Arlington Plantations

By Cleve Powell
Originally published in the History Corner of the July 2008 edition of the OAI Newsletter

As our group develops write-ups and exhibits for historic signs, I thought all of our members should have a map and very brief description of the plantation areas. The map is a 1918 vintage topo map with some current road names added in blue for orientation. One Indian Mound is shown in red at the top of the map, which is the “Grant” mound, largest of the many that could be found in the early 1900s.

The plantation clearings as they existed in 1856 are outlined in red. Some were operated continuously from the English occupation beginning in 1764 on through the Civil War. Here is a little history of each one shown starting with Newcastle, located next to the Indian Mound. Much of the information is taken from Dr. Schafer’s book “Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley,” which describes her family’s Arlington plantations as a “Free Black Community.”

Newcastle: a 780 acre plantation purchased in 1771 by Francis Fatio of Swedish descent. He became a Spanish subject in 1784 when Florida again was ruled by Spain. He had a substantial home on top of the bluff overlooking Mill Cove, and grew indigo and other crops. The renowned naturalist William Barton once visited him. Fatio moved up river to a larger plantation known as New Switzerland. The Parsons family who owned a mill in Mayport (ca. 1850) purchased the land, and their home was burned during the Civil War. Mary Parsons Broward died as a result of the strife of the war and is buried in a small cemetery near the home site. Her father helped raise her son, Napoleon Bonaparte Broward in a new home he built after the war, and young Broward later became Governor of Florida. In the mid 1900s the land belonged to Mr. Petrinovich who had a small mansion named “Cherokee Villa” located by the cemetery. The cemetery is the only tangible evidence left of the area’s earlier days.

McNeill (Reddy) Plantation (lying north of Blue Cypress Park): The area from Newcastle to Reddie Point was an 800 acre plantation owned by Capt. William Reddy during the 20-year English occupation of Florida, and was abandoned when Florida came under Spanish rule. Francis Richard was granted 182 acres on the point during the second Spanish period, one of many grants he held in Arlington. Richard had a water-powered sawmill on Strawberry Creek, which was operated by John Sammis, son-in-law of Zephaniah and Anna Kingsley. It was probably through this connection that Kingsley’s sister, Martha’s son, Charles McNeill, and his wife Elizabeth Coffee, a “free colored” person, settled there and raised nine children. This was one of the free black community owners who lived in relative peace along Arlington shoreline before the Civil War. Charles’ sister Anna McNeill Whistler came to visit him in 1858 and wrote her artist son James glowing descriptions of the plantation. After the Civil War, Charles returned and attempted to rebuild his burned homestead, but he died in 1869 before it was completed. John Sammis bought his land through a probate session. Samuel Chase reportedly opened a shipyard on the point and hired black Union Soldiers who remained after the war as workers. The 1918 map shows a small community known as Chaseville, which had its own church and school.

SaintXIsabel (Lying south of Blue Cypress Park): Believed to be named for a Spanish gun battery reportedly located along the shore, SaintXIsabel was part of a 10,000 acre plantation that belonged to absentee owner Samuel Potts during the English period. A 405-acre plantation was granted to George Atkinson during the Spanish period, and the grant showed many cleared fields remaining from Pott’s ownership. Atkinson owned a lot of land in Northeast Florida and is also believed to have been an absentee owner. The land became the property of Oran Baxter, a white man arriving from New York (ca. 1840), and his mixed race wife, Martha Kingsley. Martha was the daughter of Zephaniah Kingsley and his African Princess wife Anna. Oran died in 1847 leaving his wife in debt, but by 1854 she had paid off her husband’s debts and increased her number of slaves from 36 to 48. Taking after her father in business skills, she became one of the ten wealthiest persons in Duval County. Her plantation was a community in itself with separate buildings for her daughters and their husbands as well as the widow of Francis Richard Jr., her children and her many workers. The Civil War caused Martha to leave, and she lost most of her wealth, but she returned and died at SaintXIsabel in 1870.

Chesterfield (Part of the Jacksonville University Campus by the Gymnasium): Originally part of the Potts Plantation, it is the northern point of a 157 acre grant to Francis Richard known as “Parque” during the second Spanish period. Only 16 acres in size it, could be described as a farm rather than a plantation. What is important is the owner from 1850-1860, Anna Kingsley. Born of royal lineage in Senegal, West Africa, Anna was sold into slavery at age 13. Anna was purchased by wealthy white planter Zephaniah Kingsley and became his wife. Together they had four children. After the death of her husband and oldest son, Anna came to live in the Arlington area of Florida to find peace living between her daughters Martha Baxter to the north and Mary Sammis to the south. Anna, once a slave herself, owned 16 slaves while at Chesterfield. After the Civil War, Anna lived with her daughters until her death prior to June 1870. Anna’s life is well chronicled in Dr. Schafer’s book and at the Kingsley Plantation on Ft. George Island.

Floral Bluff (Along the river both north and south of Floral Bluff Road): Originally located in Samuel Potts’ 10,000-acre plantation during the English period, it later was part of a grant known as “Parque” to Francis Richard during the second Spanish period. Richard’s granddaughter Elizabeth, daughter of John B. Richard, was born in the Oakwood Villa area in 1805 and may have inherited this land from her grandmother in 1821. In 1832, she married Robert Bigelow from Connecticut. Robert fought in the Seminole Indian War, and then moved to Jacksonville, buying two plantations along the river. In 1840 he served as executor of the will of Elizabeth’s uncle, Francis II. He was a slaveholder and reportedly treated them kindly. He took no part in the Civil War but was a strong southern man in principal. He resided peacefully at his Arlington Plantation, and over the years had several homes along the river. An 1899 map shows “Bigelow Cove” south of Floral Bluff Road and several docks, one at the end of Floral Bluff Road and one near one of his first homes just north of Arlington Road. Robert Bigelow died in 1868, and both he and Elizabeth are buried in the Bigelow Cemetery on Floral Bluff Road along with other family members. Prior to his death, he homesteaded several parcels of land, one of which included part of Lake Lucina, which may have been named for a member his family. The Bigelow mansion, which burned Christmas Eve in 1950, was well known and was used in early movies. It was located on top of the bluff between what is now Plantation Drive and North River Drive. The Floral Bluff Subdivision was platted in 1887, and has several homes on the State of Florida’s historic list.

Strawberry Hill/Richard/Sammis: Now known as Clifton, this was the location of the overseer’s home for Samuel Potts during the English occupation. Everything was dismantled in 1784 when Spain took over the territory of Florida. About 1795, a third party secured a 600-acre Spanish Grant for Don Francis Richard, a native of Italy and his wife Genevieve Bianne from the Dominican Republic, and their children. The grant ran along Arlington River and Strawberry Creek from Clifton area to Arlington Road. Richard had successfully operated a sugar cane plantation in the Dominican Republic until warned by his slaves of an uprising. He set sail for Florida with his family and loyal servants. Richard named his new plantation Strawberry Hill. Richard’s oldest son, John B. Richard, and his wife received a 250-acre grant south of “Strawberry Creek” lying along Silversmith Creek. As previously mentioned, Richard had grants for smaller tracts along the river to Reddie Point.

Richard’s youngest son was christened in a Catholic church in SaintXAugustine in 1802, and Francis Richard Sr. died in Georgia (ca. 1818), and his wife died there in 1821, so it’s possible that he didn’t actually live at Strawberry Hill, but it was definitely an active plantation. In 1817, before Francis Richard Sr’s death, he applied for a special Grant to dam Strawberry (Mill) Creek and Red Bay Branch, and build and operate a water powered mill, which Francis II saw completed in 1820. Francis II hired a Mr. John Sammis to run the mill, and after his death in 1840, Sammis purchased 6,000 acres of the Richard Estate. Sammis, a white man from New York, was married to Mary Kingsley, the youngest daughter of Zephaniah and his African wife Anna Kingsley. The Sammis’ built a home in Clifton (ca. 1850), which is still in use today as a private residence. Sammis was one of the wealthiest men in Jacksonville, lost almost everything but his land during the Civil War but his family left during the Civil War, and returned to a bleak economy having lost almost everything but the land. He had put his land up for sale before the war and sold it several times afterward, having to foreclose on the purchasers. In 1873, he sold what is now known as the Clifton area. The property was platted as the “Arlington Bluff.” One of the most important historic spots in Arlington is the Clifton (Sammis) Cemetery where Anna and Zephaniah’s two daughters and their descendants are buried. It is also believed to be the final resting place of Anna Kingsley.

Richard Mill (millpond outlined in green on the map): Francis Richard owned about a thousand acres in Arlington prior to 1817 when he applied for a special grant from the Spanish Governor to dam what was known as Strawberry Creek, just downstream of its juncture with Red Bay Branch. The purpose was to create a millpond of about 150 acres in size with 12.5 feet of water at the dam, to operate a mill powered by the rotation of a large waterwheel. The mill was a combination of sawmill, gristmill, cotton gin, and also ground sugarcane. Land was granted and the dam and mill were operational in 1820. The remains of the dam can still be seen in part as the roadbed of Arlington Road where it crosses Strawberry Creek. It was quite an operation; the creek was straightened out to Arlington River to float in logs and produce, and sent out finish goods. There was a 2-acre lumberyard on the south bank and houses for the workers on the north bank, with fields of grain and cane nearby. Richard’s mill grant was only 250 acres but he was granted two large tracts to provide timber for the mill; “Cedar Swamp,” 1,600 acres in the vicinity of what is now Craig Airport and almost all the river swamp and tributaries of Pottsburg Creek from Terry Parker High School down to the area where Sunbeam Road intersects Phillips Highway, which contained over 14,400 acres for a total of 17,000 acres. The mill was the hub of industry in Arlington, and tied into the operation was reportedly a shipbuilding facility near Clifton utilizing the live oak and other timbers available.

Francis Richard II sent a letter to his mill operator John Sammis in 1837, who was to run the business while Richard went to Spain. The letter indicated that his worker got a peck of corn a week and six logs a day plus beef and salt fish. He was paid $1.00 to grind a bushel of corn and $3-$5 to gin a hundred pounds of cotton. First quality timber sold for $20 per thousand (feet). After his death in 1839 Robert Bigelow gave John Sammis a deed for 5,500 acres, which included the mill. The mill continued to operate through the Civil War, and up to about 1880 (after Sammis sold the land). The dam was washed out during a storm due to lack of control of the floodgates and parts of the mill wheels could be seen in Strawberry Creek in to the mid 1900s.

Other historic sites not described here are: The Crossroads, The Ferry Landing, Arlington Grammar, Bruce Park, communities of Gilmore, Oakwood Villas, Cosmo, and Eggleston, JM&P Railroad, Tree Hill, Mt Zion (Lone Star) Methodist Church, and Norman Studios. These have or will be covered in our newsletters.