Some people discover national park units that even natives don’t know about.
I probably used this line several times since I first started blogging in December 2007 but it still rings true. Kingsley Plantation, part of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve outside of Jacksonville, certainly fits this model. I had visited the other sites at Timucuan but was glad to be able to explore this one today.
African-American archeology started at Kingsley Plantation, on the Fort George River. In 1814, Zephaniah Kingsley, the son of a British Loyalist, bought his first wife, Anna, originally from Senegal and her several children. He installed them at a 1,000 acre-plantation which grew mostly sea island cotton. He eventually bought and married three other wives.
At the time, Florida was ruled by the Spanish, who had a more relaxed view of master/slave relations. Once Florida became a US territory, things got a lot stricter. Kingsley moved some of his family to Haiti, which was the first country run by Black people.
The site concentrates on plantation life, though the land had eight owners. We took the tour, given by Ranger Nate Collins, who focused on the big house.
He talked about how the last family, the Rollins, came from New Hampshire and tried to replicate a northern Victorian house. They extended the house with staircases, wings, fancy glass in the doors … Ranger Collins was very proud of the way the house is preserved.
But I always wait for the climax of the story. How did the land and buildings go from being owned and used to a national park unit? The short answer is that the Rollins weren’t such great farmers. They sold off land to be used for a hotel and social clubs. The clubs lasted until the 1950s, when vacation patterns changed.
The land became a state park and eventually a national park unit in 1991.
This gem isn’t hidden. If there’s one myth that I hope to debunk with my forthcoming book, Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South, it’s that everything I write about is out here for all to see.