Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Key West, The Africans Buried at Higgs Beach and Zephanias Kingsly

Key West , Florida. USA .- by Ray Fernandez

A lot of you have been by the cemetery on Higgs Beach and have heard about the Africans buried there.
Some said they died and were buried there in the name of historical truth these people were murdered, when you shackle someone hands and feet without food or medicine for months, they just don't happen to die, they are murdered for financial gain .

Now that we got that out of the way we'll get on with the rest of the story.

The life story of Zephaniah Kingsley (1765-1843), alleged smuggler, trainer and trader of slaves, more certainly Florida planter and man of affairs.

One popular anecdote about Kingsley, often repeated and published at least twice, tells of the capture by a Coast Guard gunboat* of 350 Africans whom, so the story goes, Kingsley was attempting to land illegally the government after confiscating the human cargo could find no one capable of taking care of the Africans except Kingsley himself.

Consequently, they were put in his custody and he promptly employed them in making "Gunnison's Cut,"* which the story, describes as a new channel approach to Fort George Island, Kingsley's own property and alleged smuggling and slave training base.

In December, 1827, a Spanish brig, the Guerrero, carrying some 400 Africans to the slave markets of Cuba, was pursued by a British gunboat and run aground on the Florida Reef,about 100 miles from Key West. A consortium of Florida wreckers rescued the Africans and the Spanish crew from the badly damaged brig and put them aboard the hold of the salvaging vessel.

Two of these were quickly over-powered by the Spaniards who carried the larger part of the Africans off to Cuba. The third vessel with 121 Africans aboard made its way safely to Key West.*
Although "complacency" toward slave importation may have been the prevailing social attitude in the southern states and Florida territory at the time, it was not that of the United States government. Legislation prohibiting citizens and residents from engaging in the foreign slave trade had been enacted as early as 1794 and subsequent Acts against the traffic had broadened and defined the prohibitions. Among these, in 1822 the importation of slaves into Florida was out- lawed. An Act of March 3, 1819 was quite specific about Negroes "captured" on board slave ships taken by American armed vessels: they were to be delivered to United States Marshalls and sent back to Africa.

A United States employee of that time, even in a place as far removed from Washington as the Territory of Florida, was in no position to be complacent about Federal statutes if he valued his job. The ubiquity of unsolicited letters in agency records, denouncing the actions and attitudes pointed officials and suggesting more worthy replacements indicates the kind of scrutiny and competition to which appointees were subjected locally, regardless of what the prevailing social attitude toward government might be.

William Pinkney was the United States Treasury Revenue Collector at Key West in 1827 and he appears to have valued the appointment. He immediately notified the Secretary of the Treasury about the arrival of the Africans at the port. Despite the protest of the British gunboat's commander, who considered the Guerrero and its contents his prize, and the fact that the slave ship had not been captured by an armed American vessel, Pinkney apparently thought it safer to interpret the 1819 Act broadly. He impounded the Africans and they were. turned over to Waters Smith, Marshall of East Florida, who came from St. Augustine to take charge of them.

Smith found the Africans, all men and boys, naked, weak and enfeebled by the voyage from Africa and many sick with dysentery and opthalmia, as an eye disease common to slave transport was then called. In spite of the miserable condition in which they were, bribes and force had been employed in attempts to commandeer the Africans for sale. Smith when he arrived at Key West, had to call on Captain Doane of the revenue cutter Marion to help him protect the Africans and convoy the chartered ship which removed them to St. Augustine.*

Aside from the expense of chartering a ship, Smith was compelled by simple humanity to give the Africans immediate medical care and clothing as well as their daily subsistence. He spent some $3,000 of his own money on these. Naturally, he expected to be reimbursed by the government. Communication was slow in those days however, and the circumstance under which the Africans were taken was complicated. It involved possible British, Spanish and Cuban claims as well as those of the Florida wreckers.

Decisions about the situation were taking months but in the meantime the Africans had to eat every day.***

The Secretary of the Navy advised Smith to hire out the Africans on bond for their own protection and upkeep, and as compensation for previous expenses.

And thus it is now told that Kingsley's 350 transported Africans were recaptured by the government and complacently returned to his care. This is a "whisper" that had a remark- able transformation.

The War of 1812 had made it clear that adequate transportation and communication between and within the states was essential for the protection of the new republic, as well as for its economic well-being and development. Navigable waterways that connected important areas of trade and manufacture without exposing shipments to the hazards of the open sea and foreign depredations became a matter of importance to Federal legislators and coastal communities. Responsible persons were pressing for development of the intra-coastal waterways of the eastern seaboard.

Only Mr. Kingsley offered to do the work "agreeably" to Gadsden's-advertisement for $13.500.

Kingsley's proposal was received and accepted in January,1829; he was ready to commence work the first of April; in July, he was employing a large force. A year later, in July, 1839, the work was completed and Gadsden reported his accounts closed in his contract with Mr. Kingsley.

Early in August, 1829, Smith, at the direction of the Secretary of the Navy,- recalled the Africans for their transport to Africa. Initially Kingsley was completely agreeable and arrangements were made for the delivery of the men in his hire. According to Smith, however, Kingsley was influenced
by "a few persons in St. Augustine" who convinced him that there was "no law authorizing the Secretary of the Navy or the President of the United States to order the Africans to be sent out of Florida; that they were free men and could not be sent to Africa contrary to their wishes."

Zephania Kingsly had taken one of these slaves an African princess named Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley, at an early age, she survived the Middle Passage and dehumanizing slave markets to become the property of Kingsley. After manumission by her husband, Anna became a landowner and slaveholder. She raised her four children while managing a plantation that utilized African slave labor and they were treated so well that they were now considered family and did not wish to leave when offered their freedom, but that will have to be the subject of another story in the fascinating life of Zephanias Kingsly

Slave running continued until the late 1860's where the Navy routinely rescued Africans offshore and brought them to Key West . The U.S Steamship Mohawk,Wyandott and Crusader rescued 507 from the vessel Wildfire, some 513 were rescued from the William, and 417 from the Bogota, the human cargo was unloaded at Higss Beach where many of them died and were buried in unmarked graves where West Martello Tower now stands. The government rounded the Africans up and sent then to Liberia, West Africa, a country founded by former American slaves, unfortunately many died on the ships before reaching Liberia and this will always stand as a monument of man's inhumanity to man.

*General Records of the Department of State (R.G.59), Miscellaneous
Letters of the Department of State (M-l79, r. 65, 66), National
Archives and Records Service.

**Office of Naval Records and Library (R.G. 45), Letters Received by tl:e Secretary of the Navy: Miscellaneous Letters, 1801-84. (M-124 r. 114, 116) NARS.
***By the end of October„ 1828, Smith claimed expenses of $12,758.6Z (R. G. 4S, 11-124, r. lie) NAPS

****Waters Smith to the Secretary of the Navy, 27.October, 1828. R.G.45, M-Z24, r. ZL

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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