April 7, 2010: Maine’s Legislature issues a statement of apology for state officials’ forcible eviction a century earlier of a largely interracial group of residents from Malaga Island, in Casco Bay.

The island lies off Phippsburg near the mouth of the New Meadows River. A racially mixed community of squatter fishermen’s families lived there. Newspaper stories describing the “degenerate colony” on Malaga began to appear, troubling the wealthy summer residents of nearby mainland communities.

The state began placing some Malaga children in the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded – later known as the Pineland Center – in New Gloucester. Then Sagadahoc County decided that a family named Perry owned the island.

In 1911 Gov. Frederick Plaisted, a Democrat, and his whole Executive Council led an eviction force that removed 45 people from the island.

“I think the best plan would be to burn down the shacks with all of their filth,” Plaisted told a reporter then. “Certainly the conditions there are not credible to our state. We ought not to have such things near our front door.”

State authorities kidnapped men, women and children, separating them and incarcerating many of them in state institutions. Other captives were released on the mainland, where they lived in poverty.

In 1912, the state bought the island from the Perry family heirs for $400. The remaining residents were told to vacate by July 1. When a state agent visited the island on that date, he found that the residents had removed their buildings. The state dug up the remains of 17 people from the island’s cemetery and reburied them at the New Gloucester property.

Racial prejudice often followed the Malaga descendants, and many of them took pains to hide their origin and deny any connection to the island.

In addition to the Legislature’s 2010 action, awareness of the travesty prompts apologies from two Maine governors; and in 2017 the state places a monument to the Malaga residents at Pineland.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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