Historic Markers Across Florida

Arlington - A Unique Community

Marker ID:  
Location: on the grounds of the Jacksonville University, Jacksonville, FL.
County: Duval
Coordinates: N 30° 21.084    W 081° 36.212
  30.3514    -81.60353333
Style: Free Standing **
Waymark: WM8G1V


From 1847 until sometime before 1860 Jacksonville University campus was the site of the Chesterfield farm of Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley, former slave and widow of white plantation owner Zephaniah Kingsley. This farm was at the center of a rural free African American community unlike any other in northeast Florida. In an area stretching from the Arlington River on the south to Reddy´s Point on the north, lived more than seventy free black Americans in fifteen households of white, black and mixed-race adults and children. Only in the towns of St. Augustine and Pensacola, both once colonial capitals under Spanish governance, could free black communities be found with numbers comparable to those in this Duval County enclave.
During Florida´s 237 years of Spanish rule (1565-1764 and 1785-1821), the liberal laws of Spain regarding race and slavery recognized a three-caste society of whites, free people of color, and slaves. Under Spanish law all persons were created by God and endowed with a soul; unfree status was neither pre-ordained nor permanent; slavery was an unnatural condition and therefore Spanish law offered many avenues out of slavery. Slaves had rights that were enforced by the courts, including the right of sanctity of marriage, the right to be free for meritorious service, and the right of self purchase. Once free, former slaves were entitled to own property - including slaves.
After Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821, Spanish attitudes and laws regarding race and slavery were quickly replaced with the oppressive English system entrenched in the South. English law recognized two castes, free whites and enslaved blacks. In a series of laws passed by the Territorial Council, free persons of color were barred from joining public gatherings, giving seditious speeches, jury service and from testifying against whites in court proceedings. Interracial marriages were prohibited and the children of mixed-race couples were ineligible to inherit their parents´ estates. Fees were imposed upon slave owners who freed their slaves, and newly freed persons were required to leave Florida or risk being sold back into slavery.
Because of this, many persons of color immigrated to Cuba, Haiti and elsewhere and the population of free blacks as a percentage of the total Florida population dropped dramatically in the years from 1830 to 1860. However, in the area now known as Old Arlington a free black and mixed-race community not only survived but thrived. At the core of that community was the aging African-born Anna Kingsley, matriarch of an extensive mixed-race kinship group. How the community was able to escape the effects of the race hysteria of the time is not entirely known, but surely it was due in large part to the cooperation of sympathetic white persons of wealth and power who provided legal and social protection.
The Civil War brought an end to slavery and the large plantations that relied on slave labor. In the succeeding decades up until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960´s, the community would adopt the segregated social practices of the South. But at one time this location on the eastern shore of the St. Johns River was a unique place where white, black and mixed race families lived and worked in harmony.
Source: Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley, by Dr. Daniel L. Schafer

Old Arlington, Inc