Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Rest of the Kingsley Story

Another home of the same period, Orange Hall, c.1829, one of the
best examples of antebellum Greek architecture, located in nearby
St. Mary's City, GA.
The tour of the Kingsley Plantation cannot help but bring one around to a closely related subject.  Slavery was a complicated social system that is in no way honestly portrayed by today’s habit of painting such things with a plain, broad brush that is supposed to cover everything with a single stroke.  For example, Zephaniah was a merchant, planter, and a slave trader.  As a slave trader, while in Havana in 1806, he purchased a teenaged African princess from Senegal, whose name you will find written either as Anta Majigeen Nadiaye or Anna Madgigene Jai.  He gave her her freedom and married her in 1811.  That she was both intelligent and capable is evidenced by him making her co-manager of his plantation operations, and also their financial dealings, while he conducted other businesses.  To procure her own financial standing, the newly freed Anna purchased her own slaves.  Zephaniah, meanwhile, went from slave trader to one of the strongest advocates for protecting the civil and property rights of freed slaves, including trying to draft legislation to that end. 

Spanish society was very lenient and open on the subject of race relations.  When Florida was annexed into the U.S. in 1821, the new Florida territory agreed to respect the rights of freed slaves, but instead quickly began enacting harsh laws designed to severely restrict the rights of all persons of color.  By 1832, Zephaniah became so embittered, and so fearful for what might be the future of his wife and children on his death, he began searching for a place to move his family.  By 1837, this had been accomplished, and his wife, two sons, and 50 of his freed slaves were relocated to Haiti.  Their two daughters remained in Jacksonville and married white men of wealth.  Slaves that did not wish to move were allowed to buy their freedom at one-half their value, and were assured they could join his family at any time if they felt conditions in Florida became intolerable.   He prepared a very detailed and carefully worded will to protect their assets, but as soon as he died, other family members began a long series of attacks protesting the will until little of their lives’ work was left.  The most aggressive attackers of the will were Martha McNeill, Zephaniah’s sister, and her daughter, Anna McNeill Whistler.  An interesting footnote on history is Anna McNeill Whistler is known to all as the subject of the portrait “Whistler’s Mother”, being the mother of her artist son, James Abbott McNeill.  After the battle ended, Kingsley’s wife and family received a total of a mere $2,000 as their inheritance from all the considerable holdings in North Florida.

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