She puts Donald Trump to shame in land ownership. She rivals Johnny Cochran when it comes to winning racial law suits. She could even rival Booker T. Washington with respect to his influence. In nineteenth century Florida when Spanish authorities heavily regulated east Florida, slavery reigned over the social climate and women were to be seen and not heard, Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley created her own blueprint. As a self-sufficient, self-defined, independent black woman, she owned land, successfully sued white people in the court system and established herself as one of the most significant movers and shakers in her community.
A princess from the African country of Senegal, she survived the worst of inhumane conditions of the Middle Passage and the brutality of the slave markets. Zephaniah Kingsley, a Florida plantation owner, purchased Anna and eventually made her his wife. He once described her as “a fine tall figure, black as a jet, but very handsome.” On the first day of March 1811, in the Spanish province of East Florida, white master and husband put his signature on a document that forever changed the life of this eighteen year-old girl. The document was a manumission paper which ensured her legal freedom. That single piece of paper alone produced the opportunity for the start of an incredible and historical life.
As a liberated woman, Kingsley lobbied the local government for land ownership and was granted so. According to grant records, she owned five acres on the St. Johns River. It was a very large area located directly across from her husband’s plantation, slightly south of what is known today as Jacksonville. She was one of an incredibly small group of free blacks in East Florida. The majority of them entrepreneurs in their own right, enjoyed some of the priviledges of white society and certainly took pleasure in the absence of the torture of slave life. Some even owned slaves. Whereas, in Spanish Florida, the institution of slavery was not considered permanent and self-purchase was highly encouraged.
Kingsley was a business woman. She was a heavy investor and became quite wealthy because of it. Between her and her husband, their shareholdings increased to include extensive timberland and orange groves, and four major plantations producing cotton, rice and provisions. Unlike most women of the period, Anna’s voice and presence were highly respected by her husband and peers. He once commented that she “could carry on all the affairs of the plantation in my absence as well as I could myself.”
Unfortunately, when the United States government claimed Florida from Spanish rule, the racial climate severely changed. With the threat of slavery hanging over the heads of herself and her children, she fled the U.S. and went to the free republic of Haiti. When her husband died in 1843, his white descendants attempted to claim all of his remaining assets. After long court debates and legal procedures, Anna and her children finally got what Zephaniah had left in his will specifically for them all along.
Many Kingsley decendants can be located in the Jacksonville area. Her life is a testament to the unbreakable determination of all people of African descent and the immeasurable heart of all women. To go from royalty, to down right oppression, to rising above all odds is an illustration of strength. Anna Madgigine Kingsley’s story should be more than enough to compel all persons to keep pushing.
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