In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Maine History Online

Maine History Online
MHS (Maine Historical Society)
Header Graphic

Blacks in Maine

Bill of sale for slave Scippio, 1759
Bill of sale for slave Scippio, 1759Maine Historical Society

Text by Candace Kanes

Images from Maine Historical Society

The evidence is scattered here and there. Family remembrances, birth and death records; deeds and bills of sale; photographs, and various other records. African-Americans have been in Maine, albeit in relatively small numbers for quite a long time.

Some of the earliest evidence of African-Americans in the state are receipts for purchase or sale of slaves. Slavery was infrequent in colonial Maine and outlawed by Massachusetts, and hence in its District of Maine, after the American Revolution.

Reuben Ruby hack ad, Portland, 1834
Reuben Ruby hack ad, Portland, 1834Maine Historical Society

Free blacks also settled in Maine and came to Maine during colonial days. Many arrived as seamen, working on ships that came into Portland and other ports, and as stevedores along the waterfront.

As with other immigrant populations, blacks came to Maine from a variety of places and for a variety of reasons.

They worked on the waterfront, had their own small businesses, worked for railroads, were teamsters or drivers, worked in service occupations, public accommodations, or restaurants. Some blacks were laborers, woodsmen, or firefighters.

James A. Healy, Portland, ca. 1890
James A. Healy, Portland, ca. 1890Maine Historical Society

Historian Randall Stakeman estimates that in 1850, more than half of the black working men in the state were in maritime related trades – fishing, shipwrights, stewards, stevedores. By the end of the 19th century, many more occupations were represented.

In 1900, Portland's black population was nearly 291, down from 334 in 1870. About 200 blacks lived in Bangor in 1900, up from 84 in 1870. The two communities had the largest black populations in the state in 1900. But blacks lived in and have been integral to many Maine cities and towns, even though their numbers were few.

Unidentified man, Lewiston, ca. 1900
Unidentified man, Lewiston, ca. 1900Maine Historical Society

The Portland black community was large enough to support a separate church, the Abyssinian Congregational Church that began in 1827.

Maine boasted the nation's first African-American Roman Catholic Bishop, James A. Healy (1830-1900). A native of Georgia and graduate of Holy Cross College, Healy attended seminary in Canada and France. His father was from Ireland, his mother of mixed race.

Healy, like many of the Catholics he led, faced discrimination in Maine. He promoted Catholicism and Catholic education in the state, increasing both the number of parishes and the number of parish schools.

Healy spent much of his career in Boston. He came to Maine in 1875 to serve as Bishop of the Diocese of Portland, a post he held until 1900.

African-Americans and Africans continued to come to Maine in the 20th and 21st centuries, some immigrants from war-torn countries, others drawn by colleges, the landscape, employment opportunities, and family.