New Philadelphia: An Archaeology of Race in the Heartland

By Paul A. Shackel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
The Settlement of
New Philadelphia

“The first white man in Hadley Township was a colored
man.” (Thompson 1967:151)

The founding of New Philadelphia in west-central Illinois by Free Frank McWorter is a compelling and heroic narrative about freedom and the entrepreneurship of an African American family. It is a story of an African American man who purchased his freedom and founded and registered a town, which developed into a multiracial community on the Illinois frontier before the Civil War. The town thrived for a while as a rural commercial center, and it later fought to survive in the postReconstruction era. The history and the archaeology of the place chronicle the community’s pursuit of freedom and its struggle to endure while dealing with society’s changing attitudes toward race.

Born in 1777 near the Pacolet River in South Carolina to Juda, an enslaved African American woman, and her white owner, Frank grew up and labored on his father’s plantation. When Frank was about eighteen, George McWhorter, his father and owner, relocated him to Pulaski County in the Kentucky frontier. George McWhorter later purchased additional properties in Kentucky and Tennessee and left Frank behind to manage the farm in Pulaski County. The historian Juliet “Walker (1983a), a fifth-generation descendant of McWorter, wrote a biography of Free Frank. Piecing together clues from various historical documents and oral histories, she traced his life and accomplishments.

In 1799 Frank married Lucy, an enslaved woman who resided on a neighboring plantation in Pulaski County. He became the father of four children: Judy, Sallie, Frank Jr., and Solomon. In 1815 George

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