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Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley (c. 1793 – April or May 1870) was a West African slave turned slaveholder and plantation owner in early 19th century Floridamarker. At 13 years old, she was captured and sent to Cuba where she was purchased by and married to Zephaniah Kingsley, a slave trader and plantation owner. Kingsley freed Anna in 1811 and put her in charge of his plantations in East Florida. For 25 years, Kingsley's unique family lived on Fort George Islandmarker in modern-day Jacksonvillemarker, where Anna managed a large and successful planting operation, owning slaves of her own. When American laws threatened the Kingsley family, they moved to Haiti. Kingsley died soon after, and Anna returned to dispute her husband's relatives contesting Kingsley's will that sought to exclude Anna and her children from inheriting the holdings left to them by Kingsley. Anna was successful, despite the hostile climate toward blacks. She settled in the Arlington neighborhood of Jacksonville, where she died in 1870 at 77 years old. The National Park Service protects Kingsley Plantationmarker, where Anna and Kingsley lived on Fort George Island, as part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.

Early years

Much of what is known of Kingsley's life in Africa is based on conjecture. Anna Kingsley was born Anta Majigeen Ndiaye in 1793, in a portion of West Africa that was going through a tumultuous war between the majority Wolof people and the minority Fula. Slave raids were frequent occurrences among incessant violence that left many small villages deserted as people were either abducted for the purpose of selling into slavery or they fled in fear for their lives. Following an intensifying of the crisis in 1790, Anta was captured in 1806 when she was about 13 years old, probably by tyeddo raiders from the Fouta Tooro. Wolof tradition holds that a mythological figure named Njaajaan Ndiaye established the Jolof Kingdom that existed between 1200 and 1550. Anta's name shared his, and the name of the daughter of a man who attempted unsuccessfully to unseat a Buurba Jolof, or king. Although lineages are disputed, there is a belief that Anta may have been the daughter of a ruling family.

Like many of other 11 million Africans sold into slavery, Anta was probably sent to Gorée Islandmarker, the debarkation point from the West African coast to the Americas. She sailed to Havana, Cubamarker; the name of the ship she was aboard is unknown. When Africans arrived to be sold into slavery, their names were not recorded although their age, sex, and sometimes ethnicity were, which were most important to buyers. In September or October 1806, Anta was displayed for sale and bought by a slave trader, merchant, and resident of Spanish Florida named Zephaniah Kingsley, who was 30 years older than she.

Laurel Grove

After a brief stop in St. Augustinemarker, Kingsley's ship made its way up the St. Johns River, stopping in an inlet now named Doctors Lakemarker. Attached to the lake was a dock, the main entrance to Kingsley's plantation that he had named Laurel Grove. Kingsley had been granted the plantation three years before by the Spanish colonial government, who was luring settlers into Florida. Many years later, Kingsley wrote that he and Anta, now called Anna, were married in a traditional African ceremony "in a foreign land". 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 were gathered there from multiple African ethnic groups; they lived in two groups of houses. Anna, however, lived with Kingsley in his house. At Laurel Grove, like many southeastern plantations, the task system was used to manage work. Slaves were given a quota to fill; when they were finished, they were allowed to pursue what they wished. 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. One year the plantation made $10,000, which was an extraordinary income at the time, particularly for sparsely populated Florida.

In 1811, Kingsley granted Anna legal emancipation, although by this time it was perfunctory. Anna already enjoyed high status at Laurel Grove and most visitors assumed she was a free woman. Three children had been born to the Kingsleys by this time, George, born June 1807, Martha, born July 1809, and Mary, born February 1811. Kingsley assured their emancipation as well. Had he died, Anna and the children would have been sold. As Kingsley was involved in shipping goods as well as slaves, he was frequently away from the plantation. Laurel Grove had a manager, also a slave who had been freed, but Kingsley so trusted Anna that he placed her as the manager when she was 18 years old. Much later, Kingsley described his wife as "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." The next year, she and her children moved to a smaller estate in Mandarinmarker, across the river while she managed Laurel Grove. She was accompanied by twelve of her own slaves; slavery within African societies was a custom and one that Anna would probably have been familiar with, including the fact of life that female slaves often married their masters in order to obtain their own freedom.

Kingsley was kidnapped the same year and held until he endorsed the Patriot Rebellion, an attempt to annex Florida to the United States. Americans and American-supplied Creeks raided towns and plantations in north Florida, sending any blacks they captured into slavery, regardless of their free 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. Anna approached the Spanish at anchor in the St. Johns River and negotiated her escape, bringing along her children and a dozen slaves. She then proceeded to the plantation again and burned it to the ground while the Spanish watched. Anna asked the Spanish to return her to her homestead on the east bank of the river and burned it down too so it would not fall into the hands of the Patriots. For her actions, Anna was granted of her own.

Fort George Island

Kingsley purchased another plantation on Fort George Island, near the mouth of the St. Johns River in 1814. 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 Fernandinamarker and Fort George Island, taking over managing the plantation while Kingsley was away on business. At some point in the 1820s a separate kitchen connected by a covered walkway was constructed at the plantation. It had a room above it where Anna lived with her children. It was called the "Ma'am Anna House", and followed West African custom that wives often lived separately from their husbands, particularly in polygamous marriages. Kingsley took three other wives, all slaves, while at Fort George Island. 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, possible by the massive middens left by the Timucuans 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 foundation of "Ma'am Anna House" was also constructed of tabby, which proved fireproof and more durable than wood. 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 plantation layout: many African villages were similarly arranged in circular patterns.

In 1824, 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". (L'Engle's great granddaughter, children's author Madeleine L'Engle, wrote of her stories in a book titled Summer of the Great Grandmother.) Susan L'Engle had the impression that Anna was quite lonely though her jobs at the plantation kept her constantly busy. Kingsley's young niece remembered much later her first impression of Anna:
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 nnight at Ma’m Anna’s, but it could not be helped.

Haiti and return to Florida

After Spain handed control of Florida over to the U.S. in 1822, the new government progressively enacted stricter ordinances separating the races. The mixed-race Kingsley family was directly and negatively affected by these "illiberal and inequitable laws", as Kingsley stated in his will. Kingsley transferred all their holdings to the three older children and moved to Haitimarker in 1835. Anna and their youngest son followed in 1838. In all, 60 slaves, family members, and freed employees moved with Kingsley to Haiti to start a plantation called Mayorasgo de Koka. Kingsley portrayed life in Haiti as idyllic. In 1843, 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. Interracial marriage and Kingsley's polygamous marriages were also not recognized. The year following Kingsley's death, his sister Martha and her children contested his will as "defective and invalid". Kingsley's sister cited Florida law that forbade black people from owning property, and cited that Anna and Kingsley's other wives moved to Haiti spontaneously, abandoning the property in Florida to become free people. Anna returned to Florida in 1846 to participate in the Kingsley estate defense, despite the increasingly tense racial climate in Duval Countymarker. The court, however, upheld a previous treaty signed between the U.S. and Spain stipulating that all free blacks born before 1822 in Florida enjoyed the same legal privileges as they had when Spain controlled East Florida. 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, but her request to rent her slaves to other plantations to maximize her profits was rejected by the courts.

Anna became a Union sympathizer 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 1862. She returned home the following year, and died in 1870 at the age of 77.


  1. Schafer, p. 4–6.
  2. Schafer, p. 5, 15–18.
  3. Schafer, p. 20–21.
  4. Schafer, p. 23.
  5. May, Philip S. (January 1945). "Zephaniah Kingsley, Nonconformist", The Florida Historical Quarterly 23 (3), p. 145–159.
  6. Schafer, p. 24.
  7. Schafer, p. 27–28.
  8. Schafer, p. 32–33.
  9. Schafer, p. 34.
  10. Schafer, p. 26.
  11. Schafer, p. 37, 31.
  12. Schafer, p. 41–42.
  13. Schafer, p. 43.
  14. Schafer, p. 46–47.
  15. Schafer, p. 50.
  16. Schafer, p. 53.
  17. Schafer, p. 55.
  18. Schafer, p. 58.
  19. Jackson and Burns, p. 20–21.
  20. Scahfer, p. 62.
  21. Schafer, p. 60.
  22. Schafer, p. 72.
  23. Scahfer, p. 75.


  • Schafer, Daniel L. (March 2003). Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley: African Princess, Florida Slave, Plantation Slaveowner. University Press of Florida. ISBN 0813026164

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