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Historian Examines Lives of Black Bronxites During Slavery

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A new book written by a Bronx historian explores the lives of African Americans in the borough during colonial times and how they contributed to its growth. NY1's Erin Clarke filed the following report.

Street names in the Bronx tell a story of families who owned the land that was once there.
Those stories though don't mention the men and women of that time who contributed to the present day borough, helping families like the Morrises and Hunts.

"Ten to 15 percent of the population of the Bronx was black in the Colonial period," said Bronx Historian Lloyd Ultan.

Ultan sheds light on that population in his new book, "Blacks in Colonial Bronx: A Documentary History". He tells the story of free blacks and slaves who, while under constraints of the system, still had lives far different and less restrictive than their southern counterparts.

"A slave could be a witness to a business transaction," said Ultan. "Slaves could actually take muskets and go hunting in the woods. Slaves who were allowed to take the boat and go down to the East River to New York City to the tip of Manhattan island to sell the produce and buy things."

The book paints the picture of life for local blacks in the 16th and 17th centuries through documents, newspaper clipping, letters and an overview.

This information historians hope will draw more attention to the Bronx and the overlooked accomplishments of blacks from it.

"I think it will enlighten people of all backgrounds as to the contributions that black people made towards the colonial Bronx and the building of the modern Bronx," Ultan said.

Huntington Free Library President Thomas Casey has also studied the history of blacks in the Bronx and is a member of the East Bronx History forum. He hopes Ultan's work also sparks interest in a new generation of researchers.

"There's a vast opening for young historians to uncover new facts that have not been recorded," Casey said.

The book includes facts that tell the true story of the Bronx, its people and the role they played in New York history.

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