Embroidered, Decorative, Graphic and Fine Art work by Richard Saja
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
20” x 34"
cotton floss on cotton toile
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. It is now an uninhabited reserve owned and managed by the Maine Coast Heritage Trust. Public daytime access is permitted.
The Casco Bay Breeze and other newspapers investigated during the 1890s, then printed stories about a "degenerate colony" whose indiscretions included use of tobacco and of tea. The towns of Phippsburg and Harpswell fought not to take control over the settlement, but to build a hotel for business, 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 saw improvement in the island, Governor Frederick W. Plaisted saw blight on his state’s reputation. Under the Governor's direction, Maine's authorities abducted and removed men, women, and children many of whom were forced into various institutions and, in 1912, undertook the mass eviction of the remaining 45-member interracial community.To discourage resettlement, Maine authorities eventually even dug up the graves, and took the dead for burial at the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded in Pownal.
The island was legally owned by Eli Perry, and the residents were squatters, although they had lived there for decades. In 1911, the Perry family ordered the residents to leave. The state then bought the island and evicted the islanders, paying them a relocation stipend. One family of seven and one other person were deemed feeble-minded and placed in an institution, although the accuracy of their diagnosis is disputed.
Missionaries helping the Islanders had negotiated to buy the island from the Perry family in order to allow the residents to stay, but the governor outbid them and then evicted the residents. The governor's motivation is unclear, as he had previously pledged to help the community. It is speculated that this was a personal retribution against the missionaries, who had defeated him in a bitter political fight over Prohibition.
On April 7, 2010, Maine legislators finally issued an official statement of regret for the Malaga incident, but did so without notifying descendants and other stakeholders either before or after the fact. The "public" apology didn't become known to the public until nearly four months later, when an article appeared in a monthly magazine, Down East, which also procured a statement of regret by Governor John Baldacci.