Remembering the Eviction of Malaga Island Residents
Lying at the mouth of the New Meadows River in Phippsburg, MCHT's 42-acre Malaga Island Preserve exhibits few signs of human activity. Yet, for five decades beginning in the 1860s, the island was home to a racially-diverse fishing community of about 45 people. Then, in 1912, the State of Maine seized the island, forcibly evicting its inhabitants and threatening to burn any structures that were not removed. This year marks the 100th anniversary of this shameful event. In response, the State, MCHT, and others have ramped up efforts to share the story of Malaga's people.
MCHT acquired the Malaga Island Preserve in 2001. From the beginning, the Trust has supported uncovering the island's history. The summer after MCHT acquired the island, Dr. Nathan Hamilton and Dr. Rob Sanford began what became seven years of archeological research on the island, holding summer field schools as a way to literally dig into the island's history. To date, more than 50,000 artifacts have been collected, including ceramics, pipe stems, leather, nails, fishhooks, and coins. These remains help to tell the story of the vibrant community that once existed on Malaga.
In 2011, MCHT deeded these artifacts to the Maine State Museum in Augusta. The artifacts have since been professionally curated and are now part of a new exhibit. "Malaga Island, Fragmented Lives," was unveiled on May 19 of this year and will be open to the public until May 26, 2013. The artifacts collected from the island, combined with historic photographs, tell the story of those who once called Malaga home - and who were really no different than many living on the Maine coast at that time.
This year, the media has also helped to shed light on the history of Malaga Island. In May, the Maine Sunday Telegram published an in-depth article on the subject. More recently, the Maine Public Broadcasting Network aired a segment on their "Maine Experience" program. The 12-minute feature includes commentary from Dr. Nathan Hamilton as it recounts the historic context in which the eviction took place.
To help people experience the history of Malaga firsthand, MCHT has offered seven guided trips to the island this summer. These well-attended tours filled up quickly after being announced, and those who have attended have learned a great deal from guide Kate McMahon, a USM graduate student who participated in archeological digs on the island.
For those who wish to visit Malaga on their own, check out our preserve page: Malaga Island.
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