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Black and colonial in the Bronx

Explorando la historia negra en el Bronx Colonial

Black and colonial in the Bronx

Story by Gregg McQueen


"I had to connect the dots," said Bronx historian Lloyd Ultan. Photo: Gregg McQueen
“I had to connect the dots,” said Bronx historian Lloyd Ultan.
Photo: Gregg McQueen

Lloyd Ultan knows pretty much everything there is to know about the Bronx.

The borough’s official historian since 1996, he has written numerous historical texts about Bronx history.

One thing that confounded Ultan, while researching the borough’s Colonial period, was the lack of published information regarding the role of blacks in the Bronx during that era.

“In that period, blacks constituted between 10 and 15 percent of the population of what is now the Bronx,” said Ultan.

“Blacks, along with whites, contributed towards the foundation and growth of the Bronx.”

Ultan’s inspiration to research the subject resulted in his latest book, Blacks in the Colonial Bronx: A Documentary History.

The release compiles 210 written accounts — letters, government documents, court and census records, wills and memoirs —to tell the story of what life was like in that era for people of African descent.

Documents span the period from 1664 to 1783 and are presented chronologically.

“I preface it with an overview and then you have text of the documents so you can actually see the words of the people at the time,” commented Ultan.

The majority of the documents in the book were not actually written by African Americans themselves.

“Most of them were written by people who were Dutch or English or some European ancestry,” explained Ultan. “But even then, seeing the story through other people’s eyes, you still get a view of what the life of a black person living in the Bronx was like.”

The book is Ultan's tenth and is available through the Bronx County Historical Society. Photo: Courtesy of The Bronx Historical Society
The book is Ultan’s tenth and is available through the Bronx County Historical Society.

The book, Ultan’s tenth, is available now through the Bronx County Historical Society.

It is the byproduct of years of painstaking research, as Ultan discovered the documents in over 50 separate places such as libraries, archives and manuscript rooms.

“I had to connect the dots,” he remarked.

While most blacks at the Colonial period were slaves, Ultan said there were free blacks in the Bronx since 1698.

As the book details, many of them rented farms, and were frequently craftsmen and sailors. During the American Revolution, free blacks served in the same militia units as whites.

Ultan said one of the most interesting facts he learned was the way some slaves were rewarded for service by their owners. “At times, slaves were even granted freedom in their master’s will,” remarked Ultan.

Asked about his expectations for the book, Ultan quipped, “I don’t expect this to outsell Stephen King, but I think it will appeal those who are curious.”

He added that the book could be useful to those involved in African American studies at universities or colleges.

“It seems that most black history only focuses on the South,” stated Ultan. “Blacks should know that this is part of their history as well.”

For more information on Blacks in the Colonial Bronx: A Documentary History or to purchase the book, visit www.shop.bronxhistoricalsociety.org.

Explorando la historia negra en el Bronx Colonial

Historia por Gregg McQueen


Lloyd Ultan sabe casi todo lo que hay que saber sobre el Bronx.

Historiador oficial del condado desde 1996, Ultan ha escrito numerosos textos históricos sobre la historia del Bronx.

Una cosa que confundía a Ultan, mientras investigaba el período Colonial del condado, era la falta de información publicada sobre el papel de los negros en el Bronx durante la época.

“En ese período, los negros constituían entre el 10 y el 15 por ciento de la población de lo que hoy es el Bronx”, dijo Ultan.

“Los negros, junto con los blancos, contribuyeron a la fundación y el crecimiento del Bronx”.

La inspiración de Ultan a investigar el tema dio lugar a su último libro: ‘Blacks in the Colonial Bronx: A Documentary History‘.

La versión recoge 210 relatos escritos -cartas, documentos gubernamentales, judiciales y registros de censos, testamentos y memorias- para contar la historia de cómo era la vida en esa época para las personas de ascendencia africana.

Los documentos abarcan el período 1664-1783 y se presentan en orden cronológico.

“Yo escribí el prefacio con una visión general y usted tiene el texto de los documentos para ver las palabras que la gente usaba en el momento”, comentó Ultan.

La mayoría de los documentos en el libro no fueron escritos realmente por los afroamericanos mismos.

The book is Ultan's tenth and is available through the Bronx County Historical Society. Photo: Courtesy of The Bronx Historical Society“La mayoría de ellos fueron escritos por personas que eran holandeses o ingleses o de alguna ascendencia europea”, explicó Ultan. “Pero incluso entonces, al ver la historia a través de los ojos de otras personas, usted obtendrá una visión de lo que era la vida de un negro viviendo en el Bronx”

El décimo libro de Ultan ya está disponible a través del Bronx County Historical Society.

Es el subproducto de años de minuciosa investigación, ya que Ultan descubrió los documentos en más de 50 lugares distintos, como bibliotecas, archivos y salas de manuscritos.

“Tuve que conectar la información dispersa”, ha remarcado.

Aunque la mayoría de los negros en la época colonial eran esclavos, Ultan dijo que había negros libres en el Bronx desde 1698.

Como el libro detalla, muchos de ellos alquilaban fincas, y eran frecuentemente artesanos y marineros. Durante la Revolución Americana, los negros libres sirvieron en las mismas unidades de la milicia que los blancos.

Ultan dijo que uno de los hechos más interesantes que aprendió fue la forma en que algunos esclavos se vieron recompensados por el servicio por parte de sus propietarios.

“A veces, los esclavos eran incluso dejados en libertad por voluntad de su amo”, comentó Ultan.

Cuando se le preguntó acerca de sus expectativas para el libro, Ultan bromeó: “No espero vender más que Stephen King, pero creo que será de interés para los que tengan curiosidad”.

Añadió que el libro podría ser útil para aquellos involucrados en estudios afroamericanos en las universidades o colegios.

“Parece que la historia más negra se centra en el Sur”, declaró Ultan. “Los negros deben saber que esto es parte de su historia también”.

Para más información sobre “Blacks in the Colonial Bronx: A Documentary History,” o para comprar el libro, por favor visite: http://www.shop.bronxhistoricalsociety.org/.

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