1084: Anna Kingsley

From Princess to Slave to Operator of Her Husband's Plantation

Born: 1793, Kingdom of Jolof (Present-day Linguère, Senegal)

Died: 1870, Duval County, Florida, United States of America

Full Name: Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley.

Birth Name: Anta Madjiguéne Ndiaye

According to research done by historian Dan Schafer, Anna was actually a Jolof Princess in her native lands (present-day Senegal). Her people long assumed she had been killed by a wild animal or some other explanation for why she disappeared from history, and never would have guessed she had actually been kidnapped and sold into slavery when she was only thirteen. In 2017, Senegalese leaders traveled to Florida to learn Anna’s story in the hopes of taking it back home to their people; to return their lost princess to her rightful place in history at last.

In March of 1811, Anna was freed by her white owner at the age of eighteen. Anna had been purchased in Havana, Cuba several years before at the age of thirteen, and was already the wife and mother of her owner’s three children (all of whom were also freed at the same time). According to the Florida Department of State, Anna lived apart from her husband for long periods as her West African heritage dictated, especially considering he had three other slave wives also of West African descent. However, as you will quickly realize, Anna was clearly the most powerful and respected of her husband’s wives.

Anna oversaw her husband’s large plantation along with her own land (which she had been granted in 1813). She also purchased her own slaves and worked as an independent businesswoman selling various goods, poultry, and wares to settlers living nearby.

During an insurrection between the Americans and the Spanish (known as the Patriot War), Anna sided with the Spanish and was later rewarded 350 acres of land for her loyalty. When the Americans got too close for comfort, Anna burned her buildings to the ground and escaped with her children and slaves on a Spanish gunboat. After the insurrection failed, Anna returned to her land and began to rebuild her livelihood.

For the next period of their lives, Anna and her husband worked a plantation on Fort George Island together. Their lives were comfortable to say the least. Anna’s husband owned four plantations in all, as well as several ships and other signs of wealth. He entrusted the care of the largest plantation, the one on Fort George Island, to his wife Anna whenever he was away. The Kingsleys held sixty men, women, and children in bonded slavery at the plantation.

Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821, and the rights of free African Americans were cut in the years following the decision, despite a promise made by the US and Spain after the land was turned over to the United States to protect the people of color in the new territory. Anna’s husband was a member of the territorial legislature and published various writings, urging the new territorial government to protect slaves and other people of African descent. Obviously, his pleas fell on deaf ears.

In 1824, Anna gave birth to her fourth child, who immediately fell under the new harsh laws enacted by the territorial government. While Anna and her older children were supposedly safe for the time being, she was not about to take that chance.

Anna moved their family and plantation to Haiti. Haiti became the first nation in the New World to completely overthrow the system of slavery and became a haven for those of African descent as a consequence. When Anna moved the family and their slaves, she was legally required to manumit, or free, her slaves. Instead, the former slaves now worked the new Haitian plantation as indentured servants.

The Kingsleys quickly improved their land by building bridges and roads. They also planned to open a school for the community, but their plans were put on hold when Anna’s husband died in 1843 at the age of seventy-eight.

You should not be shocked to know that, in the wake of his death, some of Anna’s husband’s family members immediately contested his will. The Kingsley fortune was considerable (with some estimates stating it was worth $5 Million in today’s currency), and these (white) relatives did not want to hand the money over to Anna and her children, despite the fact that her husband had obviously loved her and their children dearly. Anna fought hard in court, and eventually was rewarded for her efforts when her husband’s will was upheld.

Sadly, in 1846, Anna’s oldest son died while trying to sail to Florida—his ship was lost at sea. Her younger son took over the running of the Haitian plantation, and Anna returned to Florida, though her reasons for doing so are not known today. She lived in the small settlement of Jacksonville, and during the War Between the States, Anna and her daughters supported the Union, despite the fact that their neighbors were staunchly Confederate.

Anna and her husband’s Florida home is now protected by the National Parks Service. No diaries or other personal writings of Anna’s survive today, meaning her life story has been pieced together through other surviving documentation in land records, court documents, and so on. No photographs or portraits are known to survive, and her grave is also unmarked. What Anna’s personal thoughts and feelings were throughout her life are unknown, but what is known is that she was strong, independent, and refused to let her status as a slave stop her from becoming something bigger. And once Anna was free, she turned her life around to become a wealthy landowner and mother of four children who fought for what she believed in and refused to stand aside when bullies got in her face.

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Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley: African Princess, Florida Slave, Plantation Slaveowner by Daniel L Schafer