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Malaga Island

Malaga Island is a 41-acre island at the mouth of the New Meadows River in Casco Bay, Maine. It was the site of an interracial community from the Civil War until 1911, when the residents were forcibly evicted from the island.

History

African Americans, born free in Maine, had lived in the Casco Bay area for decades prior to the American Civil War. During the war, a group of people of various ethnic descents settled on Malaga Island, just one hundred yards off the coast in eastern Casco Bay. The people lived a subsistence-level existence by fishing, lobstering and farming.

It is rumored, that a freed slave, Benjamin Darling, took up settlement on the island after his master, Captain Darling (of dubious possible relationship) gave Ben his freedom. Ben worked for the Captain in his shipping business. One voyage, the Captain had a load of Timber from Malaga, Spain, The ship wrecked, and supposedly Ben saved the captain's life, in return, the Captain granted Ben his freedom. Ben purchased and named the present day Malaga Island in memory of the voyage which granted him his freedom.

The Casco Bay Breeze and other newspapers nosed around in the 1890’s, then printed stories about a “degenerate colony,” whose indiscretions included use of tobacco and of tea. The towns of Phippsburg and Harpswell fought to not take jurisdiction over the settlement, and in 1905 the State of Maine took responsibility for this poor island community that nobody wanted. The State built a school and furnished a schoolteacher and began focusing its attention on the unorthodox community.

While some authorities saw improvement in the island, Governor Frederick W. Plaisted saw blight on his State’s reputation. His ranting and threats caused a few Malaga Islanders to float their houses and their lives to the nearby mainland, where their descendants have blended in. In 1912, the Governor went to Malaga at the head of a clean-up party, consisting of members of his Council. They evicted the remaining families, dug up the graves, and took the living and the dead to the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded in Pownal. Then the governor and his party torched the community’s buildings.

In The Media

State Radio, in their 2007 album Year of The Crow, features the song "The Story of Benjamin Darling, Part One", which references both Benjamin Darling and Malaga Island: "Somewhere off the Maine coast, At the mouth of the New Meadows River there's a island Where a marooned man lived out his life quietly under tied and sky. Never forgetting when the sea rose up so high."

Further reading

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