BEVERLY, Mass. — An enslaved black man, the tall tale he inspired, and the beach that now bears his name are at the center of new efforts to recognize the role of slavery along Massachusetts’ scenic North Shore.
According to the story, Robin Mingo was promised freedom by his white master if the tide receded enough for him to walk on a rocky outcrop off what is now known as Mingo Beach. Depending on the tale, Mingo either rose to the challenge and was emancipated, tragically drowned, or lived out his days in servitude never seeing the rare tidal event.
“It shows how much power slave owners had over their slaves,” said Katerina Pintone, a 19-year-old sophomore at Endicott College, where Mingo Beach is located. “That one man can have so much control over another man’s life.”
Over the past semester, Pintone and other Endicott students have been researching the local legend as part of a public history class and suggesting ways to commemorate Mingo and its namesake beach. Their ideas ranged from a heritage trail to a smartphone app and even a boat tour highlighting Mingo’s history and the popular tourist region’s slave connections.
Professor Elizabeth Matelski, who taught the course, is also researching a book on Mingo and working with other historians on a project to map locations on the north coast like Mingo Beach that are historically significant to people of color. . Meanwhile, Endicott, a private coeducational school, says it is in talks with city officials to officially register the beach as a historic landmark.
Matelski hopes these efforts will spark broader discussions about the often overlooked role of slavery in New England.
“Most people walking on this particular beach have absolutely no idea of this history,” she said.
Abby Battis, associate director of Historic Beverly, the city’s historical society, agreed. Battis said she had never heard the story of Mingo growing up in the seaside town, which is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbors – Salem, site of the infamous witch trials, and Gloucester, the fishing port historical.
“We need to stop telling the old stories of dead white guys,” she said. “There’s so much more to Beverly’s story.”
The historical society is doing its part to create a more complete picture of the city’s role in slavery, Battis added. The organization launched a virtual exhibit in 2019 showcasing the stories of slaves from Beverly, a coastal town about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Boston that dates back to the 1600s.
Mingo is not among those highlighted in “Set at Liberty,” but the company has identified at least 100 enslaved people and more than 200 local vessels involved in the slave trade as part of its ongoing work.
It’s a “common myth” that slavery never existed or was inherently different in New England than in other places, says Beth Bower, local historian on the board of Historic Beverly.
Historical records show New Englanders clearly imported enslaved Africans for all the tasks that made the fledgling colony possible, from farming and fishing to building ships, he said. she stated.
And while history credits Massachusetts with being among the first states to abolish slavery in 1783, there is mounting evidence that slavery persisted in the state until the early 1800s. before gradually fading away, Bower said.
President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, but it took more than two years for black slaves in Galveston, Texas to receive word of their freedom. That day, June 19, 1865, is now known as Juneteenth, which is celebrated as an official federal holiday for the first time on Sunday.
Matelski said she first heard of Mingo’s story in the summer of 2020, at the height of protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
The Michigan native said she was immediately struck by the story’s potential to speak to the present as the nation comes to terms with its racist past.
Mingo’s story is all the more significant because he was married to a free Native woman and his slaveholder was descended from Beverly’s original founders, Matelski said.
“It’s so deeply rooted in Beverly history and the New England experience,” she said. “There’s just a lot of different threads going on there.”
Part of Matelski’s goal going forward will be to separate myth from fact.
In the most popular tale, for example, Mingo pulls off his feat and gains his emancipation, only to die later that year.
But local records suggest that real-life Mingo lived to be 80, was baptized, raised a daughter and even acquired land in town before dying in 1748.
Matelski believes the Mingo legend has its roots in stories that abolitionists popularized in order to highlight the “casual cruelty” of the slave industry which they fiercely opposed.
These slave tales typically centered on the harsh reality of life on southern plantations and the extraordinary perils some slaves endured to escape to freedom, making the Mingo story a unique take on the genre in New England, she said.
“What we know right now is a piece of the puzzle,” Matelski said. “As a historian, you are like a cold case detective, trying to create as complete a picture as possible of this really important untold story.”