At a recent Black History Month celebration, the Town of North Hempstead put a spotlight on prominent African American members from the region. Cato Sands was among the noteworthy.
Back in 1840, Sands, the descendant of freed slaves, was the owner of 35 Mill Pond Road, according to Jacqueline Bahn’s “The World of Cato Sands” an article that appeared in theJournal, provided by the Local History Center of the .
That house still stands today as part of the picturesque Mill Pond landscape. As the article reveals, Sands, according to the 1840 Census, was a black male between the ages of 36 and 55. Earlier records show that a Cato Sands was freed in the 1782 will of Simon Sands, whose grandfather, John Sands I, a ship captain, resided in Cow Neck.
The elder Cato Sands lived at a time when slaves made up 17 percent of Long Island’s population. It was mostly the wealthy who were said to own slaves, and Simon Sands had five or more. By the Revolutionary War, however, the prevalence of slavery in the region had largely declined.
It is believed that the younger Cato Sands was the son of the freed slave. Said to work in agriculture, the younger Sands purchased from Thomas Thomas 3.25 acres of land to the north of Mill Pond, for $400 in 1834.
Cato Sands lived at 35 Mill Pond Road with his wife Margaret and their children Sarah, Eliza, Phebe, Charles and Cato. By 1850, only three remained in the house – Cato Sands Jr., Eliza and Phebe. By 1860, Cato Jr. had likely passed away, and the two sisters are believed to have supported themselves by selling produce, and to have been financially secure, perhaps because of interest invested on their behalf in accordance with their father’s will. They may have also benefited from rental income from another residence on the property.
After Phebe’s death, the property switched hands and was ultimately sold off. It is believed that Phebe, her parents and siblings Cato, Jr., Sarah and Eliza are buried in the Pleasant Avenue Cemetery.