Zephaniah Kingsley Jr was a slave trader and planter who was well known for his advocacy for a more lenient and humane treatment of the enslaved and his unconventional relationship with an enslaved girl named Anna Madgigine.
Born in Bristol, England, to Zephaniah Kingsley Sr. (one of the seven founders of the University of New Brunswick, Canada’s oldest English language university) and Isabella Johnstone, Kingsley Jr. grew up in Charleston, South Carolina. His father’s success as a merchant and plantation owner provided the family with wealth, but the winds of change forced them to leave South Carolina during the American Revolutionary War.
Kingsley Sr. found refuge in New Brunswick, Canada, where he rebuilt his fortunes. Meanwhile, Kingsley Jr. returned to Charleston in 1793, pledging allegiance to the United States and embarking on a career as a shipping merchant. His early ventures took him to Saint-Domingue during the Haitian Revolution, where coffee became his primary export interest.
A crucial aspect of Kingsley’s legacy lies in his involvement in the Atlantic slave trade. As an owner and captain of slave ships, he actively participated in the transportation of enslaved Africans. However, by the standards of his time, Kingsley was considered a liberal slave owner.
Kingsley’s unique perspective on race and intelligence challenged prevailing beliefs. He argued that blacks were as intelligent as whites and criticized racism, emphasizing that color should not be a basis for degradation.
“The black race” was “superior to us, physically and morally. They are more healthy, have more graceful forms, softer skin, and sweeter voices. They are more docile and affectionate, more faithful in their attachments, and less prone to mischief, than the white race. If it were not so, they could not have been kept in slavery.” — Kingsley
His progressive views extended to advocating for “interracial” marriage, a controversial stance known as “amalgamation” at the time. Kingsley believed that such unions produced healthy and beautiful children.
He followed his own advice, and took four enslaved African women as concubines or common-law wives, practicing polygamy, as was common in the Muslim culture they came from, and eventually manumitting all of them.
Notably, Kingsley married Anna Madgigine Jai, an enslaved girl abducted during a raid, at the age of 13. He purchased her, either on Goree island or in Havana, Cuba, in 1806, and she shared Kingsley’s cabin on the ship transporting his slaves to the new world. By the time they reached Florida, Anna was pregnant with their first son, George. Kingsley eventually emancipated Anna when she turned 18, and trusted her with running his plantation when he was away on business. The couple had four children, whom Kingsley favored, providing them with a luxurious upbringing and European educations.
Upon Kingsley’s death in 1843, his will revealed a commitment to the welfare of his remaining slaves, emphasizing that none of them be separated from their families and offering them the chance to buy their freedom at half the market price. He also left much of his land to his wives and children. However, his family contested the will on racial grounds, attempting to disinherit Kingsley’s wives and kids, but they ultimately lost the case.
Following the legal battle, Anna, became a planter and slave owner in 19th-century Florida. She passed away in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1870, 27 years after her husband, at the age of 77.
Kingsley Plantation, where Anna and Kingsley lived, stands today as part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve. The plantation is recognized for its historical significance, with Kingsley’s house being the oldest surviving plantation house in Florida.