Saturday, October 17, 2009

Kingsley Plantation - Fort George Island, Florida

Although most visitors speeding south to the beaches and amusement parks do not realize it, Florida is home to some of the most beautifully preserved plantation homes in the South. One of my favorites is the historic Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island between Jacksonville and Fernandina.

Established during the Second Spanish Era (1783-1821), the Kingsley Plantation holds a unique place in Florida history.

The Kingsley Plantation house, built by slaves in 1798, is the oldest surviving plantation home in Florida and has been beautifully preserved and restored. It is now maintained by the National Park Service as part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, a national park area encompassing tens of thousands of acres both north and south of the mouth of the St. Johns River.

As is the case with many such homes, visitors to the Kingsley Plantation approach not the front but the back of the house. This was because rivers were actually more important routes of transportation than roads during the antebellum era. Plantation homes were often built facing rivers because that was the way that both people and commerce traveled to and from the farm.

The Kingsley Plantation takes its name from Zephaniah Kingsley, a planter who first arrived in Florida in 1803. The colony was then under Spanish control, but numerous Americans crossed the border and took up farming and other occupations in the coastal region between St. Augustine and the St. Mary's River (the border between Florida and Georgia). Kingsley purchased the home and farm on Fort George Island in 1814.

He set up there with his free black wife, Anna. He had purchased her as a slave in Cuba in 1806, but fell in love with her and legally freed both Anna and their children in 1811. Kingsley's thinking was unique for its time. He believed that blacks and whites were equal, but also believed in the legality of slavery. He felt, however, that free blacks should have the same rights and opportunities as whites. Anna Kingsley, in fact, was as successful in business as her husband and owned both plantations and slaves of her own.

In 1821 Florida was transferred from Spain to the United States and it was not long before the Territorial Council began to enact laws aimed at restricting the activities of both slaves and free blacks. Zephaniah Kingsley railed against such actions, even writing a major treatise on the equality of whites and blacks and the human rights of free blacks.

He and Anna finally became so frustrated with the situation that they freed 50 of their slaves and moved with them to Haiti, where they established a colony in the free black republic.

Kingsley Plantation today provides visitors an outstanding opportunity to learn more about the Kingsley family and to explore the buildings, grounds and even slave cabins of the farm. To learn more, please visit

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