Monday, February 22, 2010

Kingsley Plantation - A 19th Century Florida connection to Haiti

The recent earthquake devastation in Haiti has brought to mind that one group of early settlers of that unfortunate island nation migrated there from Florida during the 19th century.

Even though he owned slaves, a Florida planter named Zephaniah Kingsley was outraged by what he viewed as unlawful discrimination against free African Americans. As a result, he liberated scores of his slaves and helped them establish a free colony in Haiti, where they could escape the laws of the United States.

One of the more remarkable individuals ever to live in Florida, Kingsley had come to the state when it was still a Spanish colony. Acquiring lands and establishing a large plantation on Fort George Island, he moved into what remains the state's oldest standing plantation house.

Now preserved as part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, a relatively new national park area, the Kingsley Plantation offers a glimpse through time at the days when residents who had lived in Florida under Spanish or English rule tried to adapt to the cession of the territory to the United States in 1821. While Kingsley prospered under American rule, he objected strenuously to the imposition of "black codes," special laws designed to suppress the movement, rights and even the freedom of free people of color.

Kingsley's wife, Anta (Anna), had been born in Africa and was a slave when she encountered her future husband. He freed her and her children in 1803 and they moved into what is now known as the Kingsley House in 1814. The historic structure had been built in 1798.

Zephaniah Kingsley believed that people should be treated according to their abilities, not their color, and engaged in every legal avenue he could think of to oppose the imposition of tightening restrictions on the rights of free African Americans. Finally he decided that his effort was a lost cause.

Giving 50 of his slaves their legal freedom, he moved them along with Anta (Anna) and two of her children to Haiti, where he established a new colony at his own expense. Their families remain in the island nation to this day.

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