Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother: Madeleine L'Engle and Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley

I have just discovered the fascinating history of Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley and her family. As a Florida native, I'm furious that I had never heard this story before - all Florida schoolchildren should learn about her! A small tangent on that story is that author Madeleine L'Engle (A Wrinkle in Time) mentions Anna Kingsley as an acquaintance of her mother's great-grandmother, Susan Phillipa Fatio. I didn't realize before that Madeleine L'Engle had such strong roots in North Florida, but many members of her mother's family have interesting histories. 

I'd like to elaborate more on my thoughts about the Kingsley family and what makes them so unique and important to Florida in another post. Here is L'Engle's story about Anna Kingsley, which she heard from her own mother, as recounted to her by her great-grandmother. Susan Phillipa Fatio, known as Greatie, would have been L'Engle's great-great-grandmother. 

"'Tell me about Greatie and the African Princess.'"
      That was probably my favorite story about Greatie. A wealthy planter and slave trader fell in love with an African princess, and married her. She lived in his huge house partly as wife, partly as servant, bore him many children, and nearly died of homesickness. She was ostracized by both whites and blacks, except for Greatie, who once a week was rowed down the river - it must have been a two- or three-hour trip in the grizzling sun - to spend the day with the princess. First Greatie had to have lunch with the slave trader, while the princess served them. Then Greatie and the princess went off together to the princess's rooms, and talked, and drank cold tea together.
     If Mado had strong ideas about what was right and what was wrong in human relationships, so did her mother-in-law. Greatie and the princess were close friends in a day when such a friendship was unheard of, and Greatie simply laughed when she was criticized and sometimes slandered because of this relationship. I was delighted when I learned, only recently, that a good friend of mine is a descendant of this long-gone African princess.

Pages 187-188

"They are all dead, long dead, these golden lads and lasses, so long dead that the taint of corruption no longer clings to their dust. They are all gone, Francoi Philippe, Dublin and Scipio, the African princess and the French pirate. Greatie is remembered only by a few remaining great-grandchildren. 
     And by me."

Madeleine L'Engle, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, page 189 

     I found this small story interesting for many reasons. It is a personal account, but also a third-hand account, passing from Greatie to her great-granddaughter. And then from the great-granddaughter to her own daughter. But it is still valuable, as most of what we know about Anna Kingsley comes from her husband, Zephaniah Kingsley's, perspective. 
    There is a tendency in analysis of their relationship to emphasize that they were in love, and that this is what made their relationship unique. Even L'Engle writes that the story is that the planter fell in love with her. But L'Engle doesn't mention that he fell in love with her while she was his slave. At least L'Engle's story presents the odd nature of the relationship, that the planter would have his wife serve their white guest, before the women were allowed their own time as friends. There is something strange about that, but the entire relationship must have been an odd balance of power.
     I love that Madeleine L'Engle has a connection to North Florida, and that her family was so good about recording and remembering their own history. My family has been in Florida a long time too, but I'm not so lucky as to have specific stories about my ancestors' lives. Now I have to take The Summer of the Great-Grandmother back to the library!

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