We moved 50 miles north from St. Augustine to the northwest corner of Jacksonville Florida two weeks earlier than planned. I was required to travel to Kansas City (Liberty) Missouri as a witness in two criminal trials during which I had been the lead investigator. Unfortunately, there were no available spaces at or nearby our campground in St. Augustine where I could extend our stay. We would have been out of town at the time we were expected to vacate our spot in St. Augustine and unable to move our RV. Knowing I would be flying from Jacksonville it was reasonable to move closer to the airport. As it turned out, the trials would once again be continued to another date and the trip to Kansas City was called off. Our chance visit to Jacksonville became unexpectedly interesting.
I had no idea Jacksonville is the largest city in Florida. I knew the city had grown to the point the county is basically the entire metropolitan area. Busy I-95 traverses downtown and the huge Saint Johns River, three miles at its widest point, is an obstacle in terms of roadways. There is a drop in elevation in the river which of course is typical and a reason rivers flow. But what is not common in the south is this river flows to the north. If you find yourself in the area the outer loop on I-295 is always less busy on the west side than on the east closer to the Atlantic Ocean according to locals and my own experiences. Fellow RV bloggers Random Bits RV are from Jacksonville if my notes are correct. Wish I could have tracked them down to see if by chance they were in the area for a visit or even still living fulltime in their motorhome.
Karen and I grew up in the Midwest so living in coastal cities is a huge experience for us. As usual upon arrival we want to know where the best sandy beach is and how close is Walmart or a decent grocery store. It’s particularly more difficult to find a nearby beach and avoid heavy traffic near the larger cities which at the time I’m writing this includes not only Jacksonville but Savannah Georgia and Charleston South Carolina. I’ll report about those cities in the next two blog posts. One often has to hop over to barrier islands to access the best beaches on the Atlantic.
Now I’ve been over some bridges in my life some of which are considered monuments in my hometown. Taller and longer bridges seem to be a dime a dozen on the Atlantic coast. Someday I’d like to write a blog post regarding driver’s anxiety when traveling fulltime. I can’t recall ever reading another’s blog post on the topic. Tall bridges, driving in storms and wind, through tunnels 45′ below the water, down mountain grades 7000 feet higher than you grew up in, narrow lanes through busy city construction to include complicated detours. The list is long in terms of what can cause anxiety when driving. I can say for sure one forgets about the trailer behind you when your eyes are glued to the road while your fingers crush the steering wheel. I’m doing my research now regarding driving anxiety and will get back to you on that.
Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island
You got to drive over that Dames Bridge pictured above to get here from the side of town we stayed in. But worth it to find something different. We have seen plantations elsewhere such as the interior of Alabama, Georgia or even the boot hill of Missouri. The Kingsley Plantation is different. It’s the oldest remaining plantation home in Florida and an example of the task system used during the years of slavery in this country. Construction materials used for building and crops profited from are different. The Kingsley Plantation is a link to European trade from, in my opinion, the colonies in America. No Florida settlement was not part of the original 13 colonies but it sure the heck had something to do with how this country came about. One has to put aside the emotions associated with the terrible facts of slavery and concentrate on how folks lived back then, or you will not learn from the visit.
As a side note, it’s 2:37 am right now as I type this, 40 miles west of Charleston South Carolina. The temperature outside is 70 degrees on March 24th. I’ve had to turn on the air conditioner to remove the humidity inside the RV in order to cool the place down. I’m retired with no place I have to be so yes, I’ll stay up as late as I want. Life is wonderful…. I can hear the rain bouncing off the top of the RV and hope the tornadic storm further north does not impact the area of North Carolina where we are headed next.
The Kingsley Plantation is named after Zephaniah Kinglsey but that’s not important. He spent 25 years here. He had three wives one of which had been a slave he bought when she was 13 years of age. That’s disgusting of course. He brought the family here in 1814 and had a strong opinion of how to maximize profits of his slaves. In short, the task system is giving each and every individual slave a set of tasks to complete each day. They work until that’s done and whatever time is left the slave can use to attend to their personal needs such as growing food. Zephaniah had other business interest and left his wife, Anna Madgigine Jai, from Senegal West Africa in charge. Now this gets interesting. Anna was the slave Kinglsey bought when she was 13. Her father was a ruler in Africa who captured other Africans to be sold into slavery. Anna was captured by another tribe and sold into slavery. She actively participated in plantation management, acquiring her own land and slaves when freed by Kingsley earlier in 1811. The plantation grounds offered other interesting details about life back then and what we would later find to be common among other plantations scattered along the Atlantic coast.
With an enslaved work force of about 60, the Fort George plantation produced Sea Island cotton, citrus, sugar cane, indigo (popular blue) dye, and corn. Kingsley continued to acquire property in north Florida and eventually possessed more than 32,000 acres, including four major plantation complexes and more than 200 enslaved people. Sea Island cotton is different than what is grown elsewhere in that the grains are longer and more preferred. It benefits from the sea salt within the marshlands that are harder to work than open fields in dryer areas. The Florida plantation system began in 1765 within British Florida (Spain gave up Florida to Britain in 1763) and ended with the American civil war in 1865.
If one spends much time at historic locations in the south on the east coast you will become familiar with a building material called Tabby. Tabby is a type of concrete made by burning oyster shells to create lime, then mixing it with water, sand, ash and broken oyster shells. Tabby was used by early Spanish settlers in present-day North Carolina and Florida, then by British colonists primarily in coastal South Carolina and Georgia. The complete plantation buildings and ruins were fascinating and dog friendly.
The one park ranger at the post was tied up for the most part talking to one visitor. I had walked over to the river and looked down from the sea wall. I noticed what appeared to be crudely formed clay bricks along the shore and finally found an opening to ask the ranger about them. The bricks were used within the ships coming from Europe as ballast. Once they arrived at Kingsley Plantation the bricks were replaced with cargo. While the land was being cleared as part of restoration for the park, the bricks were pushed by bulldozers to the water’s edge as seen in the two photos below.
Amelia Island Sandy Beaches and the French Fort Caroline
Amelia Island is one of a chain of islands extended from South Carolina to Florida. These islands played an important role in the founding of our country. Located northeast of Jacksonville Florida, Amelia Island is 13 miles long and approximately four miles at its widest point. The Atlantic Ocean communities of Fernandina Beach, Amelia City, and American Beach are located on the island. So was the French settlement at Fort Caroline until the Spanish found out and sent soldiers from St. Augustine to kill most of them. This is the American frontier in the years before, during and after the original 13 colonies as the nations of Britian, Spain and France competed for land against each other and the indigenous tribes that occupied the area.
I’m so fortunate to have been delayed writing this blog post. We had moved on through Brunswick and Savannah Georgia to Charleston South Carolina. Taking in the local history in those places opened my eyes to the bigger picture as to how the boarders of our country came to be during the early years. Ya, I knew about the 13 original colonies, but what happened when the individual colonies were established was vaguely explained in school or I did not listen. And yes, we spent time enjoying the beauty of the places and walking the dog along the beaches looking for and discovering “why moments” as in why we travel fulltime and live in a 35’x8′ box.
I am completely humbled by and respect those that worked for a lifetime researching and resurrecting history so that people like me can briskly walk through an historic location in two hours.
The City of American Beach was founded by Abraham Lincoln Lewis who was Florida’s first black millionaire to benefit his African American workers during segregation when blacks were not allowed to swim at most of the Jacksonville Beaches. American Beach lost homes and buildings as a result of Hurricane Dora. The Civil Rights Act desegregated Florida’s beaches. We started our drive checking out the beach areas at Fernandina Beach, but they were overrun with visitors as spring break was starting. I could not find parking at the various coastal access points in Fernandina, so we drifted south along Amelia Island and came upon American Beach which I highly recommend. My sister Mary asked me to check out Amelia Island as she has wanted to go there. At this point, I’ll recommend considering St. Simons Island outside Brunswick Georgia over Amelia Island. Amelia Island might be a little more upscale than St. Simons which has more residential areas where people live all year. St. Simons is about 60 miles north of Amelia. If you are heading into the area do your own research for sure. Unfortunately, we did not have time to check out the American Beach Museum as we wanted to make it home before rush hour traffic.
France knew the Spanish had settlements in the Americas and wanted in on the commercial opportunities so in 1562 they established a colony near the mouth of the St. John’s River outside current day Jacksonville. With help from the Timucua Indians, the colonists began building a village and fort. The Spanish later settled St. Augustine in 1565. As I understand it, a Frenchman was captured and revealed the settlement. The Spanish were like – what – the French are here? They marched on the French settlement, killing most everyone other than a few Catholics and some they enslaved. France took the place back during another fight, but the settlement did not survive. Otherwise, the French settlement may have been the oldest continually occupied city in America rather than St. Augustine. This fighting for land on the frontier gets more interesting when you throw in the British outposts which I’ll explain later with our visit to Savannah Georgia.
Should Have Done this Months Ago
Well Karen and I broke down and bought one of those state sticker maps and stuck it on our RV. We add stickers only when we actually camp in a state. When parked in the black hills of Custer South Dakota we noticed another couple placed the map on the inside of their entrance door and we stole the idea. Folks see the map which often leads to conversations where they have traveled. It also adds a little artwork to the inside of our home. Some add stickers when they drive through a state with their RV or when they stop and do something significant in the state. We just added our 23rd state sticker which is South Carolina. We both enjoy the moment when adding a sticker although our goal does not include visiting every state.
We are currently camped at Jolly Acres RV Park in the South Carolina woods for two weeks 40 miles from Charleston. Our spring/summer trip has begun. We will be traveling north up I-26 from here on the way to visit family, both living and dead.