Anta Majigeen Ndiaye, later known as Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley, was a former slave brought to Florida in the early 1800s who became a major slave owner after marrying her former master, Zephaniah Kingsley Jr. After Kingsley’s death, Anna inherited his substantial property holdings after a drawn-out legal battle.
Anta Majigeen Ndiaye was likely born in 1793 in the kingdom of Jolof in what is today central Senegal. Some accounts both from Jolof and from those who knew her in Florida suggest that she may have been a princess. Others believe her father was a member of the royal family who unsuccessfully challenged for the Jolof throne.
Historians believe that Anta was captured during a raid of the Jolof kingdom in 1806. While it is not exactly known when she was captured, or what ship brought her to the Americas, it is known that she arrived in Cuba in 1806. In late September or early October, Anta was sold at auction to Zephaniah Kingsley, a slave trader and planter in the province of Spanish Florida. On October 24, Kingsley’s ship, the Esther, docked in the port of St. Augustine, where he registered Anta and two other new slaves with the Florida provincial government. In the Americas, Anta’s name was changed to Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley.
It is unclear, but it seems possible that Zephaniah Kingsley married the thirteen-year-old Anna before leaving Cuba. Regardless, by the time they arrived at Laurel Grove Plantation, Kingsley’s home south of present-day Jacksonville, Anna was pregnant with his child and was to live in his house as his wife. Between 1806 and 1811, Zephaniah and Anna Kingsley had three children in total: George, Martha, and Mary. On March 4, 1811, soon after Mary’s birth, Zephaniah emancipated Anna and their three children. Zephaniah’s business ventures across the Caribbean and the east coast of the United States meant he was rarely at home, and so Anna managed the plantation in his absence. Zephaniah had several other slave “wives” with whom he fathered many children, but Anna was the only one who lived in the house. Zephaniah used the term “wife,” but there are no written records of official marriages,
In 1812, the year after gaining her freedom, Anna moved across the St. John’s River and built a home on five acres granted to her by the Spanish government. She continued to manage Lauren Grove, her husband’s plantation. During the Patriot Rebellion, pro-U.S. settlers,with the support of the U.S. government, rebelled against the Spanish crown. Zephaniah Kingsley was abducted almost immediately after the rebellion started and was held hostage. Laurel Grove was destroyed by Seminole allies on the orders of the governor of Florida, and eventually Anna burned her own property to prove her loyalty to Spanish Florida. As a result, after the war the Spanish granted Anna 350 acres for her loyalty. During this time, Anna also converted to Catholicism, which helped her establish relationships with important people throughout Spanish Florida.
After the rebellion ended Anna and Zephaniah bought a new plantation on St. George Island, not far from where Lauren Grove had been. The new property was known as Kingsley plantation, and would be where Anna and Zephaniah’s fourth child, John, was born in 1824.
In 1819, the Adams-Onis Treaty ceded Florida to the United States. Unlike under Spanish law, free people of color had little rights in the United States. Under U.S. law, interracial marriage was banned, mixed-race children could not inherit their parents’ property, and newly freed people of color had to leave Florida. Because Anna’s marriage and emancipation predated these laws, she was exempt from these new laws but the environment for Anna and her family continually worsened.
In an effort to find a better situation for his family, Zephaniah Kingsley decided to move his family to Haiti. He arranged for the leasing of a 35,000 acre plantation near Puerto Plata (today in the Dominican Republic) named Mayorasgo de Koka. Anna, along with two of her sons and sixty slaves moved to the plantation in Haiti between 1836 and 1838. Because Haiti had abolished slavery, Anna’s slaves were freed, but became indentured laborers. Zephaniah remained in the United States where he died in New York City in 1843. In 1846, Anna returned to Florida to argue for her inheritance, which was being challenged by Zephaniah’s sister. However, in 1846 the Superior Court of East Florida ruled in Anna Kingsley’s favor.
After receiving a large portion of her husband’s estate, Anna bought a twenty-two-acre farm along the St. John’s River in Chesterfield, just across from Jacksonville. Until 1862, Anna lived in this community of free blacks and slaves. Historians believe that Anna likely evacuated to the Union-held town at Fernandina on Amelia Island. After the Civil War, with most of her wealth destroyed, Anna went to Jacksonville to live with her daughter Mary until her death in 1870.
Kathy Tilford., “Anna Kingsley: A Free Woman.,” OAH Magazine of History 12 (1997): https://web.archive.org/web/20080511161300/http://www.oah.org:80/pubs/magazine/women/tilford.htm
From the National Parks Service:
“Anna Kingsley: A Free Woman”: https://www.nps.gov/timu/learn/historyculture/kp_anna_freewoman.htm
Anna’s Manumission Paper and Will: https://www.nps.gov/timu/learn/historyculture/kp_anna_manumission_will.htm
History of Kingsley Plantation: https://www.nps.gov/timu/learn/historyculture/kp_history.htm
Zephaniah Kingsley: https://www.nps.gov/timu/learn/historyculture/kp_zk.htm
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David Glovsky and Elizabeth Timbs
Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
Oxford University Press (USA) African American Studies Center.