Carpenter Bill, later known as William Kingsley, was purchased by Zephaniah Kingsley in 1806, in the same group as a man named Carpenter Bonafi, from the Tanzania region of Africa. Bill is well known for having hired out his skills as a carpenter to the surrounding area. He chose Bonafi to be his assistant and became known as a skilled and reliable workman. As a carpenter for hire, he was able to pick his employers and was paid directly, rather than to a master. His carpentry work not only allowed him a hand in the early development of Jacksonville, but afforded him the ability to purchase freedom for himself and many of his family members.
Bill was able to purchase freedom for almost all of his family and worked hard throughout his life to realize that end. Bill earned approximately $1.00 a day and shared that wage with Bonafi. However, that work was not consistent throughout the year. Despite those difficulties, Bill was able to purchase all of his family except his daughter Lavinia, her husband, and their child. Although she was relocated within Jacksonville and likely could visit, it can be assumed that was of little consolation to Bill and his freed family. Bill was able to purchase his son Alonzo at auction for $400.00 and kept him from being sold away. Later in life, Alonzo became a commissary sergeant in Company A, Twenty-first U.S. Colored Infantry in the Union army.
The life of Carpenter Bill Kingsley shows not only the will of enslaved peoples to prosper in an unfair world, but the lengths a man will go to protect his family. Many long hours of labor were needed to free his family and the majority of those hours worked brought no pay. Bill's story is one of heroic dedication to both family and freedom.
Last updated: April 14, 2015