The History of Pineland & Malaga Island

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Pineland Farms is a 5,000-acre working farm, business campus, and educational and recreational venue that welcomes visitors to enjoy its beautiful rural landscape in New Gloucester, Maine. Connecting community to the land through agriculture, education, and recreation is at the heart of Pineland’s mission.

But there is more to the history of Pineland and the surrounding farms. We encourage you to learn about Pineland’s past, as it is inextricably linked to the history of Maine and the United States. Understanding our past provides an instructive context in which to contemplate the future.

In the early 20th century, the State of Maine purchased six farms in New Gloucester, comprising most of what is now known as Pineland, for the purpose of housing citizens with intellectual disabilities, orphans, and other wards of the state. This institution was initially known as the Maine School for the Feeble Minded, and opened its doors in 1908. At nearly the same time, something egregious was happening in the small coastal town of Phippsburg just 45 minutes northeast of New Gloucester.

Malaga Island
Photo Credit: Collections of Maine Historical Society, courtesy of MaineMemory.net, item #23859

The tourism industry was taking hold, and real estate prices were rising quickly along the Maine coast. Malaga Island, located at the mouth of the New Meadows River in Phippsburg, was home to a community of white, black and mixed-race citizens thought to be descendants of an African American man named Benjamin Darling. The small, rural island and its residents didn’t fit Governor Frederick Plaisted’s vision of a thriving coastal tourism economy. Although there were efforts to improve life on the island, the State of Maine forcibly evicted the residents from their homes in 1911. In 1912, the homes were removed, and eight residents were committed to the Maine School for the Feeble Minded. To further erase any trace of the island community, the state exhumed the Malaga Island Cemetery and relocated seventeen bodies to the cemetery at the Maine School for the Feeble Minded, now known as the Pineland Cemetery. Although Governor Plaisted’s removal of the residents was ostensibly to make room for tourism, Malaga Island was never inhabited again.

It was not until 2010, nearly 100 years later, that then Governor Baldacci offered an apology to the descendants of Malaga on behalf of his predecessor and the State of Maine. In 2017, Governor LePage joined Malaga ancestors and advocates at the Pineland Cemetery to dedicate a memorial in honor of the community of Malaga Island.

To visit the memorial dedicated to those forcibly taken from Malaga Island and their descendants, continue north past Pineland Farms on Rt. 231. On the left, there are two cemeteries maintained by the town of New Gloucester, Webber & Pineland Cemeteries (adjacent but not on the Pineland Farms property). Walk to the end of Pineland Cemetery. There you will find the Malaga Island Memorial, dedicated in 2017, and the graves of the Malaga residents.

Malaga Island became a Maine Coast Heritage Trust public preserve and a Maine historical site in 2001. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the island and learn about the history & archeology on the MCHT website.

The Pineland Farms Education Department offers a “Pineland’s Past” field trip designed for those in middle school or older. Field trips are not limited to schools, and any interested group is welcome to contact us at 207.650.3031 or education@pinelandfarms.org.

 

For more historical information follow these links:

https://mainestatemuseum.org/learn/malaga-island-fragmented-lives-educational-materials/the-history/

https://mainestatemuseum.org/learn/malaga-island-fragmented-lives-educational-materials/learn-malaga-island/

https://amazingblackhistory.com/2020/09/10/darling-benjamin-malaga-island-maine/

https://www.newscentermaine.com/article/news/local/maine-remembers-malaga-island-residents-with-memorial/97-456825124

Visit Malaga Island:

https://www.mcht.org/preserve/malaga-island/

https://www.mcht.org/story/malaga-island-history/

https://www.mcht.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/malaga-preserve-self-guided-tour-05-17-sm.pdf

Books to read:

Pineland’s Past: The First One Hundred by Richard S. Kimball

https://pinelandfarms.storebyweb.com/s/1000-1/i/INV-1000-834

Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy by Gary D. Schmidt

https://www.amazon.com/Lizzie-Bright-Buckminster-Gary-Schmidt

Documentary:

“Malaga Island: A Story Best Left Untold” – By Rob Rosenthal & Kate Philbrick

Map to cemetery:

1375 Intervale Rd. New Gloucester, Maine

Pineland & Webber cemeteries are maintained by the town of New Gloucester (adjacent but not on the Pineland Farms property) located off from Rt. 231.

The Memorial inscription reads: “From the 1860’s until 1912 a community of laborers and fishermen lived on Malaga Island, off the coast of Phippsburg. A controversial community for its time, white and black residents married and lived together on the small island until the State of Maine evicted them in 1912. Included in the eviction was the State’s removal of the island cemetery to the grounds of the Maine School for the Feeble Minded where some island residents were committed. Remembered here are the community members exhumed from the Malaga Island cemetery by the State and those who died here as patients. Removed from Malaga Island in November 1912: (Rufus Griffin, Harry Griffin, Timy Griffin, Three Easton children, Calvin Tripp, Laura Tripp, Two Griffin children, Rosanna Griffin, Ellen Griffin, Lucy Griffin Johnson, Elizabeth Darling, Hannah Marks, George Griffin, Harold Murphy) Died at the Maine School for the Feeble Minded: (Jake Marks – Jan. 1912, James Marks – May 25, 1912, Annie Parker – May 30, 1916, William Gomez – Nov. 17 1919, Lizzie Marks – Dec. 15 1921, Etta Marks – Jan. 26 1925, William A. Marks – April 13, 1928)”

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