One of my favorite places to take people who would come visit us when we lived in Jacksonville was Kingsley Plantation. Not only because of all the ghost stories surrounding it, but because the drive out there was gorgeous. (You drive along A1A, which winds along the ocean. The views are spectacular.)
A1A will take you to Fort George Island, where you’ll find the Kingsley Plantation. The way is clearly marked to the plantation. (You veer off of A1A to a rough, narrow road that cuts through a forest of palmettos and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss that leads you straight to Kingsley. The official address is 11676 Palmetto Ave., in case you want to plug it into your GPS.) It’s super atmospheric and enchanting.
THE GROUNDS OF KINGSLEY
The house at Kingsley Plantation isn’t a grand antebellum-style mansion of the ilk that graces so many other southern towns. However, it is charming and stunning, and is uniquely Floridian in make.
Yet it does share many of the same characteristics as many other plantations. There’s a detached kitchen, a barn, a garden where the household food was grown, and slave quarters.
NOT YOUR ORDINARY PLANTATION
Kingsley Plantation was built by Zephaniah Kingsley. He was not your stereotypical plantation owner. He operated his plantation via a “task” system.
His slaves were allowed to tend their own gardens or work on their own crafts once they finished their plantation tasks. If they sold their crafts they could keep the money from the sales. They could even buy their freedom if they acquired enough money.
Zephaniah’s wife, Anna, was even a former slave. She actually helped her husband manage the plantation and ended up owning property of her own. However, he fled with his mixed-race family to Haiti when Florida became an American territory and passed harsh laws that discriminated against free blacks and put more restrictions on slaves.
THE HAUNTINGS OF KINGSLEY
Like many old Southern places, there’s also plenty of ghost stories surrounding the Kingsley Plantation. One of the spookiest is the story of Old Red Eyes. He’s said to be most prevalent around the old slave quarters. He’s thought to be the ghost of a slave who was hanged by other slaves after he raped and killed several of the female slaves. He manifests as two glowing red eyes, usually spotted in rear view mirrors following drivers.
There’s also a story of a lady in white. She’s often seen in or near the house. It’s thought she’s the ghost of Anna Kingsley. There’s also the story of a ghost child whose screams are often heard at the well.
I never saw Anna’s ghost, but I did feel something peering down at us from the second floor when we were inside one time. Visitors weren’t allowed up there, but I strained to try and see up the staircase. I spied nada, but I sure continued to have a strong sense of being watched.
However, my favorite story is of the haunted Tabby House on the road leading to Kingsley Plantation. It’s name comes from the material it’s built of, tabby, which is a mixture of lime (derived from burning oyster shells), sand and water. It’s mixed with whole shells to create a cement mixture which is poured into forms. (The slave quarters and barn at Kingsley Plantation were also made of tabby.)
The Tabby House was intended as a home for a planter’s daughter, but he died before he finished it. No one ever did finish it, so now only the shell remains with some walls, no roof, and holes where windows and doors should go. Oh, and there’s the ghost.
No one knows if the ghost is that of the planter, but if you see it your heart determines the form it will appear to you in. If you are a good person with a good heart, you’ll see a woman in white waving at you. If you’re a bad person with a black heart, you’ll see a wolf with eyes of fire.
I made a point of passing the Tabby House every time we visited Fort George Island. I always hoped to see the ghost haunting it, but I never did. I still don’t know if I have a good heart or a black one. I was hoping the ghost would help me figure it out!
I wish I had taken any of the shots of Kingsley Plantation posted above. My friend W. James Burns took them when he visited us in Jacksonville and we went to check out Fort George Island and the surrounding areas.