The Kingsley Plantation audio tour "The Lion's Story Teller" provides visitors with an immersive experience of the past. We are pleased to offer this program free of cost. Simply play the audio tracks listed below on your mobile device. The tour is available in several forms to meet visitors' needs, including an audio described tour which can be requested in the visitor center. The award winning tour takes visitors throughout the grounds of Kingsley Plantation and into the lives of the free and enslaved people of Fort George Island.
NARRATOR: Face the river then turn to your right. Staying near the bank, follow the water’s edge towards the palm trees and benches. Our story begins there.
NARRATOR: Welcome to Fort George Island and the Kingsley Plantation. As you look around today, in the peaceful setting of a national park, something vital to its history is missing -- the people who lived and died here.
FEMALE SLAVE: My husband is from the SuSu tribe in the west, and I was born near the Pongo river, in Guinea.
NARRATOR: They left traces of their existence: buildings where they lived and worked… letters and diaries they wrote… documents they signed. But others have been lost… their voices silenced by enslavement. SLAVE DRIVER: Sometimes, they do not understand. They want to know “why?”
NARRATOR: Our challenge is to rediscover those lost voices and to listen to what they teach us about our past… and our future.
JOURNEYMAN SLAVE: I will defend what is mine in my own way.
NARRATOR: Much of what you’ll discover here is challenging; it goes against what we think we know of our history. Yet we honor those who lived before us by remembering the past as accurately as the records will allow.
OVERSEER: A runaway has stolen property just as if he killed the master’s hogs.
NARRATOR: This tour focuses on the people who lived here during a specific time, from 1814 through 1838 when Fort George Island was owned by Zephaniah Kingsley.
FREE BLACK MAN: I keep the papers in my pocket. All the time, those papers stay in my pocket.
NARRATOR: During your visit, I encourage you to set aside what you think you know and make room for what you discover. In the end, our capacity for dignity -- as well as our justifications for slavery -- may surprise or even amaze.
KITCHEN BOSS: I won’t think like that. I think that maybe she’s alive somewhere.
NARRATOR: Let's begin your visit today where so many did before, at the water. Head over to the river's edge, near the benches by the tall palm trees in front of the house. On the way, imagine for a moment the early 1800s and the weather is much like it is today.
SLAVE GIRL: My mother used to say, “until the lion has his own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part.”
Tour Stop 2
At the waterfront in between the palm trees at the bench.
NARRATOR: This small stretch of land has been populated for thousands of years, in large part due to the location. Stop when you’re directly in front of the house and turn to face the Fort George River on the left. Now, off to your right, the Atlantic Ocean is close by. The temperate climate and abundant rainfall provided a year-round ability to grow crops and harvest nature's bounty. In short, this is a perfect place for a commercial, agricultural enterprise -- a plantation. If this were your plantation, this would be your front yard; the river, your driveway. For a moment, imagine this is your plantation-- smell the air, feel the breeze. The double row of palm trees behind you that lead from the front porch of the house ended at your private dock. Friends and relatives would disembark here, or you and your family would board ships to take you away for business or pleasure. From the front porch, or the widow's walk on the roof, you could watch for new arrivals or plan your next journey. Look around you, this part of your plantation is the land of the free. From that same widow's walk, high above the ground, you could turn and look over the rest of the holdings -- your land and buildings, your fields of cotton and indigo, and your slaves. However, if you were the "master" of Kingsley Plantation, you could be Zephaniah Kingsley, a white former slave trader and businessman OR you could be its mistress, Anna Kingsley, an African slave of Zephaniah’s, then his emancipated wife, and ultimately a plantation and slave owner in her own right. We often find ourselves at odds with what we think we know about our history and what we actually discover to be true. The master and mistress of this plantation were a white man and a black woman. Years before Zephaniah bought this property, he purchased 13-year old Anna Madgigine Jai. Soon thereafter, in Kingsley’s own words, they were married “according to the customs of a foreign land.” And for the next four decades, in all respects, he honored her as his wife. In an interview when he was in his seventies, Kingsley described her as follows:
KINGSLEY “READER” VOICE: She was a fine, tall figure, black as jet, but very handsome. 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.
NARRATOR: Five years after he purchased Anna in Cuba, Zephaniah emancipated her and from that point forward, she was no longer his "property." In 1814, together with their three children, they sailed up this very river to take possession of their new plantation. 300 yards farther around the bend to your right was the loading dock. There ships would be loaded with bales of fine sea-island cotton, indigo, and other goods. Supplies would be delivered, including slaves – men, women, and children -- some brought from Africa, some purchased from other slaveholders, and some simply moved here from the Kingsley’s other farms or plantations. With that in mind, turn towards the house and imagine this particular plantation. The story continues at the front porch.
Stop 3: Supplemental Material
The tranquil waterfront of Kingsley Plantation was the lifeline highway for travel and trade. Wooden crates, barrels and rough burlap sacks filled with sea island cotton, indigo, sugar and other goods would be loaded onto barges to be ferried to other islands or out to waiting ships. Here’s an image that illustrates what life might have looked like on the piers of the plantation as slaves loaded and unloaded cargo These piers were also the point of departure for the plantation owner and his family as they traveled on business or for pleasure.
This home, like everything else built on the property before the end of the Civil War, was built by slave labor. The enduring foundation and fine craftsmanship is a testament to the skill and talent of these men. From the coquina basement to the finely turned columns, the large windows and wide porches, this house represents the master’s power and wealth – wealth that was not possible without enslaved men, women, and children.
(SFX – distant sound as if through windows -- clinking china, silverware, laughter, pos. music, continue to end)
Inside this home, people ate food prepared by slaves off of fine china plates; they slept on soft linen laundered by people who slept on pallets.
Zephaniah Kingsley was very aware of this fact of life. In an 1829 treatise promoting his views of slavery he wrote,
KINGSLEY “READER” VOICE
“It is certainly humiliating for a proud master to reflect, that he depends on his slave even for the bread [he] eats.”
Yet, it was Kingsley’s views, for better and for worse that prevailed here on Fort George Island On the one hand, his views were paternalistic. He believed that every owner owed his slave affection, or respect, as if he or she were a member of his own family. On the other hand, he believed that slaves were property whose primary purpose was to create wealth for their rightful owner.
And it was under these contrasting views that hundreds of men, women, and children lived… and died.
KINGSLEY “READER” VOICE
The best we can do in this world is to balance evils judiciously.
Zephaniah Kingsley made that statement in an interview. He didn’t specify which “evils” he meant, but at the time, he was defending the fact that he didn’t free all of his slaves when he moved his family to Haiti adding:
KINGSLEY “READER” VOICE
“to do good in the world, we must have money.”
(SFX – fade “house” sounds in next para, cross fade walking sounds)
To understand slavery at Kingsley Plantation, it helps to understand the beliefs, culture, and politics of that particular time and place. The story continues around the back of the house, near the low stone well. As you’re looking at the house, move to your left, around the building.
NARRATOR (SFX – the sounds of the working plantation should continue under this entire piece. Include sounds of walking.) As you continue around to the back, picture the hustle and bustle of a working plantation. To your left, the loading docks; in front of you the stable is abuzz with activity. Head toward the low stone well; when you get there, notice the low trough, were the family’s horses would snort and stomp while they quenched their thirst. In fact, this well provided water to everyone – enslaved and free. All day, dark skinned men and women criss-crossed this open field, completing their tasks. For a moment, try to picture their faces, and imagine their day-to-day existence. It’s important to know that when the Kingsley family moved here, the ground under your feet was Spanish soil, not American soil. Under Spanish colonial rule, the basic concept of slavery -- that one person had the legal right to own and control another -- was true. But there was a key difference, one reflected in Zephaniah Kingsley's words and action, that slaves were considered "human beings" and not merely “property.” The Spanish system was based on three tiers, or castes -- slaves, free people of color, and whites. More importantly, neither the Spanish nor Kingsley viewed enslavement as a permanent condition based on race. In his Treatise, Kingsley described his view of the slave system like this:
KINGSLEY “READER” VOICE
The idea of slavery, when associated with cruelty and injustice, is revolting to every philanthropic mind; but when that idea is associated with justice, and benevolence, slavery, commonly so called, easily amalgamates with the ordinary conditions of life. NARRATOR For Kingsley the “ordinary conditions of life” were a society separated by class, and by “class,” he meant status and wealth. Think about these same enslaved people, crossing this clearing, drinking from this well, doing the same thing day after day, while the world changes around them._ In 1821, Florida became a United States territory and the laws quickly changed to a two-caste, race based system that Kingsley despised. His dislike wasn’t based on any belief that slavery was immoral, but rather that the two-caste system would ultimately lead to rebellion. As law after law was passed, stripping his black family of legal protections and inheritance rights, Kingsley eventually moved his family to Haiti, the only free black republic in the world at that time. (SFX – continue well sounds, (winch/bucket) horse, general sounds) Kingsley's business interests kept him away for extended periods. It was left to his family, and especially his wife, to enforce his world view. However, it wasn’t just the Kingsley’s concept of slavery that goes against our modern understanding; their family dynamic challenges our stereotypes as well. Now, move towards the two-story kitchen house located directly behind the main house. (SFX – fade sounds of plantation)
When most people think about plantation life, they think of the antebellum South, where people were separated by skin color. But life on the Kingsley Plantation was very, very different.
(SFX – sounds of children, people working, women talking, laughing, etc.)
First, there was Kingsley’s openly mixed race family. The unassuming building in front of you was the kitchen house of Kingsley plantation. It was also Anna Kingsley’s home for more than two decades.
By the time Kingsley purchased Fort George Island, he had already freed Anna and their children George, Martha, and Mary. Their fourth son, John Maxwell, was born free, here on the island. Anna owned her own land and slaves, and actively participated in the management of the plantation.
Second, Zephaniah and Anna practiced polygamy. Zephaniah had four wives, all of whom lived on the island at one time or another. Anna was the first.
This may seem odd by today’s standards, but it wasn’t an uncommon arrangement at that time.
Anna was from the Wolof culture where polygamy was the norm; the husband lived in his own house, and each wife had a separate residence close by. As the first and therefore primary wife, Anna had an additional position of authority on the plantation. The other wives were not considered “rivals,” but rather sisters.
For a moment, think about the diverse Kingsley family as they lived on the property. And keep in mind that it wasn’t just Zephaniah’s polygamous mixed race family that lived here, but many other white family members as well, including his sisters, in-laws, and nephews.
In this yard, the four mulatto children of Anna and Zephaniah played with their white cousins. The children of at least two of Zephaniah’s other wives -- all Negro, all enslaved and then later freed -- added to the various hues. The children were looked after by other enslaved Africans as well as Anna’s co-wives. All of the Kingsley children, including Zephaniah’s nephews, were educated here. The boys were trained to manage the properties. Tutors and lessons were part of daily life.
So far we’ve focused mainly on the free men and women of Kingsley Plantation, the people protected by the wealth -- and strength of personality -- of its master.
But for the rest of our story, we’ll explore the world of those who were held in bondage. People whose skin color and lack of wealth kept their voices silent for almost two centuries.
Step into Anna’s parlor. It’s the doorway to the right.
This room was the front parlor of a free black woman. Here, Ma’am Anna managed the household affairs of Fort George Island and would perhaps consult with overseers or managers. One of whom was Anna and Zephaniah’s son, George. Also in this room, Anna gave instructions to her own slaves, many of whom were children. On occasion, she entertained guests as well, including her co-wives, who sat with her in this room, talking about their children… and their husband. Yet even as a wealthy, resourceful, free black woman, Anna shared a common history with her own slaves. Perhaps one of them remembered the story like this:
(MUSIC: African “lullaby,” Senegal if possible, solo voice)
I remember my mother’s voice. Sometimes I wake up in the night and think “Is she singing?” But no, she is not. Maybe it was someone else.
(Music fade out. SFX – village being attacked)
The night they came and took us away, I can still see their faces, shining and dark in the night. The fires and the screams haunt my sleep and I wake up afraid, drenched in sweat. I never saw her again…
(SFX -- village sounds fade)
Sometimes I wonder, will I forget her?
Here, I carry. (SFX – sounds of activity, walking, pots banging) I carry clean clothes up and dirty linens out. I carry breakfast, dinner and supper to the table and chamber pots to the privy. I take care of Ma’am’s children and I sing my mother’s songs to them. Whatever Ma’am says to do, you do. Makes no difference. But you must be careful; make sure nothing goes missing or gets broken. One day, a broach goes missing and you might not sleep on your back for a week. But you don’t say anything. Not here.
It won’t do to feel sorry though. My mother used to say, “It is better to walk than to curse the road.” I didn’t want to come here, but here I am. And I am a married woman and soon will have a child of my own. And one day we will be free, like Ma’am Anna or Ms. Sophy. We will have our own home and build a life for our children. But for now, I will carry the food to the house and dirty clothes to the wash. I will not be afraid.
(Music – up)
And I will always remember my mother.
This story is based in part on Anna, as well as Sophy, one of the other girls purchased by Kingsley in 1806. But more importantly, it was a story shared by enslaved African women, or their mothers or grandmothers. No one became a slave without violence and misery.
The question of how Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley, once a slave herself, could enslave others is hard for our modern minds to grapple with. She didn’t enslave other people reluctantly; instead she used her wealth and fortitude to fight for the right to do so. Indeed, in her final will, written in 1860, the year before the outbreak of the Civil War, she declared her young slaves – Polly, Joe, Elizabeth, and Julia, ages 9 to 17 – be sold and the profit given to her own children.
For some people, Anna’s personal story of capture and enslavement make them want to excuse, or at least defend, her actions. Others want to hold her to a higher standard. This paradox is hard to reconcile, and yet we also have to ask, what if her skin had been white? Or if she had been male? Would these differences affect our desire to either excuse or condemn her?
In the end, nothing negates the fact that Anna Kingsley enslaved her fellow human beings.
(MUSIC – fade out)
When you’re ready, go back outside and turn to the right. The door past the stairs leads to the kitchen. Our story continues there.
Every day, all day, the rich aroma of freshly cooked meals filled this small room and wafted through the windows. The kitchen boss, or cook, would constantly be in motion, preparing one meal, cleaning up after another. Cooking included more than simply chopping and rolling. Fresh chicken perlau (a stew-like mix of rice and chicken) would require killing, plucking and dressing the chicken. Enslaved helpers, often children, would fetch pork from the smokehouse, vegetables from the garden, and rice, wheat flour or corn meal from the storehouse, then work alongside the kitchen boss from early in the morning till well after dark.
In the next room, with the tabby floor, laundry from the main house and other family dwellings would be washed and mended; a hot, back-breaking chore.
(SFX – kitchen sounds, chopping, pots clanging)
It is always hot. Summer or winter. The fire’s got to stay lit all night. You can’t cook without a good fire and I am a very good cook. Perlau and pork roast; corn and peas. I’d never heard of squash before but I cooked okra as a little girl, fried with a little corn meal. Today, young mas’er Charlie wants an orange cake.
It’s work. Hard work. The others, they get Saturday afternoon and Sunday off but I cook every day for the folks that don’t cook for themselves. Ma’am Anna or one of ‘em tells me who’s going to be here, and what to fix. And if Mas’er Zephaniah is coming home, there’s always something special. I know Ma’am Anna is glad to see him come. I ‘spect she gets lonely. I know. I get lonely, too. (SFX – sound of Indian raids)
I miss my husband, and my baby, my Hannah. Years back, when we was at the old place, they was both carried off by Indians during the raids. They came very early in the morning. I was already gone cooking breakfast.
(SFX – fade raid sounds, up kitchen sounds)
She’s a pretty little girl, a good girl. Worked right here in the kitchen with me. She would’ve been a fine cook too. I know. A mother just knows about her own baby. Some say that Indians just killed everybody they took but I don’t believe that. I won’t think like that. I think that maybe she’s alive somewhere. Maybe she’s free. And maybe, she’s cooking somewhere too.
This story is based in part on any woman who lost a child, yet specifically on “Old Rose.” Rose’s daughter was abducted from one of Kingsley’s other plantations, during a Seminole war raid in 1812.
In every instance, enslaved people had no control over their own fate, or the fate of their family. The records indicate the Kingsley’s and their managers would have been sympathetic to a devastating loss, - such as Rose’s loss of her child – but it is also clear that such losses wouldn’t have lead to a lessening of burdens or a loosening of restrictions.
However, some behavior was often rewarded with additional privileges. The next location on your tour is outside of the stable. As you leave the kitchen, follow the path in front of you and slightly to your right, towards the two-story tabby barn. Stop near the tree where the path forks.
Barns and stables were a center of activity on any working plantation, and Fort George Island had several. The building on your left was actually a stable; however, it wasn’t just a place to shelter horses. Carriages needed to be repaired and horses needed to be saddled so overseers could ride out and inspect the property. Other barns would store the massive bales of sea-island cotton, waiting to be shipped to ports north.
Stop near the fork in the path, face the stable and imagine a series of buildings behind it and to the right. One housed the cane sugar mill that produced the syrup and sugar used on the property. Another was used to grind corn into meal and store flour and rice. Plantations required a wide diversity of skills – blacksmiths, carpenters, millworkers, sailors, coopers– and most of these jobs were done by enslaved men. Picture the men and women, as well as older children, who worked at their assigned task every day except Sunday, always under the eye of the overseers and drivers. Under Kingsley’s view of plantation management, competence, loyalty, and good behavior could earn a man a degree of self-direction.
(SFX – blacksmith sounds, stable, horses, etc.)
I build everything (SFX – hammers, sawing, background voices etc.) – houses, barns, docks, storehouses, fences, furniture – everything. I first learned to build from my father, as he learned from his. Every day, I’m told what to do; and since I’m a slave, every day I do it.
But from time to time, I hire myself out. Mr. McNeill says I can hire my own time as I see fit and keep what’s paid to me, unless I need to pay out some help. And I decide who’ll work with me and who won’t. Most days I don’t think about needing another man’s permission to work, of what he can say to me or what he can do; I think about my wife and my children. But some days I do. I think about it a lot.
I am a man... and a slave. So I do my work, save my money, and bide my time. I’m not afraid of Mr. McNeill or Mas’er Kingsley or any other man. But some days, I’m afraid of what I will do if I ever see a man raise a hand to my wife, or my children. Because I am a slave…. but I’m also a man.
This was based in part on a man known as Carpenter Bill. Bill was a skilled craftsman and often hired by local plantation owners. With the money he earned, he eventually purchased his and his family’s freedom, and remained in the area working for hire.
Under Kingsley’s view of slavery, intelligent and skilled men and women were to be cultivated and rewarded, often with greater degrees of self-management. This view was not necessarily altruistic. While he did believe that dignity was important to his slave’s happiness and overall satisfaction, he also believed it was a mistake to make an enemy of a gifted man. In other words, a smart but dissatisfied man was more likely to cause trouble, whereas a reasonably satisfied person would advance his own interests.
But even if a person was given freedom by an owner or purchased it for themselves, life as a free black person still had dangers and difficulties,
(SFX – sounds of stable interior, animals, blacksmith, carriage sounds, etc. Layer in throughout next para)
Imagine the rich smell of leather, combined with the not-always-so-sweet smell of horses. In this room wood, metal, and leather for repairing carriages and wagons would be neatly stacked. Bins of nails would sit on shelves, ready to shoe a sturdy draft or a fine riding horse.
Fort George Island was a successful venture for Kingsley and most of the work would have been completed by his slave laborers. But evidence suggests that additional skilled labor was needed from time to time; and the best candidates were often emancipated slaves. A stable like this, where special tools were kept and specialized work performed, is a likely place for such a man to be. FREE BLACK MAN I keep the papers in my pocket. All the time, those papers stay in my pocket. I have been a free man for eight years, and those papers say so.
I can read the newspapers too, and every day seems like there’s a new law that says where I can go, a new tax that I can’t afford, a new law that I broke not knowing about it. I’ve been around here a long time; most folks – white and Negro – they know me. But these new ones don’t and they don’t care. I worry for my wife now all the time.
Today Ma’am Anna hired me to shoe a new horse. Old Pedro is busy with Mr. McNeill today, and since I’ve been taking care of Ma’am Anna’s horses for years, just makes sense I do it still.
But I worry for my wife and children. They’re still owned by Mas’er Kingsley, but she comes to my place every weekend. These new folks don’t see no difference between a free man and a black man. Your soul may be free, but your skin is certainly black. And no black man should ever be free. So I keep those papers in my pocket; all the time, in my pocket.
On many occasions, Kingsley manumitted slaves as a reward for service. On many other occasions, the records show Kingsley’s slaves purchased their own freedom. This story is based in part on Abraham Hannahan and Carpenter Bill, both of whom became free men.
(SFX – fade out stable sounds in next para)
Abraham was freed in 1811. The year before, when he was manager of Kingsley’s Laurel Grove plantation, white militia members confiscated guns belonging to Kingsley’s slaves. Abraham was sentenced to 50 lashes and a month of hard labor in chains for being insubordinate to the local authorities while verbally defending Kingsley’s property.
Bill, a highly skilled carpenter, continued to work for the family after purchasing his own freedom. Kingsley agreed with the Spanish provision that any slave could purchase their freedom for one half of their appraised value. There is considerable evidence that Kingsley adhered to this promise even after the United States outlawed the freeing of slaves.
This also raises difficult questions about why freed men and women continued to work for those who enslaved them. Two possibilities may have been legal protection and family loyalty.
Free blacks needed a white person to speak for them -- legally and socially. Under Spanish law, free men and women had some measure of protection and were recognized as free blacks. After governance shifted to the U.S. it rapidly became more and more restrictive to the point where a free black person was required to have a white guardian so they could move about unmolested.
Manumission papers would never be far from the former slave’s grasp. Under US law, if a free black person committed any offense and was fined, that person could be sold to pay the debt, even if the crime was simply being black and unsupervised.
As for loyalty, it wasn’t necessarily to the former owner, but rather to one’s own family. Abraham’s family remained Kingsley property for nearly two decades before he freed them. Bill was able to purchase his own freedom along with his wife and three of his younger children. However, his other two children remained the property of the Kingsley family.
The truth remains that the vast majority of enslaved people at Fort George Island never saw freedom and had none of the self-direction given to men like Abraham or Bill. To discover more about the lives of other enslaved men and women on Fort George Island, move to the garden. It’s located directly across the field from the stable door. When you get there have a seat, make yourself comfortable and imagine the working life of Kingsley’s Plantation.
This small garden is just under a tenth of an acre. An enslaved person would be responsible for an area roughly three times this size on any given day. It’s planted year round to show the variety of crops grown on the plantation, but the actual working fields were spread throughout the island.
Kingsley’s plantations used the “task system” of labor, as opposed to the “gang system” most people envision when we think of slavery. Under a gang system, slaves worked from sun up until they were released from their labor for the day, usually sun down.
Under the task system, each day the overseer, through the various slave drivers, would assign the day’s work to each person, enough to keep the person working from sunrise until about two in the afternoon. The day’s work generally involved tending crops, but was assigned based on the needs and plans of the day. Clearing land, loading ships, cleaning cotton, tending animals, any work the plantation needed would be required of the enslaved.
Men, women, and older children put in a full day’s work. After the task was completed, the rest of the day would be spent tending their own gardens, fishing or hunting. But this was not “leisure” time. The time was used to make items to sell, to raise additional food to feed their families or sell at markets, to earn the precious money to ultimately purchase one’s own freedom.
In no way should this suggest the task system was an “easier” or “better” system of slavery. Kingsley and his overseers believed that Africans were better suited to work in the Florida climate and expected a lot out of them. In Florida’s hundred-degree heat and below freezing winters, on an island where both rattlesnakes and alligators flourished, where disease-carrying mosquitos were a daily reality, the slaves of the Kingsley plantation were expected to be content.
(SFX – sounds of hoeing, voices in background).
FIELD SLAVE Today, it’s plant one quarter of an acre. Yesterday, it was set a mile of fence posts. Tomorrow, who knows? But tomorrow will come none-the-less. (SFX – sounds of hoeing). I start at sunrise. I quit when today’s work is done. Then I work my own piece till dark.
But don’t work too hard or too fast. One has to think of the others as well as tomorrow. If I finish today’s quarter too soon, tomorrow I may be given more work. What if the next day I’m sick or hurt? What if the others fall behind or seem slow by my example? I keep an even pace because tomorrow will be the same, and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Some days are harder though. I’ve seen a man whipped like a dog. I’ve seen with my own eyes a man watch his wife be whipped, heard her cries. I saw the shame in his face and the anger in his fists as he turned away. I do not know if I could turn away. A man can close his eyes but who can close their ears? I do not know if the overseer saw what I saw. If he did, he would not have slept well that night.
I have no wife, no children. Not yet. But I will not bear a lash. I will not be another man’s dog. NARRATOR
A cornerstone of the Spanish system was that slaves were human beings with souls and intelligence. With that belief comes the understanding that you could push a man too far and that the natural result of injustice would be escape, or vengeance. The evidence of whipping at Fort George Island is rare, but not unheard of. Kingsley owned a young man named Romeo. After Kingsley’s death, his nephew, Charles McNeill inherited Romeo and moved him to the San Jose plantation. Soon afterwards, he ran away and the evidence suggests it was because he had been whipped. McNeill offered a twenty-dollar reward for the return of his slave “dead or alive.” Romeo was eventually returned to the plantation by another Kingsley relative, John Sammis, who did so on the condition “he would not beat [him] cruelly.” The records show McNeill did not physically punish him and a few years later, he was a free man.
Never-the-less, Kingsley himself stated that slave society could not survive without the constant threat of violence. And for the enslaved man or woman on Kingsley’s plantations, the fact that they probably weren’t beaten every day, in no way lessened the fact that they could have been beaten any day.
Of course, Kingsley’s view also held warning for the overseers – just because a man chose not to strike back against an injustice today, didn’t mean he wouldn’t exact vengeance tomorrow.
The daily reality of Fort George Island slave society was a delicate balance – between threats and fear, provocation and reaction. The fulcrum of this balance was the overseer.
Before Kingsley purchased Fort George Island, his Laurel Grove plantation was run entirely by slave labor, including the manager and overseer. As time moved on, laws were passed requiring only white overseers. Zephaniah and Anna’s first-born son, George, grew up here and learned to manage the property. When his parents moved to Haiti in 1838, George purchased the property. – For a while, an overseer, who had to be white, reported to an owner who was, by legal definition, a Negro.
(SFX – sounds of “work” – fields, barn, docks)
Every evening managers and overseers would plan the next day’s tasks and assign them through the driver. They would then monitor the work in the fields, barns, docks, anywhere a task was being completed, walking or riding horses to each location. White or black, they adhered to Kingsley’s method of management.
Six acres of cotton, six acres of corn and peas, and four of sweet potatoes. Sixteen acres per Negro in the field. But it’s the yield per acre that makes money; there’s no money in dirt. If there’s no rain and the yield is low, that’s not their fault. But if the rain is good and the soil is good, and the crops are poor, then poor work is to blame.
Every day I balance effort against results and reward good work with good favor, though punishment is sometimes necessary to ensure proper behavior. Only the most egregious behavior earns a lash. Insubordinate language or actions cannot be tolerated. Theft or destruction of the master’s property is the same. A runaway has stolen property just as if he killed the master’s hogs. Sometimes the lash is necessary, but only a stupid and wicked man imposes it unjustly; and I am not a stupid or wicked man.
The key to productive labor is satisfaction with his home. Do not interfere with his domestic life, permit him, if his loyalty and demeanor justify it, to earn his own money and allow him to spend it, within proper limits. For his own good, restrict his visits to others but allow decent neighbors to share in their festivities. In exchange for your generosity, you will be rewarded with happy Negroes and considerable profits.
Kingsley’s apparently lenient -- and definitely patronizing -- view of his enslaved labor force had less to do with compassion and more to do with coercion and profit. The previous description by the overseer was taken almost word for word from Kingsley’s treatise promoting his system of slavery. And while there is no evidence of gratuitous beatings that were the realities of many antebellum plantations of the American South, there is no doubt that Kingsley or his kin would use violent and demeaning punishments as they saw fit.
(SFX – fade out under next para)
Yet, the evidence suggests Kingsley’s combination of rewards and punishments, possible manumission, and mostly hands-off domestic approach was, indeed, effective. High crop yields and very low instances of disturbance support the evidence that just enough satisfaction, just enough stability, and just enough hope for the future could control a person as effectively as the whip.
Now we move away from the realm of owners, managers, and overseers. Away from Master Zephaniah, Ma’am Anna, and their white relatives and free black children. Make your way back to the path, then through the two tabby columns.
(SFX – sounds of working plantation, transitioning to “ghosted” distancing effect, reverb, then cross fade to sounds of quarters, voices, music, and very faintly, almost inaudibly at the end – a woman crying)
This point marks the transition between the realm of the free person and that of the enslaved. In the early eighteen hundreds, the distinction would have been much, much deeper.
To the north, behind you, free men and women -- white, black, and mulatto – could plan for their own and their children’s futures. They could enjoy their wealth and the opportunities it purchased. They could chart their own destinies.
(SFX – Crossfade working sounds to quarters sounds)
To the south, in front of you, black men, women, and children, whose labor produced the wealth their owners used against them, ended one more day in bondage, and prepared for the next.
Continue across the parking lot and follow the path to the left, towards the ruins of the slave quarters. As you do, imagine the view as it was in the early 1800s.
The area was entirely open; in fact, the entire island was almost completely bare of trees since it had been cleared for crops.
The distant tabby cabins arched in front of you, split by the narrow dirt road. Small garden plots filled the area around and behind them. In the late afternoon, smoke rose from each chimney as evening meals were prepared. Beyond the cabins, fields of cotton, corn, and peas stretched into the distance.
While everything on a plantation “belonged” to the owner, this small part of Fort George Island was the realm of the slave.
(SFX – natural sounds, wind, leaves, birds, etc.)
Each family had their own garden of about a quarter acre. Starting at dawn, the area would be mostly deserted while the people completed their assigned daily tasks, usually an eight to ten hour day depending on how much and how fast the person worked.
(SFX – sounds of people, voices, footsteps, general “life” layer in under the following para)
In the late afternoon, these quarters would come to life as men and women walked a similar path to their own home. House slaves came from the north, barn and dockworkers from the northeast. From the south, men, women, and children would return from the fields.
(SFX – as the character moves closer to the quarters, sounds of life, voices, possibly music and work up)
My hands bleed a bit today from picking seeds and bugs out of cotton, and my back hurts and my feet hurt and my shoulders ache, ache, ache. But I’m going home now. Out from beneath the overseer’s eyes and ears, I can hear our songs.
And my babies are here. I want to see my babies. Sometimes I cry because they were born into slavery but I have to smile, too. They are my beautiful babies, and I just know -- in my heart I know -- they won’t be low forever. They will feel the sweet breath of freedom one day. (SFX – add sounds of different languages and music if possible)
My husband is from the SuSu tribe in the west, and I was born near the Pongo River, in Guinea. Next to us live two from Senegal, husband and wife I love her like a sister. The driver is Eabo, from the Niger River; his wife is from New Calabar. I do not recognize their songs, but the rhythm reaches inside of me, and soothes my heart. Tomorrow, my body will ache again; I will clean bugs and seeds from another twenty pounds of cotton. But tonight, I will hear their music and think of my home.
Today one can only imagine the rich mix of languages and cultures that melded together here. According to the records available and Kingsley’s own indication, most of the enslaved adult men and women on his plantations, including Fort George Island, were from many different places in Africa. This cultural diversity ranged from what is today Senegal on the East African Coast to Guinea on the West. By every account the Kingsley family and overseers took a “hands off” approach to the languages and customs practiced by their slaves. The semi-circular layout, unique from all other plantation ruins, is reminiscent of Anna Kingsley’s Wolof community layout. While the design may or may not have been created on purpose, it certainly helped create a sense of community in this unique place.
(SFX – continue throughout, mixing music and rhythms,)
Here a rich culture was created in the pressure cooker of enslavement. The music, language and other cultural treasures that survive to this day evolved in spite of -- not because of -- horrific circumstances. As one looks around today, in the peaceful environment of a national park, it’s easy to miss the reality of an enslaved person’s existence.
The Kingsley slave quarters were certainly better built than most other slave dwellings of the time -- the tabby construction, fireplaces, windows, and the relatively generous amount of space. Yes, the people who lived here created a community all their own. And yet, every moment of every day, their minds and bodies were the property of another, kept in this degraded state to produce wealth. Continue moving about half way down the row of cabins. When the story resumes, choose a cabin and step inside.
Step inside one of these ruins; see the tabby walls and the ravages of time. And then remember, that for more than a hundred years, this wasn’t a “slave dwelling”; it was someone’s home.
Each small cabin housed a family and was their only private place. The main room held a few chairs and a table along with the family’s supply of food for the week. The smaller room would be used for sleeping and storing the family’s few possessions. Above, a steep, pitched roof made room for a sleeping loft. In this tiny space, a husband wife and their children, made a home. But here the rich aroma of the evening meal would be mixed with the odors of sweat and dirt.
(SFX – sounds of fireplace, scraping chairs, muted voices. Distant sounds of the outside fade as the character monologue begins)
(SFX – continue “interior” sounds, fade “outside” sounds to bare minimum, perhaps occasional bird or dog barking)
I live in this house with my wife and my children – three so far, two boys and a girl. There will be more. I fix machines and other equipment, and build whatever is needed and charge my wage. Mr. McNeill don’t have to allow that, but he does. My wife hires out to launder and we sell our extra vegetables. I will buy all our freedom. Provided the mas’ers remain true to their word, and we don’t get sold before I’ve saved enough, this house will never be my home. And I will have enough. I swear I will.
The law’s changing though. A black man has to be careful and have the trust of a white man, who will speak on his behalf, who will look after his interest, his family.
I have a gun in this house; have one right here. I use it to keep birds and animals out of the field, and sometimes to hunt. If I use it against the master, the world will be against me. But, if I use it to defend what’s his, then I will have at least one ally in the world. I will defend what is mine, in my own way – my family, my money, my future.
(SFX – fade out under next para)
The fact that Zephaniah Kingsley permitted his slaves to be armed is well documented yet it flies in the face of the commonly held belief that all slaves were forbidden firearms. None the less, it’s consistent with Kingsley’s views. The notion of the unarmed slave was fully part of the two-caste, race-based system of the United States but not necessarily true of the three-caste Spanish system.
This surprising fact goes directly to the question “why wouldn’t an armed slave revolt?” Some have proposed that slaves were either satisfied with their lot or too afraid; while others have promoted the equally unlikely idea that they were incapable of planning or carrying out insurrection.
A more likely theory is that intelligent people made rational choices. Enslaved men and women weighed the risks of violent revolt against the likelihood of success and sought other paths to freedom.
To discover one of the most complex and troubling of those paths, continue moving down the arc of the cabins until you reach the larger, restored cabin next to the road – the slave driver’s quarters. On your way, think about the families, the group of human beings, who made a community in this very spot.
Continue moving past the slave’s quarters to the driver’s house. On your way, take a look around and picture the community, perhaps in the evening. Around you people are tending to their own crops and children, preparing their own meals. Now turn your attention to the driver’s home, the larger building next to the road. Pause outside when you get there.
This is one of four driver’s houses in the slave quarters. Two on either side of the road, two at the end of each arc. Their placement is symbolic… and practical.
Drivers woke their fellow slaves up before dawn to start work, informed the overseer if someone was sick or injured, and made sure the work assignments were carried out well. They were the voice between the enslaved and the free.
(SFX – community noises up – voices, etc.)
Imagine this area, full of activity; men, women, and children, all bearing the indignant burden of enslavement, preparing evening meals, talking and laughing but, like in any close community, also arguing and quarrelling.
Sometimes, they do not understand. They want to know “why?” and what can I tell them? Because this is your fate? Because the world is what it is? Because you will make the best and you will do your best and you will not endanger our community. If one brings trouble to himself, he brings trouble to all.
It is my responsibility to keep the community at peace. Entrusted by the overseer to manage the Negroes by day. And by the Negroes to manage the quarters by night. It is not a load that a man bears lightly.
I remember being a “new negro” myself, stolen from my home and taken to a strange land. In Africa, my father was a respected man, a trader and a warrior. We captured and sold our enemies… for profit and for war. I am now an ocean away from that life and I will never see my father again. But I am a respected man, sometimes a feared man. And one day, I may once again be a free man.
It took a special combination of skill and personality to manage the complicated relationships of this diverse, and somewhat autonomous, community. In our modern minds, the role of the Negro slave driver is one of the most controversial and difficult to understand in slave society. While laborers could be “forced” to work under threat of violence, it is highly unlikely that someone could “force” a man to have leadership skills.
The slave driver was the plantation’s enforcer, not only making sure work was completed, but also upholding the rules of slave society. Most likely, he learned that complex mix of skills and personality through his own upbringing in Africa, or from other father figures in the new world.
Self-interest probably played a significant role in ensuring the driver’s family stability as well. Respect from the overseer and plantation masters made sale or separation less likely. A slightly larger dwelling, along with increased privileges, made being an effective driver a reasonable goal.
Ultimately, Kingsley freed several of his drivers. Some of them continued to conduct business with the plantation, and one eventually became Kingsley’s father-in-law. Abraham Hannahan belonged to Zephaniah’s father and was later inherited by Zephaniah. He was a driver and eventually a manager of at least one of Kingsley’s plantations. Hannahan’s daughter, Flora, became one of Kingsley’s four wives. While being a driver was not a promise of future freedom, there were enough successful examples to give hope. Yet remember, an elevated position was no guarantee of security.
Step inside the driver’s cabin. Have a seat if you’d like, and think about being in the most elevated position an enslaved person could have – a driver… or a member of the driver’s family.
Drivers on Kingsley plantations were generally older and more experienced, in their 30s or 40s. Keeping with Kingsley’s belief that slaves with stable families were happier, all of his slave drivers had wives and usually several children. However, no status, no extra privileges, no opportunity to sing or tell stories, could protect anyone from their greatest fear.
SLAVE GIRL (SFX – sounds of cooking, outside music and voices. Voices fade, music becomes mournful under story of lost daughter, Gullah rhythms up under last para)
Later tonight, my husband says there will be music and, if everyone isn’t too tired, dancing. And of course, stories. It takes time for the new ones to learn our language so they can tell their own story. Swahili, Susu, Wolof, Spanish, English, French. But the rhythm and the music are ours, and the spirits watch over us all, when we laugh… and when we cry.
The man three doors down lost his daughter today. She married last year and had a child, and all three were sold. If they remain close by, perhaps he will see them again; if they were sold to the north, then there is no hope. The lash is easier to bear than the loss of a child. Will her baby ever hear her father’s stories?
My mother used to say, “until the lion has his own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part.” We will add her story to our own, and we will tell her story to our children and she will not be forgotten.
NARRATOR Few stories of the men and women sold from Kingsley’s plantations survived to be retold. This one is based partly on Carpenter Bill’s daughter, Lavinia. Along with her husband and child they were sold on the auction block. The auction took place after Zephaniah Kingsley’s death and well after her father was a free man. But he could not afford the price of three people and he watched, helpless, as she, her husband, and his grandchild were led away.
It’s true that Kingsley and his managers believed that keeping families together was better for a slave’s general well-being, and thus better for business. That said, families were continually split by transferring individuals between plantations and when needed to raise cash. In some cases, provisions were made in wills that families would be kept together, but this directive was only good for one sale, the next owner -- who may not have subscribed to Kingsley’s philosophy -- could simply separate the family at a later time.
(SFX – sounds of children, MUSIC – bring up “African lullaby” from earlier stop in Anna’s parlor)
The most effective weapon in the slave owner’s possession, more terrifying than the lash, more powerful than any material incentive, was human love and devotion.
(MUSIC – cross fade in to African rhythms, SFX – bring back sound of community. Fade out at end of stop)
Take your time in the driver’s house. Today it is clean and airy thanks to a commitment to preserve the building. But take a moment and remember the people who lived here… and preserve who they were.
When you’re ready, the final section of our tour begins as you travel back up the road, back toward the main house. The final audio section will begin playing about half-way up the road.
Kingsley Plantation isn’t a story of buildings or artifacts; it’s a story of people: who they were, how they lived, what brought them together and what kept them separate.
In a slave society, even under Kingsley’s views, some of these people simply did not matter; their bodies and souls were expendable, their dreams and desires meaningless. All that mattered was their labor and the immense wealth they produced. The stories we’ve shared today are based on real events but more importantly, on real people –mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters – with names, hopes and humanity.
They are the lions; we are their storyteller.
(SFX – begin background list of names being said, various voices, the sound should be distant, ethereal – Jose, Hannah, Penda, etc. etc. – will continue throughout the entire track.)
Some sought and found freedom…
Some enslaved others…
But many, whose names have been lost, did not leave this plantation. Their bones still reside in the soil of Fort George Island; their final resting place, unmarked and unremembered.
As you walk back along the road through the Kingsley Plantation, reflect on the paths they walked, the air they breathed, the burden they carried. It is our hope, through your visit here today, you hear their voices and remember their stories.
(names continue – add music)
We also hope you will remember the stories of those who enslaved their fellow human beings for what they still teach us today; in spite of Zephaniah Kingsley’s belief that one could “balance evils judiciously,” dignity and freedom are the birthright of all people.