by Lamont Muhammad
FORT GEORGE ISLAND, Fla. (FinalCall.com)—The
Kingsley Plantation was established here when the southeastern coast of
the United States stopped at Georgia, and Florida was a "Promised Land"
for free Blacks, indigenous people and runaway slaves.
Plantation owner Zephaniah Kingsley, Jr. was born in Bristol,
England, in 1765, but was reared in a Quaker household in Charleston,
S.C. In that predominately African, or Gullah, community he learned what
makes things happen and who knows how to get things done.
The slave trader and planter purchased this lush island off the coast
of Jacksonville, Fla., in 1814 when slavery was legal in the U.S. but
importation of African slaves had been outlawed. Here, under a Spanish
coat of arms at the time, he could import and export slaves and
agricultural products to the rest of the world at will.
Palm trees lined the broad avenues that led to precious fields of Sea
Island cotton, corn, indigo and sugar cane here during the era. The
slaves who worked Mr. Kingsley’s fields lived a fifth of a mile from the
main house in a wide, tabby cement, 32 cabin semi-circle divided in half
by the main road.
Today, the U.S. National Park Service uses this historic preserve as
a model of a slave-era plantation and a stage for discussions and
reenactments of events here that shaped modern history. Some slaves who
labored here, for example, went on to own slaves, plants, trade and even
moved with their former master, to an independent Haiti after America
purchased East Florida, a Parks Service brochure said. One, whom Mr.
Kingsley sold, "became famous as an important lieutenant in the Denmark
Vesey slave uprising," it said.
At the Kingsley Heritage Celebration 2001, earlier this year, the
Parks Service sponsored lectures, demonstrations, book signings,
traditional storytelling and featured a presentation by a descendent of
Mr. Kingsley and the former African slave he freed and married by the
time they moved here 203-years ago. This was possible under the Spanish
flag, with its three-caste society of whites, free people of color and
slaves. Inside the encroaching U.S. there were "free whites and enslaved
Blacks, with no place for free Blacks," a presenter here argued.
"Blacks and Seminoles kept the British and Americans out of Spanish
territory" and protected her booty-laden ships bound for export,
explained Parks Ranger Ralph Smith, a Black Seminole, draped in full
regalia. They defeated the U.S. Marines in 1812.
"But in 1821 Florida became a part of U.S. territory and the
plantation owners in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and the Carolinas
petitioned the U.S. government stating that Florida was a haven for
runaways and they wanted to do something about it. The Indian Removal
Act had already been imposed elsewhere. When it came to Florida it had a
new twist. All Native Americans would be pushed out to Arkansas, now
known as Oklahoma, and all Black people would go back into slavery. We
fought for seven years," he said.
Some resisted U.S. troops and distinguished themselves so well they
were hired by Mexico to patrol the border. Later, some were hired as
Buffalo Soldiers who protected white settlers in the west from
indigenous people fighting to protect their land. The history is full of
In 1837, Mr. Kingsley fled Florida and established a colony for his
family and some of his former slaves in Haiti, the Parks Service
By 1842 the U.S. government had declared war on all dark people who
refused to submit here, in lower Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. In "The
Negro War," as it was called, the government massacred men, women and
children and marched survivors to Oklahoma at gunpoint. Later the script
flipped when the Union required the assistance of Black people to defeat
A surviving Civil War structure associated with Black Union Army
troops is across the St. Johns River here at Dames Point.
Chaplin Clifford Pierce is a member of the 54th Massachusetts
Volunteer Infantry Re-Enactors Company "I" of Glory fame, "the first
Blacks to fight in the Civil War." Two sons of Fredrick Douglass and one
of Sojourner Truth were among the "88 percent learned men" who comprised
the celebrated unit, he explained.
There were a total of 170 U.S. Colored Troop Units organized during
the war. There were as many as 200,000 Black soldiers. An estimated
7,000 white officers volunteered to serve in the Bureau of Colored
Troops. Troops here at Yellow Bluff Fort controlled ship access along
Baba Ishangi was in Jacksonville to work on a "Living African History
Exhibit" in the city. Invited to attend and read at the Kingsley
Plantation event, he was not very impressed with the Parks Service spin
"I’m a descendent of a great African people. I haven’t seen any of
them here yet. Everybody they mention here married somebody white or was
given this or given that. The man (Black Seminole) told me the Seminole
had Irish in ’em. If I listen any longer I’m gonna go get a flag and run
down the road chanting ‘thank God for slavery.’" He left to get
something to eat.