She became the wife of a plantation owner, and then a planter and slaveholder in her own right as a free black in early 19th-century Florida. She was born in as a princess of the Wolof people. When she was 13 years old, she was captured and sent to Cuba , where she was purchased by, impregnated by, and married to Zephaniah Kingsley , a slave trader and plantation owner. They had four children together.
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She became the wife of a plantation owner, and then a planter and slaveholder in her own right as a free black in early 19th-century Florida. She was born in as a princess of the Wolof people. When she was 13 years old, she was captured and sent to Cuba , where she was purchased by, impregnated by, and married to Zephaniah Kingsley , a slave trader and plantation owner.
They had four children together. Kingsley freed Anna Jai in , when she turned 18, and gave her responsibilities for his plantations in East Florida , then under Spanish colonial rule. Anna Jai managed a large and successful planting operation. After defending their property against invading Americans, she was awarded a land grant of acres 1. After the United States took control of Florida and American discriminatory laws threatened the multi-racial Kingsley family, most of them moved to Haiti.
Kingsley died soon after, and Anna returned to Florida to dispute her husband's white relatives who were contesting Kingsley's will; they sought to exclude Anna and her children from their inheritance. The court honored a treaty between the United States and Spain, and Anna was successful in the court case, despite a political climate hostile toward blacks. She settled in the Arlington neighborhood of Jacksonville, where she died in at 77 years old. Daniel L. Schafer, the biographer of Anna Kingsley, has based his account of her early life on conjecture given his research into the history of the area.
She was born Anta Majigueen Ndiaye in in present-day Senegal , in a portion of West Africa that was disrupted by a fierce war between the majority Wolof people and the minority Fula. Slave raids were frequent occurrences during incessant violence that left many small villages deserted, as people were abducted to be sold into slavery or they fled in fear for their lives.
Wolof tradition holds that a mythological figure named Njaajaan Ndiaye established the Jolof Kingdom that existed between and Through her father, Anta was a Ndiaye descendant and carried that name. Her mother also had ancestors who had held the title of the Buurba Jolof , or king of the Wolofs. Although lineages are disputed, there is a belief that Anta may have been the daughter of a still ruling as opposed to formerly ruling branch of the royal family.
She was transported to Havana, Cuba ; the name of the ship she was aboard is unknown. When Africans arrived in the Western Hemisphere to be sold into slavery, slave traders generally did not record their given names, but only their age, sex, and sometimes ethnicity, which were most important to buyers. After a brief stop in St. Augustine , Zephaniah Kingsley's ship made its way up the St. Johns River , stopping in an inlet now named Doctors Lake.
Attached to the lake was a dock, the main entrance to Kingsley's plantation which he had named Laurel Grove. Kingsley had become a citizen of Spanish Florida in , likely because it allowed him to continue his international slave trading, at a time when Great Britain and the United States were moving to prohibit it which they did in By the time she arrived at Laurel Grove, she was pregnant. Laurel Grove was a prosperous plantation that grew oranges, sea island cotton, peas, and potatoes.
Over a hundred slaves worked there, who were from several African ethnic groups; they lived in two groups of houses. Anna, however, lived with Kingsley in his house. Slaves were given a quota to fill; when they were finished, they were allowed to pursue other tasks.
Some tended personal gardens, while others produced crafts, both of which they were able to sell. Whether due to cultivation techniques or the task system, Laurel Grove was quite successful.
In , Kingsley granted Anna legal emancipation , which confirmed her high status at the plantation. Most visitors had assumed she was already a free woman. Legal emancipation was critical to her future. Three children had been born to the Kingsleys by this time: George, born June ; Martha, born July ; and Mary, born February Kingsley assured their manumission as well. Had he died before they were freed, Anna and the children would have been sold as slaves. Laurel Grove had a manager, also a former slave who had been freed.
Kingsley trusted Anna to represent him at the plantation. She was very capable, and could carry on all the affairs of the plantation in my absence as well as I could myself.
She was affectionate and faithful, and I could trust her. In as a free woman, Anna Kingsley petitioned the Spanish government for land. She purchased goods and livestock to get her farm started, as well as 12 slaves. Kingsley was kidnapped the same year and held until he endorsed the Patriot Rebellion , an insurgency by Americans to annex Florida to the United States. Americans and American-supplied Creek Indians raided towns and plantations in north Florida, sending any blacks they captured into slavery, regardless of their legal status.
The Patriots took Laurel Grove and 41 of its slaves, using the facilities as its headquarters while it carried out similar raids in the area. Kingsley fled after being released, his whereabouts unknown. To evade the Americans, Anna approached the Spanish and negotiated her escape, bringing along her children and a dozen slaves. She burned Kingsley's plantation to the ground while the Spanish watched.
For her actions, after the war the Spanish government granted Anna acres 1. Kingsley purchased another plantation on Fort George Island, near the mouth of the St. Johns River in The owner's house had been looted and vandalized, but every other structure on the property was destroyed.
While the slave quarters and various other buildings were being constructed, Anna moved in between Fernandina and Fort George Island, taking over managing the plantation while Kingsley was away on business.
It had a room above it where Anna lived with her children. Called the "Ma'am Anna House", this followed the common West African custom of wives' living separately from their husbands, particularly in polygamous marriages. Two of them brought children. Thirty-two slave cabins were constructed not far from Kingsley's house.
They were constructed of tabby , made by pounding oyster shells into lime and adding water and sand. The shells came from the massive middens left by the Timucua who previously inhabited the island. Anthropologists suggest that Anna may have had the knowledge to instruct her slaves how to form the tabby because it was widely used in West Africa.
The slave quarters were arranged in a semi-circular pattern that was an anomaly in the South. Some historians have suggested Kingsley arranged them to keep better watch over his slaves. Author Daniel Schafer hypothesized that Anna may have been responsible for the layout of the slave quarters: many African villages were similarly arranged in circular patterns. In , Anna bore her fourth son John, who was baptized in a Catholic ceremony with the daughter of another of Kingsley's wives.
Anna befriended a white woman named Susan L'Engle who was much impressed with Anna, and called her "the African princess". Susan L'Engle had the impression that Anna was quite lonely though her jobs at the plantation kept her constantly busy. I remember her very distinctly. She was not black, and had the most beautiful features you ever saw. She was a most imposing and very handsome woman. Her smooth, light brown skin, her dark-eyes and wavy [ sic ] made her outstanding, and I would not keep my eyes away for admiration.
She was quiet and moved with regal dignity—I have never seen anything like her, before or since. Her daughter was there also, and she was very light in color, but not as good-looking as her mother. I was six or seven years old at the time. I was Kingsley's niece. The next morning my aunt, Mrs. Gibbs, sent two servants for us with a horse and buggy, and we were carried over to Newcastle. My mother was furious that we had spent the night at Ma'm Anna's, but it could not be helped.
After Spain ceded control of Florida to the U. Southern states increased restrictions on free blacks after the Nat Turner Rebellion of The mixed-race Kingsley family was directly and negatively affected by these "illiberal and inequitable laws", as Kingsley stated in his will.
Their two oldest daughters had already married white planters in Florida and remained there. In all, 60 slaves, family members, and freed employees moved with Kingsley to Haiti to start a plantation called Mayorasgo de Koka. Because slavery was prohibited in Haiti, Kingsley converted his slaves to indentured servants, who could earn their freedom with another nine years of labor.
Kingsley portrayed life in Haiti as idyllic. In , when Anna was 50 years old, Kingsley died on his way to New York, where he was buried. One of the laws passed by the Territorial Council of Florida that so alarmed Kingsley was the provision that mixed race children could not inherit property. The territory did not recognize interracial or polygamous marriages as legal. The year following Kingsley's death, his sister Martha and her children contested his will as "defective and invalid".
Anna returned to Florida in to participate in the Kingsley estate defense, despite the increasingly tense racial climate in Duval County. Anna furthermore asked for and was granted the transfer of ownership of slaves who had been sent to the San Jose plantation when the family had moved to Haiti. Her request to rent slaves to other plantations to maximize her profits was rejected by the courts.
Anna and her children became Union sympathizers when the American Civil War broke out the following year. She and other free blacks were evacuated by Union forces when they captured Jacksonville in She returned home the following year to be closer to her daughters, and died in at the age of Kingsley's family was part of the African-American upper class for more than a century after her death: her great-granddaughter Mary Kingsley Sammis was the wife of Abraham Lincoln Lewis , Florida's first black millionaire, and Sammis and Lewis' descendants include the noted academic Johnnetta Betsch Cole , the conservationist MaVynee Betsch and the jazz musician John Betsch.
Celebrations were conducted in Senegal in by members of both the Ndiaye royal family and the Senegalese government in honor of Kingsley, marking her symbolic return to her homeland in Africa.
Anna Kingsley: A Free Woman
Zephaniah Kingsley, Jr. Johns River plantation in northeast Florida, where she soon became his household manager, his wife, and eventually the mother of four of his children. Her husband formally emancipated her in , and she became the owner of her own farm and twelve slaves the following year. For 25 years, life on her farm and at the Kingsley plantation on Fort George Island was relatively tranquil. But when Florida passed from Spanish to American control, and racism and discrimination increased in the American territories, Anna Kingsley and her children migrated to a colony in Haiti established by her husband as a refuge for free blacks.
On the first day of March , in the Spanish province of East Florida, white plantation owner Zephaniah Kingsley put his signature on a document that forever changed the life of a young African woman. The document was a manumission paper which ensured her legal freedom. The young woman, a native of Senegal whom Kingsley had purchased in a slave market in Havana, Cuba, was his eighteen-year-old wife and the mother of his three children. That paper not only marked the beginning of the young woman's freedom in the New World, it was also the beginning of the written record of a remarkable life. Her name was Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley. A free woman, Anna Kingsley petitioned the Spanish government for land, and land grant records show that in she was granted title to five acres on the St.
Once home to an African princess, wed to a Spanish plantation owner, the home stands as a piece of living African American history. Life for Anna Madgigine Jai was immensely different from the lives of most African slaves in the Americas. As the supposed daughter of a ruling family in Senegal in West Africa, Anna went on to lead a royal lifestyle in Florida and to leave behind a legacy of strength and determination. After her purchase at a slave market in Cuba, Zephaniah Kingsley- 30 years her senior- took Anna as his wife and brought her to his plantation, Laurel Grove, in then-Spanish East Florida, south of modern day Jacksonville. The practice of interracial marriage between slaves and Europeans was not uncommon in Spanish colonial times, as society was much more racially mixed than society in English colonies. The Spanish treated slaves more humanely than the French and the English, and gave them many chances to gain their freedom, allowed them to become full citizens after liberation, and frequently built families with Africans. In fact, the first free black town was formed in Spanish Florida.