Welcome to Fort George Island; Florida. the fourth major island as we travel south along the Florida coast. The island contains numerous ancient shell mounds left by the Indians who resided here for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans. There are also the remains of an old Spanish mission here.
There is a picturesque dirt road that runs the much of the perimeter of the island and leads to a state park, a national park and several other areas of interest.
In 1928 a 16,000 square foot clubhouse was built here in anticipation of a development being built that would mirror the Jekyll Island Club back in Georgia. The great depression hit and the club never got off the ground.
The Florida State Parks system acquired the property in 1989. Meet Tom Thompson, who serves both as a ranger, an interpreter and the chief renovation expert on the grounds. Tom has been working with the Florida State Parks system since 2003.
Tom shared some photos of the place when the park system acquired the property. Huge holes were in the exterior walls.
There was extensive damage from water intrusion, animals and vandals.
And after a number of years hard work, here is the place today.
The building has been renovated to be a convention center and has become a popular wedding venue as of late. There are many large oaks on the property and the river bank makes for a scenic location.
A portion of the building has been converted into a visitors center and museum which can be expected to grow over time.
A golf course was built here too - here is the old caddy shack.
Today the old fairways and greens are a walkway that you can hike that wends through pristine hardwood forest and wetlands. Just up the street is another park that was a state park but was recently taken over by the federal government. This was the Kingsley Plantation. run by the National Park Service.
Kingsley was a slave trader and a shipping magnate who settled here in 1814. He arrived here with a wife - an African woman named Anna he had married in 1806 when she was 13 years old. Under Spanish rule, it was not uncommon for European plantation owners to marry black women.
She was a remarkable woman - in 1811 when she was 18 he freed her and had her run another plantation he had built.
However, English rule came back and they began passing many laws to drive free blacks out of the area or to ensnare them back into slavery. He sent his wife and children to Haiti during this time period, and then subsequently died. His wife had to return in 1846 to defend her inheritance of the property, and surprisingly she was successful in court.
The property sits right along the river - a prefect site for shipping agricultural goods down the coast to St. Augustine.
The slave cabins here have survived remarkably well. They were built of tabby - unusual for slave cabins.
In fact, the walls of a couple dozen of them still stand.
Below is a photograph of the cabins taken shortly after the civil war, and shows that black families stayed on the plantation and lived in them after being freed.
This slavery thing has gone on for thousands of years, and thankfully we recognize it today for the travesty it was. Below is a schematic of Kingsley's showing how slaves were stacked in the ships decks like pieces of wood for the long journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
They were shackled in place for these journeys - below is an old wooden leg restraint.
It is said that millions died being transported on these ships. I am also told that the slaves that worked to concentrate indigo into die were the shortest lived - supposedly there is a carcinogen in concentrated indigo that brought on cancer rapidly, and the life expectancy of someone who worked with it was about five years.
As we saw on nearby Amelia Island, this area changed hands from French to Spanish to English, then back to Spanish and then to a United States territory. Under Spanish rule, slaves were allowed to buy or earn their freedom, and slave owners were allowed to free their slaves. Free blacks were allowed to own property, and some had slaves and servants of their own.
But when the new ruling parties came in, they worked hard to quickly disassemble this arrangement. Blacks who had earned their freedom and bought land were harassed and re-enslaved for minor and contrived violations of stringent laws that applied to blacks only.
These included such things as raising their voice to any non-black, Free blacks had to pay "territorial taxes" that whites did not, and if they couldn't pony up the money they were arrested and sold as slaves. Laws were passed that marriages between blacks and whites were void and anyone who was married was now fornicating. Fornication was punishable by a $1,000 fine - a huge sum back then. It amounted to a forfeit of all property, lashings and imprisonment.
If you freed a slave, you were fined a thousand dollars and the slave was arrested and sold as a slave to someone else. Blacks were not allowed to trade, buy or sell sugar, cotton, meat, fodder, corn, molasses or rice - in other words they were not allowed to make money.
Finally, a law was passed in 1842 that said any free black - regardless of how little "black" they had in their blood - was to be shipped out of the territory at once. Of course any property or belongings were confiscated. It was in this climate that Amelia returned and successfully sued for her ownership of this plantation - an amazing feat. There is no record of how she pulled it off, but it is a clear demonstration of her intelligence and her courage.
And, of course. there were huge penalties and fines put in place for anyone who assisted blacks in trying to do anything besides be a slave.
In the out buildings of the park are displays showing how the kitchens were run and how sugar cane was grown and harvested. This is the northern-most sugar plantation we have come across.
On up the street a bit is an old Episcopal church. It wasn't open to get photos inside, but the placard outside stated that it was opened in 1883. Peacocks roamed the grounds but ducked into the woods when I tried to get close enough to photograph them.
And here, as we travel A1A, you have to take a ferry to continue south into Jacksonville.
The ferry runs twice an hour and costs eight dollars. If you don't take the ferry, you have to run inland about ten miles and back to get over to Jacksonville.
Beside the marina is a sizable boat repair yard.
This yard has the capability to pull good sized boats out of the water for repairs. This boat below had ten feet added to its length (in the middle) and is being refitted to be a deep see fishing boat.
Other boats were out to have their hulls repainted. Nothing man-made seems to last long in the marine environment.
They had a couple of coast guard boats out for repairs, and this pilot boat used to take pilots out to the large ships to drive them into the river to the port.
The crane they use has a capacity of over 100 tons. I ended up being noticed and asked to leave - they were a bit sensitive about having someone wandering about with a camera.
I liked the artwork someone did on an old propeller.
And for today's parting shot, I met this fellow in the yard at the Kingsley Plantation.
He didn't seem too concerned about my presence - this is the closest I have been to one of these guys in the wild.
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