Anna Kingsley, a woman of strength and determination overcame many odds not expected of an African American slave. She married a slave owner, owned land, and was once a slave herself. She was well known in a free black community she helped establish. Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley was the wife of plantation owner Zephaniah Kingsley. She was the daughter of a man of high status. Her father's sides were descendants of the well know Njaajan Nja ay, the creators of the Jolof Empire.
Her father was killed in April 1806, the day she was captured. The t yeddo warriors invaded her village and collected all the villagers to be sold as slaves. That day she not only lost her freedom and her home, but also her dignity and her youth (Harvey, 41). Anna and the others were lead to a ship and they sailed from Senegal to Havana, Cuba to be sold as slaves.
The Havana Market was the center of commerce of Spain's colonies in America (Schafer, 23). Anna arrived in Florida in 1806. She was thirteen years old. Zephaniah Kinglsey Jr was a citizen of Spanish East Florida. He was born in England, but raised in Charleston, South Carolina. His father, a merchant, moved his family to Nova Scotia because he was banished from South Carolina for giving support to King George III at time of the American Revolution.
In 1808, Kinglsey moved to Florida, where he pledged his fidelity to Spain and imported slaves on his plantation (Schafer, 21). Once purchased, Kingsley boarded Anna on the ship Esther and they sailed to Laurel Grove Plantation north and on the west of the St. Johns River. This would be her new home. She did not stay in the slave quarters, but she did stay in his two-story home. He thought of her as his wife and she was carrying his child.
A few months before Anna gave birth; she became manager of Kingsley's household located at Laurel Grove. Most of the slave's came from East and West Africa. The plantation consisted of corn, cotton, mandarin oranges, sugarcane, potatoes and beans. According to Kinglsey "color ought not be the badge of degrading," only the distinction should be between slaves and free, not between white and colored (Schafer, 32). Anna and Zephaniah were open about their relationship. She was the head wife or woman in a polygamous household.
One March 4, 1811 after five years of enslavement, Anna was emancipated by her husband. She was now a free woman again. In 1812, Anna moved away from her home at Laurel Grove. The Spanish government granted her 5 acres of land across the St. Johns River.
She established a lovely house for her three children and herself. She also established slave quarters fro the twelve slaves she brought with her. Spanish law viewed slaves as persons created by god and endowed with a soul and a moral personality, the unfortunate victims of fate or war (Schafer, 37). They had rights under the Spanish law that allowed them to get married, be freed for meritorious acts and also to self purchase. They were allowed to work extra jobs to earn money to buy their freedom. Once emancipated, the slaves could own property.
Anna became Catholic while living off the St. Johns. She later used the Catholic Church to protect her rights and bind her family to powerful patrons, forming an extended kinship networks through godparent ties (Schafer, 38). In 1812, the Patriot Rebellion would begin. The president of the United States, James Madison, financed and instigated the Patriot Rebellion. American soldiers and sailors crossed the East Florida's border and took the town of Fernandina.
They went south and began to attack outside St. Augustine. On the first day of the rebellion, Zephaniah was captured and held hostage until he signed a pledge to support the rebels. Laurel Groves was taken over by the soldiers and used as headquarters. Kingsley's house and retail store was the only building left.
Anna boarded a canoe and started paddling towards a ship named the Immutable. The commander, Jose Antonio Moreno gave her his word that her children and slaves would be safe on his ship. She returned to the forest and brought back the children and her slaves. Anna volunteered to lead Spanish soldiers to retrieve the cannons and bring them back to the boat. But the rebels began filling the woods and they had no choice but to turn back. Later on, she lead them back to the house to look for enslaved Africans who might have survived.
She set her home on fire so that there was no place for the rebels to meet. Once she returned, she asked Moreno to sail across the St. Johns River to where her other home was. Once there, she burned the house down "so that the rebels would not avail themselves of it, and that it was more gratifying to lose it than that the enemies should take advantage (Schafer, 43).
Anna was granted 350 acres of land from the government for her heroic defense of the province and for her loses. Zephaniah and Anna built a new home on Fort George Island. She lived there until 1838. She raised her children in peace and with stability. Upon arriving, they once again began rebuilding there plantation.
Anna was the manager and she oversaw the food preparation and took care of the sick and injured slaves. The United States gained Florida from Spain in the 1820's. In 1831, George, Kingsley's son became the owner of Fort George and started his own family after he married. During the 1930's, Zephaniah had as many as three to four co-wives.
They all lived in separate houses of one another. In 1824, Anna gave birth to a son, John Maxwell. He would be her last child. East Florida had been a Spanish colony when Anna and Zephaniah commenced planting at Fort George; it was a territory of the United States when John Maxwell was born (Schafer, 61). In 1838, Anna and her son John move to Cabaret Harbor. Anna lived comfortably in Haiti.
Zephaniah Kingsley died September 13, 1843. He was 78 years old. A few years after her husband died, Anna forfeited her land inheritance and move back to Florida. She became the matriarch of the Kingsley property in Florida.
Anna's primary goal was to protect her children and grandchildren in the 1850's. When Anna Kingsley is included in the count, at least six persons born in Africa were living in a free black community in 1850. By 1860, Anna was no longer a landowner, but she still owned four slaves. They ranged in the ages of nine to seventeen. She described herself as "feeble in strength", but "sound of mind and memory" (Schafer, 94). She lived within walking distance of her grandchildren and her two daughters.
Having her family around most likely provided her with comfort knowing they were within walking distance. The rural free black community which she lived in. In 1862, she once again had to leave the home she created because Florida seceded the union. The Civil War soon followed. After the Civil War, Anna never had the wealth and power that she once had. Her personal wealth was acquired through ownership of her slaves.
There is no true documentation as to when Anna died, but it is thought to be between 1860 and 1870. Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley was buried in a peaceful grove off the St. Johns River in Florida. She is surrounded by many family members including her daughters.
She rests peacefully in an unmarked grave sheltered from the violence that followed her through a life marked by danger, courage, tenacious defense of family, flight, and triumphant return (Schafer, 121). She was a remarkable and determined black woman who achieved many accomplishments that are extraordinary. She became a well known figure in a free black community. Works Cited Harvey, Karen.
Daring daughters: St. Augustine's feisty females. Virginia Beach, VA, 2002 Schafer, Daniel. Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley.
Florida, 2003 T ilford, Kathy, Anna Kingsley: A free woman." OH Magazine of history 12, 1997 web.