History June 20, 2022 at 03:00 pm

Why you should know about Robin Mingo, the Black slave who inspired Beverly’s Mingo Beach

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor June 20, 2022 at 03:00 pm

June 20, 2022 at 03:00 pm | History

An advisory lists the name Mingo on a sign at an entrance to Mingo Beach, in Beverly, Mass. (Steven Senne / Associated Press)

In Beverly, a suburb of Boston, there is a legend about an enslaved Black man who lived on the shores of what is now known as Mingo Beach from 1661 until the 1740s. He was called Robin Mingo.

Legend says Mingo was promised his freedom by his slaveowner Thomas Woodbury, if “the tide ever receded enough for him to walk out onto a rocky outcropping off what is now known as Mingo Beach,” according to the Associated Press. It is unclear if Mingo ever achieved that rare feat but what is known is that Mingo Beach was named after him.

“Legend has it, Mingo’s enslaver, Thomas Woodbury, promised the man’s freedom if the tides recessed enough for him to walk from the shore out to a rocky passage known as ‘Becky’s Hedge’ or ‘Aunt Becky’s Ledge’—a rare phenomenon, the story continues, that had occurred on the day of Mingo’s involuntary arrival in Beverly, Massachusetts,” an associate history professor at Endicott College, Elizabeth Matelski, said.

As the U.S. celebrates Juneteenth, Matelski is researching Mingo’s story as part of a public history course. She and her students at Endicott, which surrounds Mingo Beach and two other beaches, have even made suggestions as to how to memorialize Mingo and the beach he inspired.

Matelski, who is also doing research for a book on Mingo, said she hopes his story will ignite discussions about the role of slavery in Massachusetts. Even though Massachusetts was among the first states to abolish slavery in 1783, slavery persisted in the state into the early 1800s before it eventually ended.

Matelski first heard about Mingo and the beach from fellow Endicott professor Sam Alexander in the summer of 2020.

“It was in the wake of the George Floyd murder — there was a movement on the part of the faculty to show solidarity with our Black colleagues and students and also to kind of commit ourselves to teaching the legacy of racism,” Alexander told WBUR.

Endicott has thrown its weight behind Matelski’s work to investigate Mingo’s life with a fellowship and sabbatical to write her book, as stated by WBUR. The history professor said Mingo’s story is very important because it speaks to current happenings in the U.S.

He should also be studied because of reports that he married a free Indigenous woman and his enslaver descended from the original founders of Beverly, Matelski added.

“It’s so deeply rooted in Beverly history and in the New England experience. There’s just a lot of different threads happening there.”

To date, some historians believe that Mingo was able to complete the task his enslaver gave him and earned his emancipation but died later that year. Others suggest that he survived until his 80s and even had a daughter and acquired land in town. It is also possible that he married Indigenous woman Deborah Tailor so that their children would be born free.

No one knows what really happened, nevertheless, the story “highlights the casual and cruel way in which freedom could be awarded or denied,” said Matelski, and should be publicly told and examined, Endicott reported on its website.

As Matelski hopes to create as complete a picture as she can of Mingo, her school is also holding talks with city officials to formally register Mingo Beach as a historic landmark.

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