ANNA KINGSLEY Biography - Bussiness people and enterpreneurs


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In the early years of the nineteenth century, the population of Spanish     
Florida was small but diverse. Americans and Europeans came seeking wealth 
by obtaining land and establishing plantations; furthermore, the forced     
labor of enslaved Africans secured that wealth. Those Africans who were     
freed by their owners or who purchased their own freedom became farmers,   
tradesmen, or black militiamen who helped protect the colony. On the       
frontier, away from the settlements and plantations, the Seminole Indians   
and the Black Seminoles kept an uneasy vigil on the encroaching             
development of Florida.                                                     
Among those striving for freedom and security in Spanish Florida was Anna   
Kingsley. Anna was the African wife of plantation owner Zephaniah           
Kingsley. At an early age, she survived the Middle Passage and             
dehumanizing slave markets to become the property of Kingsley. After       
manumission by her husband, Anna became a landowner and slaveholder. She   
raised her four children while managing a plantation that utilized African 
slave labor. She survived brutal changes in race policies and social       
attitudes brought by successive governments in Florida, but survival       
demanded difficult, often dangerous, choices.                               
Anna Kingsley was a woman of courage and determination. She is an example   
of the active role that people of color played in shaping their own         
destinies and our country’s history in an era of slavery, oppression, and   
prejudice. She left, however, no personal descriptions of her life. She     
was not a famous or powerful person who figured prominently in accounts of 
that era. Today we must find Anna in the official documents of her time     
and in the historic structures that she inhabited. There her story may be   
Anna Kingsley: A Free Woman                                                 
On the first day of March 1811, in the Spanish province of East Florida,   
white plantation owner Zephaniah Kingsley put his signature on a document   
that forever changed the life of a young African woman. The document was a 
manumission paper which ensured her legal freedom. The young woman, a       
native of Senegal whom Kingsley had purchased in a slave market in Havana, 
Cuba, was his eighteen-year-old wife and the mother of his three children. 
That paper not only marked the beginning of the young woman’s freedom in   
the New World, it was also the beginning of the written record of a         
remarkable life. Her name was Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley.                 
A free woman, Anna Kingsley petitioned the Spanish government for land,     
and land grant records show that in 1813 she was granted title to five     
acres on the St. Johns River. The property was located across the river     
from her husband’s plantation, Laurel Grove, south of today’s               
Jacksonville. Anna purchased goods and livestock to begin a business, and   
she purchased slaves. She became one of a significant number of free       
people of African descent in East Florida. They included farmers,           
craftsmen, and members of a black militia. Some of these people, like       
Anna, owned slaves. Although slavery was supported, Spanish race policies   
encouraged manumission and self-purchase and slavery was not necessarily   
considered a permanent condition. The free black population held certain   
rights and privileges, and they had opportunities to take an active part   
in the economic development of the colony. Anna Kingsley was determined to 
be an independent businesswoman, selling goods and poultry to neighboring   
Her blossoming business lasted only months. During an effort to wrest East 
Florida from the Spanish, armed American forces entered the province.       
Together, with a number of rebellious Floridians, they looted and occupied 
the homesteads of planters and settlers to obtain supplies and set up       
bases. If these insurgents succeeded and an American system replaced the   
comparatively liberal Spanish policies, what would become of the freed     
people and their rights? When the Americans approached, Anna herself lit   
the fire that consumed her house and property. Then she escaped with her   
children and slaves on a Spanish gunboat. The insurrection later ended in   
failure and, as it turned out, Anna’s loss was not total. Although a       
Spanish commandant reported of Anna’s property “the flames devoured grain   
and other things to the value $1,500,” the governor rewarded her loyalty   
with a land grant of 350 acres.                                             
Laurel Grove was also destroyed as a result of the conflict. In 1814       
Zephaniah and Anna Kingsley, along with their children and slaves, moved   
to Fort George Island, a sea island near the mouth of the St. Johns River. 
On this thousand-acre island with palm-fringed beaches, birds of every     
description, and ancient Indian mounds of oyster shell, they restored an   
abandoned plantation. In a fine, comfortable house with views of the tidal 
marsh and ocean beyond, Anna spent the next twenty-three years of her       
During the years at Fort George, Zephaniah Kingsley’s Florida landholdings 
increased to include extensive timberland and orange groves, and four       
major plantations producing sea island cotton, rice, and provisions. He     
also owned ships that he captained on trading voyages. Kingsley had         
managers at his various properties to whom he entrusted his business       
operations when he was away. At the Fort George plantation, Anna took this 
responsibility and, Kingsley later declared, “could carry on all the       
affairs of the plantation in my absence as well as I could myself.” These   
“affairs” included overseeing the lives of about sixty men, women, and     
children who lived on Fort George Island in slavery. The labor of the       
Kingsley slaves provided the wealth of the Kingsley family.                 
Conditions for all of Florida’s people of color, free and enslaved,         
changed drastically when Florida became a territory of the United States   
in 1821. An influential planter, Zephaniah Kingsley was appointed to the   
1823 territorial legislative council. He tried to persuade lawmakers to     
adopt policies similar to those of the Spanish, providing for liberal       
manumission and rights for the free black population. He published his     
opinions in A Treatise on the Patriarchal, or Co-operative System of       
Society As It Exists in Some Governments, and Colonies in America, and in   
the United States, Under the Name of Slavery, with Its Necessity and       
Advantages in 1828. But Kingsley’s arguments did not convince Florida       
legislators. Legislative councils used fear of slave rebellion to justify   
policies that were increasingly oppressive. Legislation of the 1820s and   
1830s reflects racial discrimination that blurred the distinction between   
freeman and slave until there was virtually no difference.                 
The cession agreement between the U.S. and Spain was supposed to protect   
the status of free people of color living in Florida in 1821, but the       
Kingsleys had reason to be concerned. Parish records reveal that a fourth   
child was born to Zephaniah and Anna in 1824. Their new son was subject to 
the harsh enactments that Zephaniah Kingsley called “a system of terror.”   
Even Anna and her older son and two daughters were not necessarily secure   
as racism increased. Anna decided to leave Florida and go to Haiti. Slave   
revolution had made Haiti the first independent black republic of the New   
World, the “Island of Liberty” as Kingsley called it. Anna and her sons     
intended to start a plantation on the northern coast of the island. Their   
work force would consist of more than fifty of their former Florida         
slaves, freed to work as indentured servants to comply with Haitian law     
which prohibited slavery. In 1837 Anna Kingsley left Florida and sailed to 
“Mayorasgo De Koka,” her new home in Haiti.                                 
Zephaniah Kingsley described Mayorasgo De Koka as “heavily timbered with   
mahogany all round; well watered; flowers so beautiful; fruits in           
abundance, so delicious that you could not refrain from stopping to         
eat...” Roads and bridges were built and the Kingsley’s planned a school   
for the community, but they did not live happily ever after in their       
tropical colony. In 1843, in his seventy-eighth year, Zephaniah Kingsley   
With an estate worth a fortune at stake, some of Zephaniah Kingsley’s       
white relatives contested his will and sought to deny Anna and his         
children their inheritance. After much dispute, courts upheld the rights   
of the black heirs, but the family suffered another loss. Anna’s older son 
George was returning to Florida in 1846 to defend land interests, when the 
ship in which he was traveling was lost at sea. Her younger son, John       
Maxwell Kingsley, took over management of Mayorasgo De Koka and Anna       
Kingsley, for unknown reasons, returned to Florida. She could not return   
to Fort George Island; that plantation had been sold years before. She     
settled near her daughters who had married and stayed in Florida. Once     
more Anna lived on the St. Johns River, this time in a young town called   
When the Civil War divided the country, Anna and her daughters’ families   
supported the Union. With Florida’s secession and hostility from           
Confederates intensifying, Anna had to leave her home again. In 1862, she   
traveled with relatives to New York. They returned to Florida later that   
year, but, to be safe, lived in Union-occupied Fernandina until the end of 
the conflict. In 1865 Anna Kingsley returned to the St. Johns River for     
the final time.                                                             
Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley died in 1870. No intimate letters, diaries, or 
other personal reflections on her life are known to exist. No portrait or   
photograph of any kind remains of her. Even her grave is unmarked. Her     
story, however, endures. In the legal petitions and official               
correspondence, probate and property records, the details of her life       
emerge. And on Fort George Island, near the mouth of the St. Johns River,   
the house where she lived for twenty-three years still stands.             
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