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Black History Month: Long Island Memorializing Freed Slave Homeowner Cato Sands

PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - It is a shameful past that can't be ignored: Long Island once had the largest slave population of any rural area in the north for most of the Colonial Era.

Now a community is paying tribute to the heritage of one formerly enslaved man and the home he built for his family, reports CBS2's Jennifer McLogan reports.

"I think it's very important to share this story with the community," said Ann Marine of Port Washington, N.Y.

"We felt the historic bones of this house," said Ken Thigpen.

So did the pastor of the nearby Mt. Olive AME Church.

"The feeling is so overwhelming for me, it's very emotional," said Rev. Jaqueline Lynch.

Emotions were running high on Mill Pond Road where the Cow Neck Historical Society is honoring Cato Sands, the son of enslaved persons.

Cato bought his home in 1834 for $400 on three acres and raised his family.

"This home was owned by a slave, can you imagine that," said Lynch.

Cato's father, also named Cato Sands, was freed just after the Revolutionary War by Simon Sands, the man in name of the village "Sands Point."

Historic homes on Long Island are open to the public and owning up to the sordid past of slavery: Humans bought and sold, relegated to sleeping in attics, cellars and using separate outhouses.

"We developed this program of putting up plaques really as a way to help people remember where we come from," said Cow Neck Historical Society trustee Ross Lumpkin.

An enslaved person like Cato was thought to be a farmer's most valuable possession. By the mid-18th century, the average cost of an adult male slave about 38 pounds sterling, translating to roughly $5,000 in today's currency.

"Everybody who walks by this house is going to become aware of this freed slave who lived here built this house and made it all happen," said Lumpkin.

The community is saying we must not deny the past, as it helps us together go forward.

Cato sands left behind a legacy of farming and shipbuilding when he died at age 31. His wife and five children continued living in the home as "free persons of color."

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