It’s a story that must continue to be told.

Though it’s been more than a century since Maine forcibly removed all the residents of a mixed-race fishing community on Malaga Island off the coast of Phippsburg, the state’s actions should never be forgotten, especially when racially motivated injustices continue to persist today, says a descendant of the community’s patriarch.

“It’s important because people are still getting it wrong,” said, Marnie Darling Voter, of Windham, the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Benjamin Darling, a Black man whose relatives settled on Malaga Island.

Voter credits her late husband for the discovery of her connection to the Malaga settlement. When they married in 1974, the couple went to the state archives in Augusta to research her genealogy.

Since then Voter has completed extensive research on Malaga Island and its history in an effort to reclaim her distant family history and finally offer respect to the families that were brutally broken up so many years ago. She was struck by the depth of shame and trauma that was passed through generations. For years, Voter championed the families and stood up for them.

Marnie Darling Voter at her home in Windham on Wednesday. Darling Voter is a descendant of Benjamin Darling, who lived on Horse Island and whose ancestors later lived on Malaga Island. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

One of those families, the Marks family, suffered horribly in the government’s push to relocate islanders. In December 1911 a doctor, a sheriff and a judge visited the Marks family home on Malaga. They declared the entire family of seven adults and children, which had lived peacefully on the island for years, unfit for society because of their race.


They were relocated by the state to the Maine School for the Feeble Minded in New Gloucester, dooming most of them to live out their lives at what today is known as Pineland Farms. Jacob Marks, the family patriarch, died two weeks after he was committed to the institution. Four other family members died there later.

Malaga Island’s history will be brought to life Thursday night in a virtual presentation that’s free and open to the public. Maine State Archivist Kate McBrien will tell the story of the Black, white and mixed-race individuals who lived on the island when the state evicted them from their homes in 1912 – a period in history when racism and eugenics were prevalent nationwide.


“A lot of Mainers have a vague understanding of what happened, but don’t know all the details,” said McBrien, curator of an award-winning exhibition “Malaga Island, Fragmented Lives.” McBrien’s exhibit opened May 2012 at the Maine State Museum.

The presentation, which coincides with the start of Black History Month, grew out of McBrien’s two decades of research into the island’s history. McBrien will appear via Zoom on Thursday beginning at 5:30 p.m. Several hundred people had registered for the presentation as of early this week.

“There is a strong appetite for learning more about this story and I think it’s because the story has not been fully told yet,” said Shannon Gilmore, executive director of the Lincoln County Historical Association, which is sponsoring the event. “As a historian, you know there is always more to uncover.”


Malaga is a 42-acre island in the New Meadows River, just off Phippsburg’s western shore. Artifacts, documents and photographs indicate it was home to a fairly ordinary coastal settlement, except for the fact that Black, white and mixed-race families all lived and worked together. The island’s residents eked out a living fishing the tides in the New Meadows River and doing whatever work they could find on the mainland.

In 1912, the state ordered its 47 residents to leave the island and to take their homes with them, or they would be burned. Maine Gov. Frederick Plaisted oversaw the destruction of the year-round fishing hamlet.

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

In addition to the Marks family being committed to the Maine School for the Feeble-Minded in New Gloucester, the state also dug up 17 bodies from the island cemetery, distributed them into five caskets and buried them at the school in New Gloucester, where they remain today.

The state’s actions against the few Black residents living in Maine at the time came during a burgeoning eugenics movement that attributed poverty and low intelligence to interbreeding. There also was growing pressure to “clean up” the Maine coast and make way for well-heeled, out-of-state vacationers. However, the state’s plan to build a summer resort on the island never came to fruition.

Nearly a century passed before the state acknowledged the injustice and took steps to atone for its cruel actions.


In September 2010, Maine Gov. John Baldacci visited the island and apologized to the descendants of Benjamin Darling. About 90 people were present when Baldacci spoke. Most of the island residents could trace their lineage to Darling, a black man who bought nearby Horse Island in 1794 and settled there.

“To the descendants of Benjamin Darling, let me just say that I’m sorry,” Baldacci said. “I’m sorry for what was done. It wasn’t right and we were raised better than that. We’re better people than that.”

The Eliza Griffin schooner cabin on Malaga Island. Photo by Peter K. Roberts


Baldacci’s apology came after the Maine Legislature in April 2010 unanimously passed a resolution expressing its “profound regret” for the “tragic displacement of the Malaga islanders in 1912.”

Voter, Darling’s great-great-great-great-granddaughter, went to the Malaga Island gathering in September 2010 and met Baldacci. The people who assembled on Malaga that day did not know what Baldacci was going to say, but his words rang out loud and clear, she said.

“When he apologized, the clouds parted and the aspen trees quivered. Everyone noticed,” she said. “We knew that something powerful had been broken.”


Voter praised McBrien for continuing to tell the story of Malaga Island, especially to those who don’t know the entire story or have been given false information.

McBrien said the island’s history has taken on an even greater relevance in today’s society because of struggles around systemic racism and prejudice.

“The history of Malaga was very disturbing, but it’s also an important part of history to understand, to know and to remember,” she said.

A photo of Marnie Darling Voter’s father, Leonard Darling, hangs above the apology from the State of Maine about the explosion of the community from Malaga Island at her home in Windham on Wednesday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

McBrien said she has given several presentations about Malaga Island and the audience reaction is almost always the same.

“They’re in shock and want to know why they never heard anything about this growing up,” McBrien said. “It’s because the state buried it. It’s hidden history.”

Retired journalist Bob Greene of Minot said the Malaga Island story is a valuable lesson in our state’s history that needs to be shared with future generations.


Greene has taught a Black History of Maine course at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Southern Maine. Greene also is the 2021 recipient of the Maine Historical Society’s Neal Allen Award, which is presented each year for exceptional contributions to Maine History.

He said the real story behind Malaga Island was one of a power-hungry government taking advantage of impoverished people, who did not have the income or resources to fight back against injustice. Greene said the government undertook the mass relocation of the island community because it wanted to make way for rich, out-of-state vacationers to come to Maine’s coast.

Marnie Darling Voter pulls out a bag of crushed shells from Malaga Island that she keeps inside an engraved box given to her by the Tripp family who are direct descendants of people evicted from Malaga Island at her home in Windham on Wednesday. She said the community on Malaga used crushed shells as walkways on the island. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“It’s important for us to be reminded that Malaga Island was not just about racial issues. If we are not careful the people in power can make decisions that negatively affect all people,” Greene said. “That’s what we have to be careful about. People in power doing whatever they want. It’s an important lesson for all of us to remember.”

Despite the government’s actions more than a century ago, no one lives on Malaga Island today. It has been turned into a public nature preserve with a one-mile loop trail for hikers.

The Maine Coast Heritage Trust acquired Malaga Island in 2001. The Malaga Island Preserve is located about 200 yards from Sebasco, a village in Phippsburg. As a result, the island is protected from development. Local lobstermen use Malaga Island for storing traps, buoys and gear. No camping or fires are allowed on the island. Malaga is only accessible by boat.

All that remains of Malaga’s historic community are the tombstones at Pineland, the former island schoolhouse at Louds Island, and a few stone-lined wells hidden by overgrown brush and weeds. Lottie Marks Blackwell, one of the last residents of Malaga Island, died in 1997, at the age of 103.

McBrien hopes that her presentation will resonate with future generations.

“My goal is to make sure that these people aren’t forgotten,” she said.

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