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When the Haile family moved to Alachua County from Camden, South Carolina in 1854, they brought with them a large contingent of enslaved people, 56 according to the 1854 tax rolls. Among them were William and Lousia Watts, Johnson and Maria Chestnut, Edmund and Charity Kelley and their young son, Bennet, and many others whose names are lost to time. But through the oral family histories passed down through generations of their descendants, we now have a clearer picture of who they were and what their contributions were to the building and running of the Kanapaha plantation. The 1860 Slave Schedules show Thomas Evans Haile as having 66 enslaved people who inhabited 18 dwellings. The Haile Homestead, completed in 1856, was built in 18 months’ time. The house stands today over 150 years later as a testament to the skills of the craftsmen who built it: a silent tribute to the enslaved people who labored to build and maintain it.


Inside the Allen and Ethel Graham Visitors Center are exhibits focused on the enslaved people at Kanapaha Plantation and at the other four Haile plantations and two Chesnut plantations. The other Haile plantations were owned by Thomas' brothers Charles, John and Edward, and their mother Amelia. Two of Serena Haile's brothers, Thomas and James, also had plantations in Alachua County. The names of many of those enslaved on these plantations have been researched from wills, deeds, oral history and other sources, and are listed on a special exhibit. Further a display in the Allen & Ethel Graham Visitors Center contains artifacts found near some of the outbuildings on the property; this includes a slave ball, which serves to remind visitors of the horrors of slavery. On another exhibit inside the Homestead itself, you will see a two-sided display with pictures of some of the enslaved people mentioned on this page.


Enslavement To Freedom - "Enslavement To Freedom" is a 15-minute video that covers the brutal reality of slavery on this plantation and others. Set in the context of Alachua County and Florida, the video takes you from slavery to Emancipation and Reconstruction and Jim Crow, and up to today, where lingering remnants of slavery and Jim Crow still impact society.


Beginnings - "Beginnings" is a 12-minute video that covers the reasons why white Sea Island Cotton planters migrated from South Carolina to Florida in the mid-1850s and tells the story of the Haile family's move to Florida.


Note: If you are trying to connect to enslaved ancestors on this or any of the other Haile or Chesnut plantations in Alachua County, please reach out to us. We would love to help. Or, if you have information for us, we would love to have it! Contact Karen Kirkman at or (352) 336-9096.


William Watts was, according to oral history, a carpenter enslaved by the Haile family. Born in South Carolina in January 1840, William married Lousia McClellan Watts (1844-1910) in 1865. William worked for the Hailes, first as an enslaved carpenter, and then as a hired hand.  After freedom, William and Lousia lived in a log cabin nearby on ten acres of their own property. In 1884, they purchased an additional 39.65 acres in the Rocky Point area of Alachua County. Census and deed records indicate that William Watts was an accomplished farmer and landowner. They had 10 children who included William Jr., Louisa, Daniel, Judith, Richard, James, Bessie, Edward, Clarence and John. Both Bessie and Judith attended college and became teachers at Union Academy, founded in 1867 by the Freedmen’s Bureau.  Both William and Lousia Watts died in 1910 and are now buried in Mt. Pleasant Cemetery in Gainesville, Florida.


Johnson Chestnut was born in Camden South Carolina around 1828 and was a gifted carpenter and furniture maker who was possibly enslaved at one time by Serena Haile’s father, Capt. John Chesnut. Johnson Chestnut built some of the furniture used by the Hailes. The fine tapered dovetails on the drawers indicate his skill as a craftsman. After Freedom Johnson served on the Gainesville City Commission from 1868 - 1869. He also was employed by the Hailes from time to time to fix the roof as evidenced by entries in Serena Haile’s journal:

1893, Jul 19 … “Johnson” Chesnut Carpenter came to see about house
1893, Jul 25 … “Johnson” commenced to work on house – Front piazza
1893, Jul 27 … Johnson & Jim W. shingling Front Piazza
1893, Jul 28 …“Johnson & Jim W.” worked steadily all day on house. got up to Front Room"

Johnson Chestnut and his wife Maria (born ~1832) had three sons, John, Lawrence and James. It was passed down that, as a young boy, Lawrence worked closely with his father. He later worked in a printing office (source: 1870 census), a census taker, a trustee for the Union Academy, the first school for African-American children in Gainesville, and was active in politics. Lawrence (born ~1853) married Louisa "Lula" Kendrick, daughter of Claybourne and Eliza Chisholm Kendrick. Lula was 13 years old when she was brought to this area from Camden, SC with the Shannon family in 1864. Originally called “Lula” she later changed her name to “Louise.” Known to the community as “Aunt Lou,” she died at the age of 100 in 1952. She and Lawrence had several children: Maria (b. 1874), Hattie (b. 1878), Johnson Jr. (b. 1880), Charles (b. 1885), William McKinley (b. 1897), Thomas (b. 1894) and Edward (b. 1900). In 1914 M.E. Hughes founded Hughes and Chestnut Funeral Home with Charles Chestnut Sr. as a partner. Charles Senior and his wife Hattie (Ware) had one son, Charles Jr.. Charles Jr. had two children: Charles Chestnut III and Gloria Chestnut Duncan. Gloria married Colin Duncan, who worked at the Hughes & Chestnut Funeral Home. He later started his own business, Duncan Brothers Funeral Home, which is still in business today. Charles III and his son Charles IV carry on the family business today, now known as the Chestnut Funeral Home. It is the oldest African-American commercial establishment still in business today. The Chestnut family has been and continues to be very active in local and state-wide politics, serving in the Florida Legislature, the County Commission, the City Commission and the School Board of Alachua County.


Henry Gaines was the enslaved stone mason from the Stringfellow plantation who reportedly built the fireplaces, chimneys and support piers on the plantation. Born in South Carolina around 1830 (source: 1880 census), he was married to Jane Gaines (born in Chester, SC on February 17, 1826) who was also enslaved on the Stringfellow Plantation, six miles west of Gainesville at Fort Clarke, which adjoined the Haile property. The 1880 census showed they had four children: Isabella Certain, a step-daughter (age 15), Henry Jr. (age 14), Frank (age 10) and Isaiah (age 7). Oral history tells us that the smoothing iron and stand embedded in the base of the fireplace in the Nursery Room of the Historic Haile Homestead was Henry’s way of signing his work. Jane Gaines died on November 1, 1924, and is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery in Gainesville. Henry Gaines' date of death and grave location are as yet unknown.


Among those making the journey from Camden, South Carolina to Alachua County in 1854, were Edmund Kelley, born around 1820, and his wife Charity. According to Confederate records, Edmund was loaned to the Confederate Army in 1864 to help with a building project. The Kelleys had several children; among them were Bennet who was only 10 years old at the time of the move to Florida and his little sister Flora. Flora, born ~1860, often worked for the Hailes as a cook. She married Napolean Jackson on June 6, 1892. Another brother was Edmund Jr.


Born in 1849, Bennet Kelley was a young boy when he was moved to Florida. Bennet’s grave marker has the birthdate as 1844, but census data indicates the year was probably 1849. He worked inside the house. Bennet married Mary Hodison on February 16, 1876. Bennet worked for the Hailes in various capacities on a regular basis after Freedom. He is mentioned almost daily in Serena Haile’s journal beginning in the 1880s. On December 10, 1884, a small house "in the yard" (a reference to the cabins where the enslaved people lived) was deconstructed and rebuilt in the backyard for Bennet and his family. When Flora, the Hailes’ cook and Bennet’s sister, didn’t come to work, Bennet would go out and bring back a new cook. He often ended up cooking breakfast himself. Mary Hodison Kelley died of the grippe (flu) at 4 PM on February 20, 1892. She was buried “in the field” the next day. According to archaeologists, "the field" is a reference to the cemetery for the enslaved. Its exact location is still unknown, though we have a really good idea as to its location. On June 4, 1892, Bennet remarried. His new wife, Daphne DeBose Summers, also worked for the Hailes. According the Kelley family and Haile family traditions, Bennet was so loved by the family that he was to be buried in the Haile family plot. When Bennet died on May 15, 1933, he was indeed buried in the Haile family plot in the Kanapaha Presbyterian Church cemetery. We know that Daphne died just a few weeks after Bennet and was likely buried near him. To this day, we have been unable to trace any children Bennet may have had with either of his wives. Several pictures of Bennet and Daphne Kelley are on display at the Historic Haile Homestead.

In the Arredondo area, east of Kanapaha Plantation, is the Patterson Community Cemetery. The cemetery is found at the end of SW 49th Street, an unpaved road scarred by deep ruts. The cemetery has several unusual markers, one of which is shaped like a duck’s head. While the lives and relationships of the people buried there deserve more research, we discovered the grave of one Edmund Kelley, Jr., his wife Lizzie and their daughter Mathilda. Census data show that Edmund Kelley Jr. was the son of Edmund and Charity Kelley, who were enslaved at the Kanapaha plantation of Thomas and Serena Haile. Edmund Jr. was born a free man in 1869. There is a five acre piece of land immediately to the east of the Kanapaha Presbyterian Church property and fronting present day Archer Road that remained in the Kelley family until recently. It had been owned by Edmund Kelley Jr.’s grandchildren Theodore Kelley, Josephine Kelley and Flora Bailey, the family refused to sell when approached by developers. The Kelleys’ father, Edmund, is also buried with their mother in the Patterson Cemetery. The property came into the possession of the family through Oliver Stinson in 1907. Mr. Stinson, who purchased the land for $150 from T.J. Swearingen in 1907, was married to Mathilda Kelley, a daughter of Edmund Kelley Jr. By the 1910 census, Mathilda was listed as a widow, living with her parents, and employed by a local family as a cook. In September of 1910, Mathilda sold the five acre piece to her father for $20.

Who Were The Enslaved Laborers at Kanapaha Plantation?


THOMAS and SERENA HAILE:  1860 Census:  66 enslaved people; 18 cabins; 1860 Tax Roll: 79


February 9, 1852 Serena Chesnut Haile inherited from her parents (Deed Record B, pages 348-349) = 34

*Edmund   (1) age 45 in 1864; took the name Kelley














Mary (possibly Maria Chestnut)

Johnson (likely Johnson Chestnut, furniture maker, trustee of Union Academy)



William (took the last name of Watts)

Louisa  (William Watts’ wife)

Jesse (1) could be “Jafsee” age 22 in 1864



Aleck (1) age 22 in 1864









Washington* sold by T.E. Haile, 1860, age 25, born c. 1835




March 24, 1854 Purchased from Edward Haile, guardian of Janet and Catherine Matheson, minors, for $8,672.30: (Deed Record B, pages 337-338)                                                                                  = 20




Fortune * age 17 in 1860, born c. 1843; (1) age 25 in 1864


Ephraim Jr.






Amos (may have taken the last name George)



Old Buck







Though not listed above, oral tradition and research indicate the following people were also enslaved at Kanapaha:

Charity  - wife of Edmund (Kelley)

Bennet  - eldest child of Edmund and Charity Kelley


Total Number Enslaved People of Whose Identity is Known:                                                       56


Bennet Kelley

Edmund Kelley 

Mary Kelley 

Daphne Debose Kelley 
Billy Watts 

Richard Watts
Johnson Chestnut
Flora Kelley Jackson
Napolean Jackson

Jim Whitaker

John Taylor
Amos George
Aunt Milley

Antony Dubose
Albert Dubose
Ned Owens
Wright Clark

Mary Ann

(Researched and written by Karen Kirkman, Historian, Historic Haile Homestead, with contributions by Isaiah Branton. All rights reserved. No part of this piece – text or pictures – may be reproduced without permission of the Historic Haile Homestead Inc.)

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