Kingsley Plantation, 11676 Palmetto Avenue, Jacksonville, Duval County, FL
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Significance: Inhabited by Timucua Indians for thousands of years, Fort George Island, as part of Florida, was claimed by Ponce de Leon for Spain in 1513. A mission, San Juan del Puerto, was established by Jesuit priests in 1587, giving the island its original name, San Juan. The mission was destroyed in 1702 by a British raid during the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1733 James Oglethorpe, sailing south from Savannah, renamed the island after St. George, and established a fort, Fort St. George, either on the island or in its vicinity. Within five years, however, the fort had been abandoned.
Florida was ceded to Britain at the end of the Seven Year's War in 1763, and the new royal governor, James Grant, encouraged settlement and the establishment of plantations. In 1765 Fort George Island was surveyed to Richard Hazard Sr, who established an indigo plantation. By 1783 the island had been acquired by Patrick Tonyn, the second royal governor. In that year, however, as part of the treaty of Paris ending the American Revolution, Florida was ceded back to Spain.
In 1790 the Spanish instituted a land grant system for Florida, including grants to foreigners willing to swear allegiance to Spain and make improvements on their land. The plantation known today as Kingsley Plantation was surveyed in 1792 to the planter John McQueen (1751-1807), who had fled to Florida from Georgia in 1791 with 300 slaves to avoid creditors. McQueen was baptized Catholic, changing his name to Don Juan Reyna, and by 1793 had constructed a house on Fort George Island. This first house was destroyed by fire the following year, and by 1798 McQueen had built a new and more commodious house, with adjacent kitchen, at the north end of the island. Although McQueen's cotton plantation on Fort George Island thrived at first, by 1804, due to poor weather and bad management, he found himself deeply in debt again, and was forced to put the plantation up for sale.
The property was purchased by the Georgia planter John Houstoun McIntosh (1773-1836), who brought 200 slaves to Fort George Island to grow sea island cotton. In 1811, McIntosh became involved in the Patriots' Rebellion, an effort by American settlers to seize the colony of Florida from the Spanish by force, for annexation by the United States. Although the revolt was initially successful, the United States government disavowed the action, and McIntosh was forced to flee to Georgia. Unable to return to Florida, he rented his plantation on Fort George Island to Zephaniah Kingsley in 1814, and subsequently sold it to him in 1817.
Kingsley (1765-1843) had made his fortune as a slave trader, and was also engaged in shipbuilding, as well as importing and exporting trade goods. He had purchased his first Florida plantation in 1803, and would eventually own more than 32,000 acres in the colony. Kingsley Plantation became his home plantation, where he grew sea island cotton, sugar cane, and provisions. Kingsley set about restoring the house built by McQueen, which had been ransacked during the Patriot's Rebellion. Over the next decade he rebuilt the kitchen, where he installed one of his African-born wives, Anna Madagegine Jai, and their children, built the tabby barn, and built the 32 tabby slave houses. In 1819 Florida was ceded to the United States by Spain. Despite Kingsley's public advocacy of rights for free blacks, a series of highly-restrictive racial laws were subsequently imposed by the territory, raising concern by Kingsley for the future of his mixed-race family. In 1836 he purchased a plantation in Haiti, moving his wives, children, and some of his slaves there, and in 1839 he sold Fort George Island to two of his nephews.
Kingsley Plantation went through a series of owners during the next three decades, some of them absentee, when the house was presumably empty. In 1869 Fort George Island was purchased by New Hampshire native John Rollins (1835-1905), who moved into the Kingsley Plantation house. Under Rollins, a number of significant alterations were made to the plantation buildings. Substantial changes were made to the house, a covered walkway was erected between the house and the kitchen, a new porch was built on the kitchen, and several of the slave quarters were demolished so that Rollins could build a deck and boathouse with tabby slabs. Once established on the island, Rollins planted 100 acres of orange trees. While waiting for the groves to mature, he began recreational development of the island. Lots were surveyed and sold, beginning in 1873, and in 1875 a hotel, the Fort George Hotel , was built on the eastern shore of the island. Difficult economic times and the island's relative isolation thwarted these efforts, and in 1888 the hotel burned down. Although Rollins's orange groves were successful for a number of years, severe freezes during the winter of 1894-95 killed most of the trees, effectively ending agricultural production on Fort George Island.
In 1923, 208 acres of Fort George Island were purchased from the Rollins heirs by the Fort George Corporation, which then leased 58 acres, including the Kingsley Plantation buildings, to the Army and Navy Country Club of Florida. Renamed the Fort George Club in 1926, the club built a new clubhouse in 1927 adjacent to the plantation house, which was used as an annex for additional accommodations. The clubhouse burned in 1936, but was rebuilt in 1938, with the plantation house serving as the clubhouse in the mean time. Financial difficulties due to the Depression, along with an aging membership, however, caused the club to decline, and in 1948 the club ceased operations and put its real estate on the market. In 1955, the clubhouse and adjacent area, including the plantation house, the kitchen and the barn, were purchased by the State of Florida for a use as a state park. The park was expanded in 1966 to include the slave quarters. In 1970 Kingsley Plantation was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1991, jurisdiction for the site was transferred to the National Park Service, as part of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.
Unprocessed Field note material exists for this structure: N1016
Survey number: HABS FL-478
National Register of Historic Places NRIS Number: 70000182