Date Visited: 4/12/2019
Our next day trip takes us to the oldest surviving plantation home in the state of Florida. The property is located on Fort George Island and part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve managed by the National Park Service.
A Brief and Incomplete History
In the late 1700s Planter and American Revolution veteran John McQueen along with 300 slaves settled on the Island of Fort George after being enticed to relocate from South Carolina to Florida which at the time was still Spanish territory.
McQueen, with the help of his enslaved craftsman and laborers built the original section of the plantation home.
I found conflicting stories about how the property ownership transferred from McQueen to John McIntosh, but it was McIntosh who revived the plantation in 1804 and later leased it to Zephaniah Kingsley in 1814.
In 1817 Kingsley purchased the property from McIntosh for $7000.
The line of 23 tabby structures below are what remains of 32 slave cabins. The cabins were built in the 1820s and constructed of Tabby.
Tabby is made from the oyster shells piled into middens by the Timucua natives. To make the Tabby these shells were burned and ground for lime. Sand and water were added to the mix and depending on the need whole shells were sometimes added to speed the process of hardening and to increase the volume and durability.
Tabby that included whole shells was pourable and used much like concrete today. It was poured one layer at time into wooden molds. This type of construction was used for the walls of the slave cabins, the kitchen, and the barn. Once poured and hardened the walls were covered with a thin coating of lime to smooth the surface.
Tabby without whole shells was used to make bricks. These bricks were used in the barn, kitchen and to make fireplaces in the slave cabins.
The kitchen floor is the original tabby floor and over 200 years old. Tabby was a sturdy weatherproof material. It kept the heat out in the summer and the warmth in during the winter.
Crops For Profit and Sustainability
The plantation was self sustaining using both freeman and enslaved. Freed slaves such as Kingsley’s wife, Anna Madgigine Jai and general manager Abraham Hanahan helped to oversee operations at the plantation. Other slaves provided the skills, and labor to keep the plantation producing.
Of the crops grown at the plantation, Sea Island Cotton, Indigo and Sugarcane were grown for profit. While crops such as peas, okra, squash, potatoes and other varieties were grown for food.
Each year a sample of these crops are still grown in the small interpretive garden for visitors to view.
Above is a scaled down example of the vats used to produce die from the indigo grown at the plantation. If you click the picture to the right you can read the step by step procedure of how this was done. It took 100 lbs. of plant material to produce just four ounces of die. The process starts with a simple fermentation much like those used in southern homes today to ferment vegetables. Although home ferments are done on a much smaller scale and minus the addition of human urine! I found reading about the process quite fascinating.
The barn was used to store seed, food, products for sale, and tools. Today it is used for ranger lead programs and houses informational signage that explains the life, hardships, and history of slavery at the plantation.
You can read more about life on the planation, its post civil war history, cultural significance, and about the other places to visit in the surrounding area at the National Park Service website.
We hope you join us next week when we revisit a small set of ruins I remember going to as a child.
Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve Kingsley Plantation 11676 Palmetto Ave. Jacksonville, FL 32226 (904) 251-3537 Website
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