Established during the days of Florida’s first European settlements through Spanish land grants, a Sea Island cotton plantation thrived on Fort George Island, northeast of today’s city of Jacksonville. Named for its most historically significant owner, Zephaniah Kingsley, Kingsley Plantation interprets this early Florida plantation as a part of the greater Timucuan Preserve.
Length: 0.8 mile
Lat-Lon: 30.438971, -81.437571
Restroom: Yes, at the interpretive center near the river
Open 9 AM to 5 PM daily. Accessible facilities available.
Address: 11676 Palmetto Ave, Jacksonville, FL 32226
For preservation of the historic home, ranger-led plantation house tours are only offered on weekends at 11 and 3. Call ahead to reserve a spot: 904-251-3537
Follow SR 105 (Heckscher Drive) east from the I-295 interchange for 9.4 miles. Turn left onto Fort George Road, a narrow, winding road flanked by salt marshes. After a half mile, at the fork in the road, keep left. Continue straight ahead for 2.1 miles on this dirt road, part of the Saturiwa Trail scenic drive, to reach the parking area at Kingsley Plantation.
Your walk around Kingsley Plantation is self-guided and not blazed, although there are plenty of interpretive signs and displays. These are simply suggestions of what to see. You can also roam farther up along the Fort George River to extend your walk.
After you park in the small parking area, walk in the front gate past the kiosk, taking in the view of the plantation house and the Fort George River. Originally a portion of an indigo plantation operated by Richard Hazard, this Sea Island cotton plantation was established in 1791 by John McQueen, who sought his fortune under a policy of the Spanish government of Florida that invited Americans to homestead on land grants throughout East Florida.
By 1799, McQueen instructed his more than 300 enslaved workers to cut timber and plant Sea Island cotton. Bad debts forced McQueen to sell out to Georgia planter John McIntosh in 1804, who became wealthy off the production of this Fort George plantation. Zephaniah Kingsley, a slave trader, took ownership of this plantation in 1812 after McIntosh participated in a localized rebellion meant to wrest control of Spanish Florida into American hands.
The barn on the right is made from brick and tabby, a concoction of oyster shells (dug up from the ancient middens) and mortar, the lime-heavy mixture a precursor to modern-day cement. In front of you lies the plantation house, with an interpretive center and bookstore. Turn left to follow a footpath down past the restrooms to an observation deck and pier on the river. On sunny afternoons, you’ll see kayakers plying their way up the channel. All traffic to and from the plantation would have arrived by boat.
Continuing along the waterfront, make a stop at the plantation house. On weekends, it is open to the public for guided tours. Zephaniah Kingsley lived here with his wife – Anna Madgigine Jai, a slave he bought in Senegal and later freed – and their children. Anna oversaw the plantation, with its population of nearly 70 slaves. Perhaps because of Anna, Kingsley believed in the task system of organizing his laborers. Unlike the usual “gangs” of enslaved workers in the South who worked all day on a specific part of the plantation, the task system allowed them to complete a set number of daily tasks, leaving them daily personal time to hunt, fish, and farm for their own families.
Returning to the parking lot, you’ve walked 0.5 mile. Continue down the bark-chip trail paralleling the entrance road down to the slave community. Keep to the right at the fork, and you’ll soon end up at the reconstructed slave cabin. Although small, each cabin housed a family of slaves, 32 in all. Turn left and walk up what remains of the row, noticing the fireplaces in each tiny living room.
In 1821, when Florida became a U.S. Territory, Zephaniah Kingsley served on the Legislative Council. He tried to establish liberal policies for the freeing of slaves, and to ensure the rights and privileges of free blacks in Florida. Unfortunately, his colleagues turned a deaf ear. Disgusted by this “spirit of intolerant prejudice,” Kingsley moved Anna and his sons to Haiti in 1837, establishing a new plantation with some of his slaves from Fort George Island. This plantation passed into the hands of his relatives.
Walk back along the row of cabins to the parking lot, completing your 0.8-mile tour of the plantation.