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Zephaniah Kingsley Collection

Identifier: MS 234

Scope and Content

Philip S. May, the compiler of the Zephaniah Kingsley Collection, was a prominent Florida lawyer and president of the Florida Historical Society in the 1940s who had a particular interest in Kingsley. During his research he managed to accumulate a large number of documents regarding Kingsley, his family, his plantation, and Fort George Island. He also wrote several biographical articles concerning Kingsley including "A Discredited Prophet" and "Zephaniah Kingsley, Nonconformist." His personal drafts of these articles are found within the collection. In addition, May's bibliographical notes, research notes, interview with Carl Bohnenburger, and correspondence pertaining to Kingsley are also included. A draft of May's paper on Kingsley, "One of the most fit and discrete men of the Territory," delivered to the Florida Historical Society In 1939, is also in the collection.

Materials dating from the lifetime of Zephaniah Kingsley are all copies of originals (there are no original manuscript materials in the collection). The genealogy of the Kingsley family, a copy of Zephaniah Kingsley's own will, and general collected biographical information serve to provide details on the entirety of the Kingsley family including its ties to the American artist James McNeil Whistler. Also, land claims, legal papers, testimony, and claims of damages incurred during the War of 1812 provide insights into Kingsley's property dealings. In addition, a typescript of Kingsley's pro-slavery treatise from 1829 is included, as is his speech to the Florida legislature concerning his feelings toward the "colored population." Newspaper articles, as recent as the 1980s, relating to the Kingsley Plantation are found within the collection as are several other articles concerning the plantation, the most popular being the widely read "Key to the Golden Isles."

Of particular interest is a revealing discourse between L. Maria Child and Kingsley during which he explains his theories on race relations, slavery, the slave trade, free Black people, and Africa. Equally revealing is Kingsley's letter concerning his visit to rural Haiti addressed to George H. Evans of New Jersey.

Those papers dating from Kingsley's life are from 1812 to 1843. Other papers related to May's research on Kingsley span 1824-1946, with the exception of a few more recent newspapers articles on Kingsley Plantation from the 1980s.


  • 1812-1946
  • Majority of material found within 1812-1843



The collection is open for research.

Biographical/Historical Note

Zephaniah Kingsley, son of Zephaniah Kingsley, Sr. and Isabella Johnstone, was of Scottish descent and was born in Bristol, England, on December 4, 1765 as the second of eight children. His parents moved to Charleston, South Carolina in 1773 where he received an extensive education and later became a successful slave trader with both Brazil and the West Indies. He settled in Spanish East Florida in 1803. He bought property at Laurel Grove in northeast Florida, and later, in 1813, took over a plantation on Fort George Island which would become his family's primary residence.

In a slaving trip to Havana, Cuba, in 1806, Kingsley purchased the woman who would become his first wife, Anna Madgigine Jai (Kingsley), who had been captured and put in slavery in the Senegal area of West Africa, then sent to the Americas. During the course of his life, Kingsley had at least two other wives, both of whom had children by him: Flora H. Kingsley, Sarah M. Kingsley. However, Anna would be the principal head of the family; she and her children lived at Fort George Island until 1838 when they went to Haiti, and later returned to Florida in 1846. In addition to the property on Fort George Island, Kingsley accumulated property on the St. Johns River including the present day Duval County areas of St. John's Bluff, San Jose, and Beauclerc.

Kingsley was an advocate of the institution of slavery. In 1828 he published a treatise in its defense, arguing that it was advantageous to the slave, the owner, and the state's economic prosperity. Later editions of this treatise were published in 1829 and 1834.

On the way back from visiting his wife Anna and children in Haiti on Sept. 13, 1843, Kingsley died in New York from what was declared pulmonary disease.

Sources: May, Philip S., "Zephaniah Kingsley, Nonconformist (1765-1843)," The Florida Historical Quarterly 23(3) Jan. (1945): 145-159. And: Schafer, Daniel L. Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley, African Princess, Florida Slave, Plantation Slaveowner. University Press of Florida, 2003.


0.4 Linear feet (1 box)

Language of Materials



Philip S. May's compilation of research on Zephaniah Kingsley, a wealthy and prominent Florida slave trader and plantation owner. Includes copies of records pertaining directly to Kingsley, newspaper articles, and microfilm concerning the Kingsley Plantation.

Physical Location

University of Florida Smathers Library Building

Related Material

A reel of microfilm pertaining to Kingsley's landholdings in Haiti (donated by Daniel L. Schafer) is available in the P.K. Yonge Library of Florida History, as are original printed versions of "A treatise on the patriarchal or cooperative system of society..." and "The Rural Code of Haiti." See also, Balancing Evils Judiciously, the pro-slavery writings of Zephaniah Kingsley, by Daniel W. Stowell.

The Library of Florida History also holds the Philip Stockton May Papers.

A Guide to the Zephaniah Kingsley Collection
Finding aid created by Rachel Walton
November 2007
Description rules
Finding Aid Prepared Using Dacs
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Description is written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida Repository

George A. Smathers Libraries
PO Box 117005
Gainesville Florida 32611-7005 United States of America