The life of Cato Sands, believed to be the son of a freed slave, will be celebrated Tuesday as African American community leaders, historians and town officials gather to reveal an oval plaque at his former house in Port Washington.
“To be able to witness this family to be recognized 200 years later is wonderful,” said the Rev. Jacqueline Lynch, pastor of Mount Olive African Methodist Episcopal Church in Port Washington, who will attend Tuesday’s event, scheduled for 9:30 a.m. near the intersection of Morgan Place and Mill Pond Road. “It shouldn’t have taken 200 years, but at least it’s happening.”
While much ink has been spilled over the Sands family from which Sands Point derives its name, little is known about Cato Sands’ father, who was one of at least five slaves Simon Sands owned.
For reasons that remain unclear, Simon Sands, a grandson of John Sands I, freed Cato Sands Sr. and a black woman named “Sary” in his 1782 will, according to a 1980 article published in the Cow Neck Peninsula Historical Society Journal. Simon Sands ordered that his wife get one slave of her choice and that the rest be sold.
In 1834, the younger Sands purchased more than 3 acres of land for $400 near Mill Pond and lived there with his wife and five children, the article said. The family was likely buried in the nearby Pleasant Avenue Cemetery, according to a tombstone marking found in 1979.
“But what about the earlier Cato freed by the will of Simon Sands? And where is Sary? Perhaps they rest in Manorhaven or under someone’s Sands Point tennis court,” Jacqueline Bahn, a former historical society member who died in 1999, wrote in the article. “I wish we knew. There are no records.”
Ross Lumpkin, a trustee of the historical society, saw the house on Mill Pond Road often on his regular walks after retiring five years ago. But he didn’t know its story.
“People in their everyday life aren’t really aware of how valuable history is to us,” said Lumpkin. “I understand it. I was a commuter for 25 years. I didn’t give a second thought to history.”
As his appreciation of local history grew, Lumpkin said he was shocked to hear about the demolition of the centuries-old Baxter House in 2017, which prompted him to start a Historic Designation Plaque Program. Other historical societies, including the Great Neck Historical Society, have similar programs.
“Every time somebody puts up a plaque, it says: ‘Look, look what’s here,’ ” Lumpkin said. “I just think you can’t overestimate how much that enriches your day-to-day life.”
Lynch, whose church was founded in 1897 by members of two of Port Washington’s first African American families, hopes to get a similar plaque installed in front of the building before summer arrives.
“People drive by and they see this building,” she said. “Because it’s not a cathedral, it’s overlooked.” But she added that if there’s a sign that explains the history of the church, which is off Main Street, “people would stop and take notice.”
From being property to owning property
- 1782: Cato Sands Sr. was freed by Simon Sands’ will.
- 1834: Cato Sands spent $400 to buy more than 3 acres of land near Mill Pond.
- 1841: Cato Sands left his house and land to his wife, Margaret, and his son Cato provided that his three daughters could stay. His other son Charles received $60.
- 1884: The property was passed to a cousin of Phebe, one of Cato Sands’ daughters, who died that year.
- 1889: The estate was auctioned off for $1,390.
Source: “The World of Cato Sands” by Jacqueline Bahn