The history of the famous Kingsley Plantation House built by slaves that waged war against U.S. laws

Stephen Nartey October 25, 2022
Kingsley Plantation House. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/ Shrickus

It is an infrastructure many historians have described as breathtaking and had a lot of considerable thought invested in the architectural design and construction. The ingenuity lies in the numerous angles and windows which adorn the structure. The objective of having many windows was to allow enough breeze to flow through all the rooms at any given time of the day.

The Kingsley Plantation House which was constructed by enslaved Africans in 1798 deviated from the way and manner plantation edifices were built, according to Explore Southern History. The only characteristic of plantation houses maintained in the building of the Kingsley House was that of the front view that faced the Fort George River. The focal point of the farm, therefore, became the river and traditional entry route to and from the plantation house.

The river became an important route for transporting cotton and other crops from the plantation to the market. The Kingsley Plantation House is the oldest structure in Florida and sits on Fort George Island. It became one of the iconic symbolic representations of slavery in the Spanish colony of Florida.

It attracted American businessmen and slave owners who saw Florida as a fertile ground for the growing of tobacco, sugar cane, corn and cotton. However, in 1814, Zephaniah Kingsley took over the ownership of the structure where he lived with his African wife, Anta Madgigine Jai. Jai was a slave Kingsley had bought her freedom in Cuba and married her in 1806. Historical records suggest that Kingsley was responsible for the freedom Jai and her children enjoyed in 1811.

Since the laws of the Spanish crown favored the family, their business thrived with Jai working closely with Kingsley in the management of the farms. Jai owned land and slaves under her supervision, however, things took a different twist when the United States purchased the Florida state.

The laws passed in 1821 by the U.S. authorities prohibited the rights of ownership of slaves and free blacks as well as other possibilities which they enjoyed under the Spanish crown. Though Kingsley had slaves working for him, he fiercely fought these restrictive laws passed by the U.S. authorities, arguing that people should be respected based on their skills and abilities and not their race.

He challenged the laws prohibiting the civil liberties of enslaved people and wrote a treatise on the issue. When the local authorities and lawmakers were adamant about the stance he pushed for, he left Florida with his wife for Haiti in 1830.

But, before they left the plantation, they granted 50 slaves their freedom. He died in 1843 giving Jai the legal rights to own his wealth and property. Jai also died in the 1870s after she had long returned to Florida.

The Kingsley Plantation House has been earmarked as a historical site and maintained by the National Park Service as part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve. The preservation of the house, the kitchen as well as the thousands of acres left by the Kingsleys are the duty of the National Park Service.

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