Carpenter Bonify Napoleon, the father of Esther Napoleon Lottery Bartley, started his life in an African, Southern Tanzania community. His life changed in 1805 when he was captured and sold into slavery and then subsequently purchased by Zephaniah Kingsley in 1806. Bonify was purchased with a number of other men, including a man named Carpenter Bill.
Bonify worked as a carpenter for Zephaniah Kingsley at both the Laurel Grove plantation and the Ft. George plantation. He also worked as an assistant to Carpenter Bill in work for hire jobs on their one day off each week. Slave's hiring out their work was not uncommon in antebellum Northeast Florida. However, the ability to earn money and save for self-emancipation was not a guarantee of freedom.
Bonify and his family were sold in 1848 and suffered the pain of being separated at auction. While he, his wife Mary, and six of his children were sold to the Sammis Plantation, four were sold to different households and forced to move. It is likely Bonify lived out his days at the Sammis plantation in Arlington, Jacksonville after emancipation. Though little record is left of Bonify's life story, the craftsmanship of the buildings at Ft. George Island and the Sammis family home in Arlington is a testament to his life and abilities.
Last updated: February 5, 2020