By Rebekah Hudson Childs
In Northeast Florida lies the oldest surviving slave plantation in the state. Kingsley Plantation consists of a main house, a barn and 25 cabins that were used as slave quarters. The historic estate breeds stories of ghosts and spirits haunting the grounds and showing up in unsuspecting tourist photos. One spirit, “Old Red Eyes” is said to be the ghost of a slave who was lynched in an oak tree at the front of the plantation. Stories say that “Old Red Eyes” raped and killed several female slaves until he was caught and hung. It is rumored that late at night his red eyes can be seen watching you through bushes and following you around the grounds, and can be spotted in the rear-view mirror of your car as you drive away.
Another ghost that is said to be haunting the grounds is the “Woman in White”. This spirit is a woman who is wearing all white and sits on the front porch of the plantation. Her angry scowl is said to have shown up in tourist photos with no explanation or memory of a woman on the porch. Why is this spirit so angry and why does she want to be seen? Stories say that this woman oversaw the slaves and was severely unkind and malicious to them. The stories of these spirits have taken over the internet and have started to overshadow the history of the Kingsley family.
The history of the Kingsley Plantation is not what one might think it to be. In 1814 Zephaniah Kingsley moved to Fort George Island, and built what is known today as the Kingsley Plantation. There he lived with his wife Anna and their children. What makes this family different from any other prominent family during this time, is that Zephaniah’s wife was a slave that he purchased and married.
Anna Kingsley (Anta Majigeen Jai) was 13 when she was captured into slavery in Senegal, West Africa. She was then taken to Cuba where she was auctioned off as a black Muslim slave to white plantation owner, Zephaniah Kingsley. Kingsley purchased Anna as a slave and married her in Cuba. Anna bore Kingsley’s first of four children by the age of 14. Anna was eventually granted freedom in 1811 by Kingsley, and would later come to manage the plantation with him. Anna Kingsley would become one of the wealthiest women in East Florida and an advocate for women’s rights and slave’s rights.
Is it possible that this “Woman in White” is none other than Anna Kingsley? If it is Anna then why would her spirit be so angry?
When asked about the possibility of the “Woman in White” being none other than the spirit of Anna Kingsley, Professor Jennifer Chase expressed sadness for the woman that she has spent so much time researching.
“This really saddens me to hear that story because by all accounts this was a dignified person. I think that her story and what we know about her and the things we don’t know for sure, is much more compelling and interesting than some sort of folklore about a ghost, especially an angry one, I think really diminishes the real story of the things we do know [about Anna],” Chase said.
Chase, Professor of Humanities and Writing at Florida State College at Jacksonville, is what you might call our own local expert on Anna Kingsley. Chase has been researching Anna Kingsley since 1998 as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar through Rotary International, and went to Senegal, West Africa and immersed herself into their local culture to uncover the history of Anna Kingsley. Chase has also written a musical “Majigeen” about the life of Anna Kingsley.
Chase was asked about the story of “Old Red Eyes” and if this ghost story might have some truth?
Chase stated, “I’ve never heard any of these ghost stories in almost 20 years of doing research all over the world. Including a historical conference that I spearheaded in Senegal, inviting historians from all over the world. I’ve never heard any of these stories.”
The Kingsley Plantation is full of history, our history as Floridians. You can visit the plantation located at 12713 Fort Caroline Road, Jacksonville, FL 32225. The plantation is open from 9am-5pm and there is no entrance fee. Take a stroll for yourself to see if there is any truth to these stories or if it is in fact over exaggerated folklore.
“Now these stories are getting perpetuated, I think that’s a great task for students to unpack…I think that these are our stories, for better or for worse, our history. I think that it’s a great time for students to start pulling these layers apart and separate fact from fiction. I think that any government run organization, like national parks services, has an obligation to set the record straight,” Chase said.
If you like what you have read and would like to become a player in telling the Kingsley history, there is going to be a student driven production rework of Chase’s musical “Majigeen”. Students are encouraged to audition for the cast, the dancers, the band members, costume designing, technical help and promotion. The audition for “Emancipation of Majigeen” for all students who want to be part of this production is on Saturday, November 4, 2017 from 12-4pm in C202 on Kent Campus. Call backs will be on the following Thursday.