By Gary McKechnie

Odds are, as you head east along Hecksher Drive, you’ll miss the entrance to the Kingsley Plantation, part of the 46,000 acre Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve east of Jacksonville.

There’s a sign that points the way, but nothing really to explain what was happening here roughly 150 years ago. Even when I began heading toward the plantation, the mystery remained as I drove more than two miles on a hard-packed dirt road past a few random homes and through a canopy road.

It seemed the road would never end. It was only when I noticed a semi-circle of white structures that it was clear I had arrived. These had once been slave cabins.

Having driven so far through the woods and it being such a hot day, it was hard to fathom what life must have been like for the people who lived here prior to and during the Civil War. These poor souls lived in cramped accommodations; hot and humid, no air conditioning, no respite from work. And with a natural barricade created by the jungle-like woods on one side and a moat called the Fort George River on the other, there was no real chance to escape.

Several hundred yards north, there is the plantation home. Unlike Tara from Gone with the Wind, this was just a large Florida Cracker home that was the centerpiece of what once was a 32,000-acre spread. In its heyday, slaves were tasked with growing Sea Island cotton, citrus, sugar cane, corn, and producing indigo, the operation supervised by Zephaniah Kinglsey whose moral ambivalence toward slavery didn’t extend to 13-year-old Anna Madgigine Jai, whom he bought and then married.

It’s odd to visit a place like this and contrast the current peace and tranquility of the grounds with what was surely a miserable existence for most of the people who lived here.

Aside from weekends when rangers offer guided tours at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. (call in advance to get on the list), you’ll be on your own as you explore the plantation. But an audio tour available at the visitor center along with signs and photographs offer a glimpse of what life was like here, for the owners and the slaves.

The Kingsley Plantation is just one of hundreds of historic sites that reveal part of Florida’s rich and turbulent history. You should see it for yourself.

If you go...
Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

or Kingsley Plantation
11676 Palmetto Avenue
Jacksonville 32226
(904) 251-3537
(904) 251-3626


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