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A New American Narrative

Updated: Mar 23

(Photo courtesy of Gordon Harris)


It has taken nine generations to uncover our family history in New England. My ancestors the Freeman's were enslaved in the mid-1700s in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Jane Freeman was enslaved by Philip Lord, and her husband Peter Freeman by Thomas Staniford. In 1777, their son John Freeman fought in the American Revolutionary War. (For more into go to Black Revolutionary War soldier.  ) In 1784, the family moved to East Brunswick, Maine starting the Freeman family line.


Growing up we had no sense of belonging in colonial New England. We were the first mixed-race family to live in the small New England town of Lincoln, steeped with history that we felt separate from. Our mother, born in Portland, Maine was African American, Native American, and Irish, our father a Scottish, English, Irish southerner from Arkansas. They fell in love when in many states interracial marriage was illegal, prior to Loving vs. Virginia, 1967 legalizing interracial marriage United States.


Our family’s history was purposefully erased from the colonial settler narrative in New England. “Slaves were treated well, and Natives became extinct” was the history we learned in school: we essentially did not belong or exist. In the 1980’s my mother and older sister Lisa started digging, which began decades of research of our Black and Native American ancestors. This research inspired my first novel Mostly White (Torrey House, 2018) a historical-based family saga of my mother’s Black, Native American, and Irish ancestors from Maine. Crafting together this narrative led to others, and the story widened.


We uncovered the story of Peter Freeman who was enslaved in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and discovered John Freeman, his son fought in the American Revolution. Lisa contacted Gordon Harris, the Ipswich town historian and this collaboration spearheaded an ongoing collaborative effort to uncover our family's story resulting in a plaque erected in Ipswich, Massachusetts honoring the Freeman family nearby where they lived. A plaque for John Freeman, honoring Black Revolutionary War soldiers will be erected in the near future by Essex County.

(Special thanks to Aimee Keithan from The Pejepscot History Center historians James Tanzer and Kate McMahon for sharing their findings, Atlantic Black Box for their ongoing work uncovering Black and Native New England history, and the book by Talbot and Price Maine's Visible Black History (Tilbury House, 2006)


The history of slavery and the genocide of Native Americans is too much for one person to bear and digest. These stories are meant to be witnessed and shared in community, piercing through the cultural amnesia of the dominant colonial settler narrative, to create a more inclusive and truthful origin story of America for all.


Below is my epic poem about my family history:


circumference


standing on the edges of

circles

always

the witness

rarely

the center


respectfully ambiguous

holding

loving ancestors close

Mali, Ghana, Nigeria,

Cameroon, Congo,

Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England,

Passamaquoddy Native American


“Where are you from?”


My ancestors Jane and Peter Freeman were

enslaved in Ipswich, Massachusetts Bay Colony

in the mid 1700’s

John Freeman their eldest son, Black/Native

fought in the Revolutionary War

In 1784 the Freeman family

moved to Brunswick, Maine


The Freemans are listed in the Maine censuses as:

Negro, Mulatto, Black, Colored, White

but never Native American

because they weren’t supposed to exist


George Augustus Freeman

enlisted in the Civil War

when Lincoln allowed Blacks to join Union ranks

wounded in the battle of Spotsylvania

fighting was in his blood

following the footsteps of his

grandfather, John.


“Where are you from?”


I am history that was never meant to be discovered

an inconvenient narrative

pushing the edges of a circle

open…


In 1911 residents of Malaga Island

an interracial fishing community

of Black, Irish, and Native Americans

founded by Ben Darling, a Black Revolutionary War Veteran

were evicted by the state of Maine


The “degenerate colony of half-breeds”

notoriety became an embarrassment

to the state

must get rid of this eye sore

build a vacation paradise


residents broke down their homes and used them as rafts

floating down the New Meadows River

denied entry on shores

a great sport of entertainment for mainlanders

jeering

as a Black man lost his furniture

in the rush of the current

laughter swelled in amusement

nobody helped him


Who let them land?


some were taken by state officials

to be confined at the

Maine’s Institute for the Feeble Minded

men separated from women

separated from children


they dug up the

bones of the ancestors graves on Malaga

sent them to Maine’s Institute for the Feeble Minded

thrown together in unmarked graves


“Where are you from?”


blood spilled wars fought bones rattle


My father a white southerner from Arkansas

crossed the Jim Crow color line

and fell for my mother

A Black, Native American, Irish woman

from Maine.


All hell broke loose

both families resisted the union

almost a decade before Loving vs. Virginia, 1967


They met in Boston

while out in public

bottles were thrown at them, racial epithets

their union was not safe

dangerous in fact

they began to date in churches

where they wouldn’t be harassed


Where can we have children?

they asked each other

in letters back and forth

weighing the consequence of

bringing mixed children into the world

Where would they be safe?

Where would they belong?

Will our love make up for the harm society may heap on them?


A unitarian church in Massachusetts said

yes, yes we accept you.

and so, they dared to love

dared to have children

dared


“Where are you from?”


I am earth sky fire water

standing

with deep roots

on the circumference

of circles

I didn’t create

walls

I didn’t build

each brick an

algorithmic separation


I am

a union that dared to happen.



Copyright © 2023 Alison Hart

118 views2 comments

2 Comments


Gordon Harris
Gordon Harris
Sep 05, 2023

This story and the tens of thousands like it have to be told in this time when there are politician, and people voting for them, who deny prejudice even exists.

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alison hart
alison hart
Sep 08, 2023
Replying to

Agree!

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