Island. Perhaps another hub is in order!

Great idea as long as I can have some com-cu-bines! LOL!


habee profile image

habee 5 years ago from Georgia

Oooohhh...it would make a great series!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Yep, at least a three part series is in order. The first protestant prayer in north America was given on Ft. George island in the 1520's. Anna Kingsley stayed in Fernandina through part of the Civil War! Can you relate? I wonder if she liked to fish?


china man 5 years ago

Excellent hub, full of good information and well presented, a pleasure to read. Thanks for the good read !


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Your comments mean much to me, CM! Thanks for taking the time to read my article! This place made me think, too much so, it seems! LOL!


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 5 years ago

Beautiful Randy! God bless!


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Hello Mickey! Glad you enjoyed the read! Wonderful history on this little island. Thanks for the nice comments too!

Randy


carolinemoon profile image

carolinemoon 5 years ago

Great article, I really enjoyed it.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 5 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Thank you, Caroline! I really enjoyed researching and visiting this interesting island. A member of the plantation house restoration team recently contacted me and invited me back to photograph the interior after reading this hub.

Thanks for your time!

Randy


Alastar Packer profile image

Alastar Packer 4 years ago from North Carolina

Before I got to the Zep and Anna part it was noticed how well the slave dwellings looked in comparison to many others. Suppose if there's anything like a 'good' master Kingsley was it. Fascinating look at this island in the Timuacan Preserve Randy.


Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia Author

Yes, Zephaniah had a different viewpoint of slavery--I'm certainly not suggesting it was ever moral in any way-- and seemed to consider his slaves as being human, unlike many others of the time.

A really fascinating place which my photos do not do justice to. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on it, Alastar!

Randy SSSSS

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