Greetings and salutations,
Let me begin by wishing all my readers a happy holiday season. It’s a time for work and family gatherings and gift giving in some cultures. May the magic and thrill of the holiday season bring you peace and happiness.
This week we continue our Thanksgiving tour of national historic sites along the Georgia/Florida border by visiting the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. It’s managed by the National Park Service along with other cooperating agencies. Our goal that day was to drive through the Preserve make a brief stop at the Kingsley Plantation and then move on to Fort Caroline. However, we got a late start, the travel time was longer than expected and by following the GPS we made a turn down a dirt road that lead to, well, nowhere! Once back on track we made it to the Kingsley Plantation Visitor Center and the historic site that was surrounded by lush vegetation overlooking the Fort George River.
The Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve consists of about 46,000 acres (19,000 ha) of wetlands, waterways, natural areas, and historic sites north of Jacksonville, FL. The initial preserve was established in 1988 by President Ronald Reagan and added to over time. Initially, this area was home to the Timucua natives who lived off the abundant resources of the land and water since about 2500 BC. They used the rivers and waterways for transportation after crafting dugout canoes from the many available trees. They hunted, fished, and collected oysters and clams for food. The first Europeans (French) arrived in the 1560’s and were helped by the Timucua to build a fort. The French were soon supplanted by the Spanish who imposed their culture on the native peoples. The Spaniards also shared their diseases with the Timucua and within about 100 years the tribe was mostly extinct.
The Kingsley Plantation, located on Fort George Island, is part of the Timucuan Preserve. Zephaniah Kingsley, who settled in the area in 1814, was a merchant, planter, and slave trader. His common law wife, Anna, was from Senegal in West Africa and purchased as a 13 year old slave when Kingsley visited Havana, Cuba. Together they had four multiracial children. Kingsley often left Anna in charge of the plantation, she and their children were eventually given their freedom and began to acquire their own land and slaves. Kingsley practiced polygamy taking three additional wives and fathering five more children. The plantation raised a long fibered cotton that was highly desired by mills.
The plantation house was built by slave labor in 1798 prior to Kingsley’s tenure. Here are a couple of views of the house and the kitchen.
A tour around the grounds took us through the remaining buildings including the barn and gardens.
The garden contained what looked like a clementine, the cross between a mandarin orange and a sweet orange. Not sure these were around during the time of the Kingsley ownership but they looked nice!
The many live oak trees on the plantation contained “Spanish moss” which is neither Spanish or a moss but rather a flowering plant that doesn’t harm the host plant.
The tour of the grounds led us to the remnants of the slave quarters that were made from “tabby” a mixture of cooked oyster shells, lime, and sand to form a type of concrete. This part of the grounds was the most sobering. The 32 slave cabins were arranged in a semicircle. Slave labor on this plantation was based on the task system where a slave was “assigned” an amount of work to be conducted during the day. Once the work was completed the slave could do what he or she chose. Slaves raised gardens for food and when in surplus traded or sold through the owner. Kingsley was known as a lenient owner so it’s assumed that the slave population had more freedoms than other plantation masters. Regardless, they were slaves!
The tour ended at the visitor center with stamps to our National Parks passport. While there, a young girl about 9 or 10 completed her Junior Ranger workbook and was getting sworn in by the volunteer ranger. They were both so serious and I believe helped shape a future advocate for our national park system.
Our original plan was to visit the Fort Caroline National Memorial on the same day but travel to that location required a ride on the St. Johns River Ferry. Time was running out so we headed back to our home for the Thanksgiving week on St. Simons Island, Georgia and left that visit for another day.
Thanks for riding along with our visit to the Timucuan Preserve. Next week on New Year’s Eve watch for the third edition of Reflections and Resolutions.
Until next week, travel safe.