Antoinette Jackson at the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island near Jacksonville.

Passion Leads Doctoral Candidate to Explore Slave Life

After earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Ohio State University and an MBA from Xavier University, Antoinette Jackson had a promising career as a business manager with Lucent Technologies/AT&T.

But when she was recruited to pursue a doctorate in business, Jackson realized that she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life in the business world.

“Everybody told me you have to have a passion for your subject to pursue a Ph.D. and I just didn’t have that passion for business,” Jackson says. “The more I thought about it, however, I realized that I did have that passion for anthropology.”

During the last four years, Jackson has pursued her passion by examining African communities on and around plantations. She has specifically focused on descendants of enslaved Africans and others associated with Snee Farm Plantation in South Carolina and the Kingsley Plantation community in Jacksonville, Florida.

Jackson, who is also a McKnight Fellow, says she has always been interested in plantation life from the African perspective, so she was thrilled when she got an opportunity to study African communities associated with Snee Farm Plantation, a former rice plantation currently maintained by the National Park Service as the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

When the National Park Service wanted someone to do an ethnographic study of the Kingsley Plantation, they contacted the University of Florida’s anthropology department based on previous research done at the site, most notably by archaeologist Charles Fairbanks, and tapped Jackson’s expertise based on her work in South Carolina.

An artist’s rendering of Anna Kingsley

“There has been considerable archaeological research done at the Kingsley Plantation,” Jackson says, “but very little has been done with families in the community who are descendants of the Kingsleys and persons they enslaved.”

Jackson’s research revolves around Anna Kingsley and her descendants. Anna, or Anta Majigeen Ndiaye, was enslaved and purchased by Zephaniah Kingsley in Cuba in 1806 when she was 13 years old. By the time she arrived in Florida, she was pregnant with the first of four children she was to have with Zephaniah Kingsley.

“The central theme of the Zephaniah Kingsley story is his acknowledged spousal relationship with Anta Majigeen Ndiaye, a West African woman described as being of royal lineage from the country of Senegal,” Jackson writes in a paper about the Kingsleys.

Zephaniah Kingsley freed Anna Kingsley and their children from slavery in 1811, and she managed much of the family’s interests and even owned slaves herself.

After Florida became a United States territory in 1821, treatment of slaves and former slaves became increasingly oppressive. To protect his family and his business interests, Zephaniah Kingsley moved Anna, the children and most of his plantation operations to Haiti around 1837.

Zephaniah Kingsley died in 1843 and Anna returned to Florida in the 1850s, living in the Jacksonville area until her death in 1870.

“Anna’s story is much different from the Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemmings drama that has come to typify master/slave/mistress relationships of the time,” Jackson says. “She understood power very well, and more importantly she understood how to manipulate power. Anna consciously used her knowledge, her beauty and her position to secure a future for herself and her children.”

Jackson says her research, much of it oral history, reveals that Anna Kingsley “left a very precious legacy. She left children and grandchildren who have gone on to contribute much to Florida life, history and culture, and much to the history of Africans in America.”

The Kingsley Plantation community today, Jackson says, “is embedded in the fabric of everyday life in Jacksonville and the surrounding communities in northeast Florida. It extends well beyond the Fort George Island site to include all the places where Kingsley’s descendants or others associated with the Kingsley community live or have migrated to.”

Jackson says she hopes “to inform people, and make the plantation more real” through her research, which she hopes will result in a book and an interpretive display at the Kingsley Plantation site.

by Joseph Kays


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