JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Over the last two weekends, a special celebration honored the significance of the Kingsley Plantation’s Black history.
One woman’s enslavement at the Fort George Island plantation changed the course of history for her family and many others beyond.
Anna Kingsley, who was a princess in Africa, was captured and sold into slavery in Cuba in the early 1800s.
“She was purchased by Zephaniah [Kingsley] in Havana at the age of 13, brought to Spanish Florida to St. Augustine,” explained Timucuan Preserve park ranger Emily Palmer.
Zephaniah eventually married Anna while she was enslaved and the two had several children before Zephaniah freed them when Anna turned 18.
“As a free Black woman living in Spanish Florida, she could hold property, she could file a legal suit in court. She used her right to own businesses,” Palmer said.
Anna and some family fled to Haiti after the United States took control of Florida. But others stayed and settled in the area that is now Jacksonville.
The Kingsley Heritage Celebration started 25 years ago as a family reunion for the Kingsley family and other descendants of slaves who once lived on the plantation.
But the event has since evolved into a community event that’s in person again this year for the first time since 2020.
During the celebration the last two weekends, people have been walking the grounds rich with history and learning about what life was like for those enslaved at Kingsley Plantation.
“The story is complex,” Palmer said. “Laws in different areas affected different people, and they were individual lives, and a lot of different individual stories. Anna and Zephaniah’s story is just one. Every single one of those cabins represents a different family.”
Some of the families living at Kingsley Plantation were part of the Gullah Geechee community.
The Gullah Geechee people were enslaved from South Carolina down to St. Augustine. Once they were freed, some settled in the Cosmo and Fort Caroline areas of Jacksonville.
For Anthony Williams, a Gullah Geechee descendant, the celebration is a chance for education.
“It brings us all together as a community because we are learning the different cultures and where we come from,” Williams said. “At the end of the day, we are all connected, and I think events like this and cultures, like where I’m from, it all ties together.”