CHAPTER 2: BACKGROUND HISTORY
Juliet Walker’s (1983) study provides significant information about Free Frank McWorter and his experience related to the founding and early development of New Philadelphia until his death in 1854. Other monographs also provide overviews of the McWorter family and/or the community’s past. These include Grace Matteson (1964) “Free Frank” McWorter and the “Ghost Town” of New Philadelphia, Pike County, Illinois; Helen McWorter Simpson’s (1981) Maker’s of History; and Larry Burdick’s (1992) New Philadelphia: Where I Lived.
The goal of the current New Philadelphia Archaeology Project is to supplement the story unfolding about the town by providing additional information about the social history of the entire community, and documenting the rise of the town from 1836 through its demise during the Jim Crow era. Using historical information, oral histories, and archaeological information, the project explores the physical and social development of the town and explores some of the social relations in the community through the early twentieth century. This work also shows how individuals, both of African–American and European–American heritage, view this community’s past. The archaeological, historical, and oral history data contribute information related to an important episode of past social and racial relations that are a vital component of our national public memory.
Most of the early European settlers of Illinois came from states south of the Ohio River, and they established communities by waterways where they had easy access to transportation, power sources, and food. The French originally viewed the Illinois region with great promise. By the 1720s France had constructed a ring of forts, posts, and missions from Quebec to the Gulf of Mexico. Illinois served as a strategic midpoint in this ring. Fort de Chartres, constructed in the region of the Mississippi River Valley known as the American Bottom, served as one of the most impressive fortifications in North America. During this era, the American Bottom became the largest producer of grain for all of New France (Davis 1998: 48–51; Ekberg 1998; Simeone 2000: 19).
In 1749, Britain’s Ohio Company granted lands on both sides of the Ohio, thus contesting France’s territorial claims. Tensions increased in the early 1750s, and in 1756 the situation erupted into the French and Indian War. The French were overwhelmed by the British since; at the beginning of this war France had about 100,000 nationalists in America, while Britain had over 1.3 million. The French had also imported about 1,000 enslaved Native Americans and Africans to work on the fertile American Bottom (Davis 1998:48–51; Simeone 2000: 19).
After expelling the French from North America, as a result of the 1763 treaty to end the French and Indian War, the British viewed Illinois as a remote and distant region. During the American Revolution, George Rogers Clark, along with a company of 175 frontiersmen, captured the principal town of the Illinois Country, the old French village of Kaskaskia. With little resistance from the British, he annexed the territory to Virginia in 1778 and it became known as the Illinois County of the Commonwealth of Virginia (Alvord 1920: 324–328). For the British, Illinois served as a buffer from American encroachment. Some American settlers moved to the western frontier, although the British encouraged and equipped Native Americans north of the Ohio River to resist their advancements. When Virginia ceded the territory to the United States in 1783, the federal government recognized the “ancient laws and customs” of the region. The 1787 Northwest Ordinance protected the private contracts previously formed, including the existence of slavery (Simeone 2000: 19).
Visiting the Old Northwest Territory (comprised of present day Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois) after 1783, James Monroe appeared skeptical about the growth and development of the new territory. Instead, he favored dividing the lands into three to five new states. Borrowing a similar system found in New England, the Land Ordinance of 1785 created townships six miles square and aligned to the cardinal directions. Each township contained 36 sections, each one mile square and containing 640 acres. As a result, roadways often developed along section lines and crossed each other at right angles (Davis 1998: 93–94). This new, ordered grid system helped to tame the western frontier by making it regular, measurable, and standardized. In July 1787, state delegates meeting in Philadelphia crafted the new Constitution and also developed the Northwest Ordinance. “Not surprisingly, the ordinance reflected fundamental constitutional principles: the people are sovereign; legitimate governmental powers spring from the people; self–government is preferred; [and] government should be limited” (Davis 1998: 95). While encouraging self–government, the ordinance also ensured the same protections found in the Bill of Rights. While the ordinance proclaimed that three to five states should be developed from the Old Northwest Territory, it also stated that each territory needed 60,000 free people in order to seek statehood. Article 6 of the ordinance banned slavery and involuntary servitude, although there was an exception for French and Canadian settlers, as well as those who had sworn allegiance to Virginia (Davis 1998:96).
Many of the early American settlements in Illinois developed around the established communities in the Bottom such as Kaskaskia, Prairie du Rocher, and Cahokia (Alvord 1920). The Illini, consisting of the Cahokia, Kaskaskia, Michigamea, Peoria, and Tamaroa, occupied present day Illinois, eastern Missouri, southern Iowa, and northeastern Arkansas since at least the middle of the sixteenth century (Warren and Walthall 1998). Disease, warfare, and dislocation impacted the native populations. In 1660, the American Indian population located in present day Illinois numbered 33,000. By 1680, just under one–third of that number remained. The population dropped to 6,000 by 1700, and again to 2,500 by 1736. By 1763 only 500 survived and by 1783 the number had plummeted to fewer than 100. By 1800 about 80 American Indians resided in one village (Davis 1998: 42).
The European settlement of present day Illinois began at a relatively slow pace and access to familiar consumer goods was difficult. Material goods came to the western frontier from manufacturers in Pittsburgh, Wheeling, Cincinnati, and Louisville and they came down the Ohio River. James Davis (1998: 133) describes the material culture of early European settlers:
In southern Illinois and in other wooded regions log cabins were the norm for settlers. These pioneers ate at rough tables, some fashioned from bottom and side boards of discarded wagons. Benches and stools persisted for years. Chairs appeared only over time, and were reserved for esteemed household members and guests. Eating utensils were wooden or, at most, pewter. Few early households had silver or plate. Window glass, metal door hinges and locks, and even nails were expensive and rare. Weapons, axes, and fireplace implements were the most common metallic objects.
Settlers arrived with few clothes and imported even fewer, unlike eighteenth–century French Illinoisans, who enjoyed imported European clothes and fabrics. Hunting and trapping yielded hides, pelts, and skins for moccasins, boots, gloves, and britches, dresses, and other garments, much production occurred during winter’s slack hours. Predators, though, continued to suppress wool production for decades after statehood.
In 1800, France won the Spanish Louisiana territory and three years later sold it to the United States. This new acquisition allowed settlers on the American western frontier to have unimpeded access to the Mississippi River, New Orleans, and the Gulf of Mexico. New frontiers opened in terms of trade and migration and the large, mostly French trading town of St. Louis became a principal market for goods imported from the east coast. After 1800, the steamboat greatly reduced shipping prices from the Gulf and along upriver routes (Davis 1998: 118; Troen and Holt 1977: 211). Trade with Native Americans also played a significant role in the exchange of goods (Mazrim 2002: 13).
On February 3, 1809, Congress established the Territory of Illinois, which included modern day Illinois, Wisconsin, northern Minnesota, and the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan. At the same time, Native Americans from the territory continued raiding new European settlements (Davis 1998: 135). After the War of 1812, immigrants began a steady migration into the area. Many of the new residents were poorer European Americans from the southeastern and southwestern states. They hoped to become full citizens of a future state with the goal of shedding their old identity of poor persons subordinated by the wealthy (Simeone 2000: 4).
In 1817, Congress set aside 3.5 million acres known as the “Military Tract,” and allotted 160 acre tracts to veterans in an area between the lower Illinois River and the Mississippi River. Veterans also received back pay to help them move to the new region. The public could also purchase tracts of land at $2.00 per acre with only a small down payment. In 1820, the credit system was dismantled and the minimum parcel was reduced to 80 acres at a price of $1.25 per acre. The government later reduced the minimum purchase to 40 acres (Mazrim 2002: 25).
The territory soon became a battleground between proslavery southerners and abolitionist northerners (Davis 1998:19). Six of the first seven governors of Illinois came from slave states and they influenced the abolitionist issue. According to James Davis (1998: 20), no other state north of the Ohio River had as many slaves nor came as close as Illinois for providing constitutional protection for slavery. Many of the new settlers from the south supported the existing institution of slavery (Davis 1998: 161).
When Illinois became a state in 1818 it had about 40,000 residents, with over one third of them living in the greater American Bottom. Some of the early nineteenth–century immigrants brought enslaved persons with them into Illinois. In one instance, the West brothers had very different approaches to dealing with the slavery issue. One brother emancipated his enslaved laborers after being convinced by a Methodist minister. The other brother registered his enslaved African Americans as indentured servants (Simeone 2000:153). In 1818, most of the slaves north of the Ohio River resided in Illinois in the American Bottom as well as another area known as the “salines.” The salines, or saltwater springs, produced salt for harvest and export. Enslaved laborers retrieved the water and boiled it down to extract the salt. By the early 1820s, the salines produced $11,000 a year in tax revenue, or about one fourth of the state’s expenses. The 1818 Constitution allowed slaves to be imported into Gallatin and Jackson Counties for one year in order to work in these facilities. The enterprise was required to cease operations by 1825 (Simeone 2000: 25).
Political leaders reached a compromise in order to minimize the debate on slavery influenced by the likelihood that Congress would reject a proslavery constitution. While the majority of the early settlers came from the South, Illinois’ Constitution came from articles used in the constitutions of New York, Ohio, and Kentucky. The new Constitution stated that enslaved persons owned by French citizens could be retained in bondage. Indentured servitude, whereby African Americans were contracted to work for decades, was acceptable for the state’s Constitution. The offspring of indentured servants had to serve until they became 21 years of age for males, and 18 years of age for females. Enslaved persons could also be brought into the salines until 1825 (Davis 1998: 165). Slavery proponents called for a constitutional convention to revise Illinois’ constitution in order to allow chattel slavery. In 1818 through the early 1820s Illinoisans faced an economic depression and many believed that they suffered because Missouri now gained a steady flow of southern immigrants because it was admitted as a slave state as a result of the 1820 Missouri Compromise. James Simeone (2000: 49) notes that “beginning in the fall of 1819 and continuing through 1822, everything stopped. The money stopped, and immigration stopped. In the summer of 1821 the rain stopped.” In addition, an epidemic of yellow fever had hit most of the American Bottom. Over half the population died in Atlas, the county seat of Pike County (Simeone 2000: 50).
Illinois was a northern state with a majority of its citizens from the upland south area which included Kentucky and Tennessee as the principal sources of immigrants. However, by the early 1820s northerners began their steady influx into the new state, thereby beginning to sway the majority of public opinion against the idea of chattel slavery. One woman from Tennessee who resided in Illinois wrote in 1822, “ I am getting skeery about them ‘ere Yankees; there is such a power of them coming in that them and the Injuns will squatch out all the white folks” (quoted in Simeone 2000: 6: see also Tillson 1995: 24–25). The influx of northerners brought new customs to the area. Previously, business deals were typically sealed with a handshake. As one former Tennessean wrote, once the “Yankees” infiltrated the area they introduced a “system of accounts and obligations” which was looked upon by the southern community with great distrust. The Yankees used words and writing that intimidated “the white folks” (Buck 1917: 291). It is interesting to note that she constructed whiteness as including southerners, while others, including European American northerners, were not included in that category.
Many of the early settlers flocked to the American Bottom, but periodic flooding meant that it was susceptible to outbreaks of malaria. This problem, many of the American Bottom settlers believed, could be solved by introducing slave labor, much like their French predecessors had done. Plans arose for a limited slavery system whereby the Illinois General Assembly would allow the importation of enslaved persons to clear the land and build drainage canals. After a 10-year period these enslaved persons would be shipped down the Mississippi River and sent to Africa. This proposal met stiff resistance and new debates arose about the future of slavery in Illinois.
On August 2, 1824, in a referendum regarding the legalization of slavery, the proposal fell to defeat by a vote of 6,640 to 4,972. Eleven of the 18 abolitionist state legislators came from the South. Pike County overwhelming voted against the referendum (23 for and 261 against) (Davis 1998: 167). Generally, southern settlers joined northerners to voice their opinion against slavery. However, the proslavery faction gained many seats and the control of the General Assembly. Illinoisans created a society that hampered the introduction of slavery, but nevertheless contained an implicit white supremacy. Black Codes passed in 1819 and 1829 restricted the rights of African Americans and discouraged their settlement in the state (Simeone 2000: 157).
The 1830s served as one of the most speculative eras in Illinois land sales. The Blackhawk Wars ended in 1833, thus forfeiting the last Native American lands in Illinois. The era is characterized by wild speculation in the incorporation of towns that were platted from 1835 to 1837. Some town plans remained only on paper, and others barely developed before they folded (Davis 1998: 236). James Davis believes that the prevailing winds often dictated the layout of towns. Residents often lived west of the town’s business and industrial centers to avoid the stench of industry. Also, by building westward, residents could avoid fires and great conflagrations caused by the prevailing west winds. Along with this wild speculation came the Panic of 1837 and land sales dropped perceptibly. Supplies of materials and labor also decreased significantly (Davis 1998: 272–273).
New Philadelphia is significant because of the story of the founder’s persistence for freedom as well as its dimension as a bi–racial settlement from the 1830s through the 1930s. Before the American Civil War, most free African Americans lived in urban areas and suffered deteriorating social and economic conditions. Laws restricted their opportunities, and they often had irregular or seasonal employment. “They had a low incidence of property ownership in most cities, and were universally described by contemporary observers as in large part poverty stricken” (Curry 1981: 122). African Americans in urban areas increasingly called for reforms. At the same time, the American Colonization Society aggressively promoted the relocation of free African Americans to Liberia.
In response to the promotion of resettlement in Africa, during the 1830s the Organized Negro Communities Movement proposed that separate agricultural settlements should be established for free African Americans in undeveloped rural areas. The organization also encouraged the migration of such families to the western frontiers. Both of these proposals would allow African Americans the opportunity to develop new economic opportunities for themselves (Pease and Pease 1962: 19–34).
In 1819, the first manumission colony in Edwardsville, Illinois, stood as one of the most prominent settlements of the Organized Negro Communities Movement. The Edwardsville Settlement operated as a paternalistic endeavor by Edward Coles on land he purchased for his freed thirteen enslaved persons so that they could develop farms. Other paternalistic settlements developed following Coles’ lead, although many of these settlements failed, including Edwardsville. These planned agricultural communities usually consisted of farms too small or with insufficient capital to be self–sufficient (Pease and Pease 1963: 23). Illinoisans elected Coles governor in 1822, and he successfully defeated attempts to move the new state to accept slavery.
Other African–American settlements did succeed. Sundiata Keita Cha–Jua (2000) describes the settlement of Brooklyn, Illinois, founded in 1830 by several black families adjacent to St. Louis, Missouri. Five white settlers platted the area in 1837, and citizens incorporated the town after the Civil War. Because of racism and industrialists’ unwillingness to establish businesses in the town, Brooklyn struggled financially through the beginning of the twentieth century. In another settlement, Reverend Lewis Woodson believed that African Americans should establish separate communities, separate businesses, and separate churches. His father’s settlement in Jackson County, Ohio in 1830 served as a prime example to show that separate African-American communities could survive and prosper. By 1838, this settlement in Jackson County was “socially independent” (Miller 1971: 315).
Black Codes established before the Civil War often restricted the freedoms of African–Americans and they frequently were left with no choice but to work on farms or perform menial tasks. Although a vacuum created by the expanding frontier allowed people to take risks on entrepreneurial activities, African Americans were not on equal footing with white settlers. Being a free African American in southern and central Illinois met some resistance from the local populations. For instance, about 50 miles south of New Philadelphia in Alton, Elijah Lovejoy ran his abolitionist newspaper and founded the Illinois Anti–Slavery Society. An angry mob attacked his newspaper in 1837, one year after the founding of New Philadelphia. They killed Lovejoy while he tried to protect his press. The mayor could have asked for military troops to quell the uprising, much as the mayor of Norfolk, Virginia did in 1831 after the Nat Turner uprising. Instead, he saw Lovejoy’s activities as creating disorder and he allowed the mobs to take control of the situation (Beecher 1838; Dillon 1961;Tanner 1881).
Only thirteen miles east of New Philadelphia in the town of Griggsville, violence broke out after an 1838 anti–slavery meeting. People at the meeting signed a petition calling for the abolition of slavery in Washington, D.C. and for rejecting the admission of Texas into the Union as a slave state. While many attending the meeting signed the petition, many pro–slavery citizens were agitated by this resolution. They met at the local grocery and passed a resolution “that the parties who signed this obnoxious petition should be compelled to erase their signatures from it” (Chapman 1880: 516). The pro–slavery men seized the document and “then waited upon those parties and demanded of them that they should immediately erase their names” (Chapman 1880: 516). Hearing this news, the people of Griggsville and the surrounding area, came to town that evening armed in order to defend their petition. They informed the pro–slavery contingent that they “must disband, or else they would be dealt with harshly, and that the first man who dared to intimidate another petitioner would receive a ‘fresh supply of ammunition’” (Chapman 1880: 516).
The Underground Railroad thrived in places like Quincy, Pittsfield, and Jacksonville. The 1845 Illinois Supreme Court decision of Jarrot v. Jarrot terminated the institution of slavery in Illinois for all time. However, this decision did not stop slave trackers from dragging away suspected bystanders and at times capturing innocent and free bystanders to transport them down south for sale into bondage. Illinois did not resist the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 like other northern states by passing personal liberties laws (Davis 1998: 289). Free African Americans were not on equal footing with whites.
By 1840 the steamboat served all navigable waters. Soon thereafter, the national road and railroads were constructed through the area of Illinois. Illinois’ population became very diverse as a result of these transportation routes. William Oliver (1924: 68) wrote that many of the new immigrants included “Dutch, Germans, Swiss, Yankees, Irish, Scotch, a few English, and a number from more southern states.” The growing diversity in frontier Illinois also meant that no single interest group could dominate the social and political scene. People had to work with each other for consensus, although the Black Codes also meant that African Americans were often left out of this consensus building. While Illinois was considered a free state and all forms of legal slavery had died by 1845, state delegates voted 137 to 7 to deny suffrage to blacks. In addition, Article XIV directed the General Assembly to pass laws prohibiting the immigration of blacks to Illinois. While Illinois opposed slavery, it refused equality to African Americans (Davis 1998: 413). For instance, Stephen Douglas debated Abraham Lincoln in the late 1850s and one of the main issues included slavery. Douglas, representing the state of Illinois in Congress, believed that “Government was made on the white basis, by white men, for the benefit of white men and their posterity forever, and should be administered by white men and none others. I do not believe that the Almighty made the negro capable of self–government” (quoted in Simeone 2000: 10).
The founding of the town of New Philadelphia in west–central Illinois by Frank McWorter, a freed African American, in 1836 is both a compelling and heroic story. Frank was born near the Pacolet River in South Carolina. In 1795, when he was about 18 years old, his master George McWhorter relocated him to the Kentucky frontier in Pulaski County. George McWhorter later purchased additional properties in Kentucky and Tennessee and left Frank behind to manage the farm. Historian Juliet Walker’s (1983) biography of Free Frank describes that while he was enslaved he also established a saltpeter mining operation in Kentucky.
While enslaved, Frank married Lucy in 1799, who was also enslaved in Pulaski County. He became father of four children: Judy, Sallie, Frank and Solomon. In 1815 George McWhorter died without making any provisions for Frank’s manumission. In 1817 Frank had saved enough money to purchase his wife’s freedom for $800. Since Lucy was pregnant at the time, this action ensured that their son Squire would be born free. Two years later Frank was able to purchase his freedom from George McWhorter’s heirs for the same sum. The document that declared his freedom stated that, “a certain Negro man named Frank, a yellow man,” was to be liberated. His former owners signed the document on September 13, 1819, in Pulaski County, Kentucky (Matteson 1964: 2). In the 1820 Federal Census, Frank had his name listed as “Free Frank.” He continued to live in Pulaski County while he speculated on and expanded his salt peter operations near the town of Danville. After he and his wife were free, they had three additional children: Squire, Commodore, and Lucy Ann (Matteson 1964: 1; Walker 1983: 28–48).
In 1829 Frank traded his saltpeter enterprise for the freedom of his son, Frank, Jr. In 1830 Free Frank decided to leave Kentucky and he acquired a quarter section (160 acres) of land from Dr. Eliot, sight unseen, in Pike County, Illinois. Free Frank, Lucy and their freed children arrived in Hadley Township in the spring of 1831 after spending the preceding winter in Greene County, Illinois. The McWorters were the first settlers in that township, and other settlers finally joined them two years later (Chapman 1880: 216–217). An early history of Pike County explained that, “the first white man in Hadley Township was a colored man” (Thomas 1967:151). Frank left three children behind, along with their spouses and children. Over the next 25 years he succeeded in purchasing their freedom (Walker 1983). During his tenure in Illinois, McWorter acquired over 500 more acres. He grew wheat, corn, and oats, and on his farm he raised cattle, hogs, horses, mules, and a mixed variety of poultry (Matteson 1964:5).
By 1835 Free Frank purchased his son, Solomon’s freedom for $550 (Walker 1983: 89). Several citizens from Kentucky and Illinois vouched for Free Frank’s character in order to pass a legislative act to change his name to Frank McWorter, taking the surname of his former owner while changing the spelling of that name. The act also gave him the right to “sue and be sued, plead and be impleaded, purchase and convey both real and personal property in said last mentioned name” (Laws of the State of Illinois 1837: 175). The law also stated that his children shall take the name of their father.
The Illinois legislative act made note that Frank had laid out the town in 1836 “which he calls Philadelphia, and understanding and believing that the said Frank has laid out the town intending to apply the proceeds of the sales for the purchase of his children yet remaining slaves, two young women about twenty years of age – The said town is in handsome country, undoubtedly healthy” (General Assembly Records, Illinois State Archives Enrolled Laws 1837).
New Philadelphia was platted with 144 lots, each measuring 60 x 120 ft. It is the earliest known town legally founded by a free African American. Each block contained 8 lots, and the two main thoroughfares, Broad Way and Main Street were platted as 80 ft. wide, secondary streets were 60 ft. wide, and alleys measured 15 ft. wide.
While African Americans developed towns before 1836 (see Cha–Jua 2000), New Philadelphia is the earliest known town founded and platted by an African American. Both European Americans and African Americans purchased property in New Philadelphia and moved to the community. Thomas (1967: 151) described the mail route of LeGrange Wilson who started to carry mail at age 12 between the early post towns of Griggsville and Kinderhook. Wilson once described the town of New Philadelphia as a “bustling metropolis of the early day and the largest town on Wilson’s mail rout. There were three houses in Philadelphia” (Thomas 1967: 151). While the date of Wilson’s description for the town is unknown and not specified in the oral history, it is probably an account from the 1840s.
In the 1850s the railroad line was laid out and its planned route appears on the 1860 map of Pike County. Its construction and completion occurred only after the end of the Civil War. The Hannibal & Naples Railroad was routed north of New Philadelphia by about 1 mile (Chapman 1880: 904; Matteson 1964: 9).
Frank died in 1854 at 77 years of age. Frank McWorter not only purchased the freedom of himself, his wife, his four children, and two of his grandchildren before he died, but, also his will he provided for the purchase of the six of his grandchildren who were then in slavery. His two sons Solomon and Commodore carried out the provisions of his will (Matteson 1964:10; Walker 1983).
A grocery was established in New Philadelphia in 1839 and by 1850 the town had a post office, stagecoach stand, blacksmith shop, wheelwright, two shoemakers, and two cabinet makers. A rural market town like New Philadelphia, existing in a context of widespread racial tensions, could offer African Americans an alternative to isolated rural farmsteads and the hostile environment of urban enclaves. However, once the Illinois frontier closed, racism set limits to New Philadelphia’s expansion (see Davis 1998). In 1853 the Pike County Rail Road Company, made up of prominent farmers and businessmen in the area, met to create a route for a new railroad line. The interests of New Philadelphia were not represented on the board. The route for the Hannibal & Naples Railroad came from the east and if it continued in a direct westerly direction it would have intersected New Philadelphia. Instead, the railroad company routed the line to New Salem about one mile north of New Philadelphia. In order to reach New Salem the line looped north and around New Philadelphia. When the line reached a point west of New Philadelphia it swung south to a point directly west of the town and it again ran in an east to west direction until it reached the town of Barry (Chapman 1880: 904; Matteson 1964:9; Pike County Railroad 1853).
New Philadelphia existed as a small rural town through the 1850s. The 1850 federal census indicates that the town had 58 residents living in 11 households. The town had a Baptist preacher, a cabinet maker, a laborer, two merchants, two shoemakers, a wheelwright and four farmers. About one quarter of the town’s residents were born in Illinois. The federal census listed racial categories, including “white,” “black,” and “mulatto.” The 1850 census lists 20 residents as black or mulatto, while the majority (38 individuals, 62%) was categorized as white. Some of the prominent town residents included McWorter, Burdick, Clark, and Hadsell. Five years later, the 1855 state census lists 81 town residents. The 18 African–American residents accounted for only 22% of the town’s population, and the rest were listed as white. The 1860 census shows an increase of the town to 114 individuals. A blacksmith, a carpenter, a physician, a schoolteacher along with 13 farmers resided in the town proper. Ninety–three (82%) of the residents were listed as white and 21 individuals were recorded as black or mulatto. A large proportion (43.9%) of the town came from other Illinois communities (King 2004) (Figure 2.1).
Figure 2.1. An 1860 Atlas details the layout of "New" Philadelphia and the owners of land surrounding the town.
(click for larger image)
New Philadelphia peaked by 1865 with a total of 160 individuals residing in 31 households. The census indicates that 104 (65%) individuals were categorized as white and 56 (35%) were of African American descent, indicating a threefold increase in the number of African American residents over that recorded on the census just five years earlier. The influx of African Americans may be a result of the northern migration of formerly enslaved persons leaving plantations. Prominent families included the Burdick, Hadsell, Clark, Cartwright (Kirtwright), and McWorter households. The Bower, Kellum, Vaughn (Vond), Baker, Johnson, and Shipman families also lived in the area (King 2004). As a commitment to educating all of the citizens of the community, the town supported an integrated one–room schoolhouse from 1874 until it closed in the 1940s (Matteson 1964:19–20; Pike County Illinois Schools 1996:153). Some recent oral histories recall hearing about a “negro schoolhouse” on Block 9, lot 4 in the town of New Philadelphia.
Throughout the history of the town all of the lots were sold, and many were sold up to a dozen times. The high turn–over rate of lot ownership is noticeable especially in the early settlement of the town. This trend may indicate that while the town survived as a small rural community serving the immediate hinterlands, many others prospected on town land with the hope of making significant amounts of money if the railroad line was laid adjacent to the town. There are many cases of small town speculations in Illinois in the 1850s where properties adjacent to the railroad doubled in value, and in some cases the values increased by as much nine times the original price (Davis 1998).
The construction of the railroad across Pike County, from Valley City on the west bank of the Illinois River to Hannibal, Missouri meant that the purchasing of consumer goods became more convenient and farmers had more outlets for their agricultural products. However, the Hannibal and Naples Railroad bypassed New Philadelphia by one mile and in 1869 the town’s population began a steady decline (Figure 2.2). The railroad needed a booster engine to push the cars on its route that bypassed the town. In the twentieth century the railroad realigned the rail line about ½ mile south where cars and engines could traverse a more even grade in the topography.
While the railroad bypassed New Philadelphia, other towns like Exeter and Florence were also severely impacted. Meanwhile, other small towns flourished for a while, like Meredosia, Hull, Kinderook, Barry, New Salem, and Griggsville. The northern county route meant that this section of the county prospered compared to the more southern parts. The railroad constructed a spur to Pittsfield, the county seat, the following year. Other railroad lines in subsequent years eventually connected the other sections of Pike County to larger regional markets.
Figure 2.2. An 1872 Pike County Atlas showing the location of “New” Philadelphia, the surrounding land owners, and the route of the railroad. (click image for larger view)
By 1880, the number of residents in New Philadelphia fell to about 93 individuals. The town included 14 farmers as well as a blacksmith, a school teacher, a storekeeper, 2 house servants, 8 farmhands and 9 general laborers. The majority of the residents (54, or 58.1%), were Illinois natives, and 13 individuals (13.97%) came from Ohio. The federal census listed 68 (73.1%) people as white; 22 (23.7%) as mulatto, and 3 residents (3.2%) were noted to be black. The routing of two main transportation arteries away from New Philadelphia severely hindered its growth. In 1880, Chapman (1880:740–41) wrote, “At one time it had great promise, but the railroad passing it a mile distant, and other towns springing up, has killed it. At present there is not even a post office at the place.”
The depopulation of New Philadelphia follows the trend for the rest of Pike County. While the county experienced rapid growth before the Civil War, the growth slowed in the 1870s, and by the end of the century urban areas and western lands drew people away from Pike County (Smith and Bonath 1982:74–76). In 1885, the size and layout of New Philadelphia changed dramatically. Blocks 1, 10, 11, and 20, as well as the eastern half of Blocks 2, 9, 12, and 19, were declared vacant and no longer part of the town as the property was returned to agriculture. Canton Street and Maiden Lane were removed, and Queen Street became known as Stone Street. The platted land of the former town had shrunk from 42 acres to about 27.5 acres (Walker 1983).
Farm values and farm sizes increased significantly during the first several decades of the twentieth century in Pike County. At the same time the rural population declined significantly. From 1900 to 1910 the average farm size increased from about 123 acres to 134 acres and the number of individually owned farms decreased from 4,000 to 3,500, although the total number of improved acreage declined slightly from 388,000 to 385,000 acres. Pike County experienced a greater rural decline when compared to the other counties in the state. On the whole, people did not move to the larger villages of the county, but rather they moved to larger metropolitan areas like Chicago, St. Louis, and Springfield (Main 1915). For many farmers it appears that the Great Depression actually started a decade earlier. The Rural Electrification Program and the hard road program helped to modernize rural communities, although river traffic still remained the main form of transportation for farm products (Smith and Bonath 1982: 73).
By the early twentieth century about a half dozen households remained in what was once called New Philadelphia (Figure 2.3 and 2.4). Throughout the twentieth century, several maps still designated the area of the former town site as Philadelphia or New Philadelphia. Oral histories of several former residents performed in the early 1960s indicated that a bi–racial community survived into the 1930s (Matteson 1964). The land was virtually abandoned by the 1940s.
Figure 2.3. The location of the New Philadelphia School House and a few remaining houses in a 1926 topographic map. The former town is located beneath the letter S.
(click on image for larger view)
Helen McWorter Simpson, granddaughter of Solomon McWorter described going back to the family home in Hadley Township. “We finally reached the farm in the early evening just as the shadows were falling. Here at last was the family home. This was the house that my grandfather, Solomon McWorter, had built as soon as he could when the growing family had become too large for the log cabin in which my father, the oldest child, had been born” (Simpson 1981: 40). From this account it appears that a new McWorter residence was established probably in the 1860s, soon after Solomon married Francis Coleman. Therefore, according to Simpson’s account, the stone foundation located on the north side of the blacktop road and across from the town traditionally called the McWorter residence is likely the remains of the new house that Solomon built when his family became too large for the log cabin. If this is the case, then the site of the original cabin is currently not known.
Figure 2.4. 1936 Aerial Photograph of the former town of New Philadelphia. Note the few remaining houses along the roadway running south of the Baylis Road (running east–west in the middle of the image).
(click on image for larger view)
In 1964, Grace Matteson compiled a history of the McWorters based on personal interviews with residents and former residents of the settlement. She also used personal records loaned by Mrs. Thelma Kirkpatrick of Chicago – great granddaughter of Free Frank. Matteson (1964: 18–19) also recorded several histories from the former residents of the community. Mrs. Irene Butler Brown, born in 1881, lived in New Philadelphia until 1906, when she moved to Jacksonville, Illinois. Brown recalled the remaining families living in the town surrounding a square. Besides her own family, the Butlers, who lived on the east side of the square, were the Kimbrews; “Squire McWorter’s family lived on the north side of the square; and the family of Jim McKinney (who had come from Oklahoma) on the south side, all of whom were colored; and the Venicombes on the west side, and the Sylvester ‘Fet’ Baker family, Caucasians” (Matteson 1964: 18–19)
A store building stood south of the present day highway. Mrs. Irene Brown remembered the grocery as the only remaining business in town and was operated by Mr. Kellum (Matteson 1964: Postscript). To the east stood a blacksmith shop operated by Squire McWorter. He later moved his operations to the state road. The foundations of the blacksmith shop still remain, although the shop itself has been torn down, the last of the original business buildings in New Philadelphia. Later, Fred Venicombe erected a buggy shed on the property, although that building no longer exists today (Matteson 1964:19) (see Figure 2.5).
Figure 2.5. The Burdick Map of New Philadelphia drawn in the 1970s as he remembered it in the early twentieth century. On file at the Pike County Historical Society (from Burdick 1992).
The Square or the Park
According to Larry Burdick’s manuscript and map “the Park” (no. 2 in Figure 2.5), also referred to by others as “the square,” consisted of Block 8, Lots 1–8. Burdick and others also note that the square contained a school attended by children of both African American and European American families (Burdick 1992:np). Archaeology and a geophysical survey show that while the twentieth–century residents referred to the area as the park, some of the earliest town settlement occurred on this block and had disappeared by the first available tax assessment in 1867 (see Chapter 3 and the description of Block 8, Lot 4).
“Negro Schoolhouse” and Kimbrew
Irene Brown noted that the schoolhouse was on the east side of the square. Some people remember the one–story building as the “black schoolhouse,” or the “negro schoolhouse,” although at present no historical or archaeological evidence can confirm this statement. Matteson (1964: 19) notes that this structure stood on Lot 12. Little surface finds from the archeological survey in Block 12 indicates that this location may be unlikely. Also, the deed records show that Kimbrew owned Block 9, Lot 4, and in all likelihood this served as the school lot. Recent oral histories also indicate that Block 9, Lot 4 served as the location of the “negro schoolhouse.”
After the building fell into disuse, and since a new integrated schoolhouse existed across the road, two brothers, George and Martin Kimbrew purchased the old building. They performed some renovations, installed a partition in the interior and added a small room. They used the building as their residence. According to Brown it was torn down in the 1950s (Matteson 1964: Postscript). Much of the lot has eroded, although there is a chance that one pier for the building’s foundation was found in the 2005 excavation (see Chapter 3 and the description of Block 9, Lot 4).
The Betsey Place
The Betsy Place (no. 3 in Figure 2.5), located on the west side of “the Park” (Block 7) contained a small house with a front room addition. Nancy Venicombe (Fred’s wife) owned the property. The back portion of the house was in disrepair in the 1930s, a section of the house that Larry Burdick believes was built in the mid–nineteenth century. No one lived in the house in the 1930s, although the front part of the house (the newer section) was used for storage. They used the grounds to raise chickens and operate a truck garden. A small granary stood behind the house, probably built in the early 1900s (Burdick 1992: np). A local farmer recalled that as a boy he aided with the removal of a house foundation after it was destroyed to clear and return the land back to agriculture. Archaeologists found the remains of a portion of this foundation (see Chapter 3 and the description of Block 7, Lot 1).
The Burdick family owned property in New Philadelphia as early as 1846, and in 1941 the family decided to stay in the town and build a new home (no. 5 in Figure 2.5) (Burdick 1992: np). The old Burdick house stood on limestone foundations. “In the winter the winds sifted between the rocks, chilled the floors enough to make your teeth chatter. The walls were not boxed in. My mother used to say that the only thing between us and the outside was a little bit of weatherboard” (Burdick 1992: np). A large stone lined well (no. 8 in Figure 2.6) is in the front of the new house and served the family into the 1990s. A shed (no. 6 in Figure 2.5) stands behind the house, and it may date to the mid–nineteenth century. The Burdicks walled off a section and used it for a smokehouse. “It had an old rusty tank heater in it and ‘gooey stuff’ dripped from the beams as a result of smoking meat. When my cousins and I played cops–and–robbers this was the jail since the door couldn’t be opened from the inside” (Burdick 1992: np). The wood shed (no. 7) also served as a good place for dogs to have pups and cats to have kittens. They removed the wood shed in the early 1930s (Burdick 1992:np). Larry Burdick wrote, “The property passed from my father who died in 1974 to me (Virgil). I sold it to my brother’s youngest son, a Vietnam veteran, who needed a home for his family. He was killed in a tragic accident in December of 1980. The property went to his wife who later remarried. I believe the house is still in her ownership” (Burdick 1992: np). In 2005, the property was sold to the New Philadelphia Association with their goal of buying all of the land that once comprised the historic town and preserving it. The New Philadelphia Land Trust also owns a large portion of the town.
The house (no. 17 in Figure 2.5) was probably built about 1900. “No reason to believe it was part of the original town. A well existed in the field west of the house and it is likely part of the original part of the town” (Burdick 1992: np). The blacksmith shop stood in their hog lot along the north edge of their property and the northeast corner of the reduced town. It measured about 20 x 15ft. (no. 10 in Figure 2.5) (Burdick 1992: np). It consisted of pole construction with a centered gable roof. The structure faced north and had a dirt floor. Burdick remembered walking past the structure when going to the New Philadelphia grade school from 1934 to 1942. By that time the structure had deteriorated significantly (Burdick 1992: np).
The Hotel Lot / Squire and Louisa McWorter’s House
The hotel (no. 11 in Figure 2.5), a large two story house with multi–pane windows, stood south of “the Park” near the intersection of Broad Way and Main Streets. The house had a full basement, and a large single story structure attached to the rear of the house served as the kitchen. Porches stood on the front and rear of the house. A barn and a well also existed on the property (Burdick 1992: np). The house burned to the ground on December 7, 1937. “The man who rented the house at the time set a metal can of cylinder oil on the stove to heat to pour into his old car to get it started. The oil overheated and exploded and set the building ablaze. Not enough water was available to stop the fire” (Burdick 1992:np). Excavations in 2005 located the ash layer in several places of Block 13, Lots 3 and 4 about 2.5 ft. below the current surface (See Chapter 3 and the description of Block 13).
The barn (no. 13 in Figure 2.5) appeared to be smaller than most barns measuring only about 18 x 24 ft. and 20 ft. to the peak of the roof. It faced the park and consisted of a framed structure with large square timbers secured with wood pins. The barn sat on timbers that lay directly on the ground. The building had vertical siding, as much as 18 inches wide with square cut nails. “It was probably built to store the feed for the traveler’s horses.” The barn was torn down after the house (hotel) burned (Burdick 1992:np).
The well (no. 12 in Figure 2.5) on the hotel property had a wooden platform and a pulley arrangement for drawing water. After the house burned the well was filled with rocks from the surrounding fields (Burdick 1992:np). A privy stood about 30 ft. behind the kitchen (Burdick 1992:np). Larry Burdick wrote that, “my father owned the property in the 1930s. I purchased the land from my father in May 1971” (Burdick 1992:np).
The Brown house (no. 14 in Figure 2.5) had a single story with wood frame construction and a gabled roof on the east and west ends. “It was across the street (lane) from the middle of the east side of the park. It sat only about twenty feet back from the lane. It was about 18 feet wide and 20 feet deep and stood on a lot of about 1 acre” (Burdick 1992: np). Fred Venicombe owned the property in the 1930s and the building served to store grain. “It was later owned by my brother,” wrote Larry Burdick. “The house decayed and fell in. The structure was removed and the land was converted to farmland in the late 1940s or early 1950s” (Burdick 1992: np).
William Butler (no. 15 in Figure 2.5), an African American from Louisville, Kentucky, served as an orderly for a Confederate general during the Civil War. He came to New Philadelphia when he was 19 years old, probably in about 1865 or 1866, after migrating from Marion County, Missouri. One rainy night, while traveling through Pike County he stopped at Solomon McWorter’s home, where they invited him to stay overnight. Apparently McWorter and Butler hit it off, since McWorter offered him a job and an invitation to live with the family. When Solomon died, Butler remained with the family to help Francis with the farm and supervising the children (Matteson 1964: Postscript).
William married “a lovely young full–blooded Caucasian woman” named Catherine Wright (Matteson 1964:Postscript). Catherine originally came from Missouri and settled in the New Philadelphia area and she stayed with a European American family called Wagoner (Matteson 1964: Postscript).
Irene Brown, one of William Butler’s daughters, recalled that Butler owned the entire public square and that the Butlers lived on the east side of it (Block 9, Lots 5 and 6). Irene attended the New Philadelphia school located north of the Baylis Road and northeast of New Philadelphia. On October 14, 1906 when she turned 25 years old, Irene married Ollie D. Brown who was employed as a bus boy at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Illinois (Matteson 1964: Postscript).
The Butler house was a one–story, wood framed house that stood across the street (east) from the southeast corner of the park, and was located on about one acre of land. “It had plastered walls over wood lathe. It had a door in the floor of the kitchen. The foundation was limestone,” remarked Burdick. “A row of cedar trees lined the front. It had its own well (no. 16 in Figure 2.5) … situated on the north side of the house, although only a few feet deep. It was, however, a strong well and it continued to furnish water through the drought of 1934…. It had garden space behind the house (east)” (Burdick 1992: np).
The house was apparently well built, although it stood vacant in the 1930s and began to deteriorate. “The house was respectable looking, not a shack,” explained Burdick. (1992: np). “Old man Butler, the owner, died in the late 1920s or early 30s. My father took him to the hospital in Jacksonville, Ill, where he died. His daughter Irene inherited the property. She sold it to my father in the late 1930s or early 1940s” (Burdick 1992: np). The Butler buildings are visible on the 1939 aerial photograph. One of these structures may be the same building the Kasiah Clark sold Bulter in the 1880s (see Chapter 3 and the description of Block 9).
New Philadelphia Schoolhouse
According to several oral accounts recorded by Matteson (1964: 19), New Philadelphia had separate schools for African Americans and whites in the town before 1874. “A schoolhouse for colored people [stood] near the center of the town of Philadelphia on Block 12. It was vacated some time before 1881” (Matteson 1964: 19). The New Philadelphia school is not shown on the 1872 Pike County Atlas. Although many people believe it was built in 1874 (no. 22 in Figure 2.5). No person interviewed by Matteson could be certain about the exact date of its erection, although it stood on about one acre of land on the southeast corner “of the Art McWorter Farmstead” (Burdick 1992: np). One informant claimed that he heard Arthur McWorter tell the story that it was constructed the year he was born, 1874 (Matteson 1964: 19–20). The new schoolhouse stood north of the present blacktop road, east of New Philadelphia, on land once owned by Oron Campbell and later by Virgil and Ellsworth Burdick in the 1960s (Matteson 1964: 20). In 1884, the school had an enrollment of 36 students with Alice Benis as its teacher (Pike County Illinois Schools 1996: 153).
An obituary in July 1925 in The Pike County Republican (7 October 1925) noted the death of Mrs. Francis Jane McWorter who died with an estate valued at $3,000 and some personal property. The column stated, “At no time in the past 90 or 95 years has there been a time when the children were not attending school from the old McWorter home. Children of Arthur McWorter are now in attendance” (Matteson 1964: 15).
John McWorter, son of Solomon, finished eighth grade in the New Philadelphia school. He went to high school in Springfield, finishing two years of a three–year program in one year, but left for financial reasons. He returned to the farm and taught for a year in New Philadelphia, but he could not survive on the teacher’s salary. He became a porter on the railroad (Simpson 1981: 39).
People remember the many annual fairs at the schoolhouse as it served as a community center. Events included contests, races, exhibitions of home arts, “and all the things that go with a fair” (Matteson 1964: 21). One thing that stands out in Eleanor Kelly Lightle’s memory is the school float that the students decorated under the direction of their teacher, Mrs. Hazel Blake. The float was entered in the “Fall Festival Parade” held in the village of Baylis in the fall of 1942, and won first prize (Pike County Illinois Schools 1996: 153).
Rev. Mason, a Baptist minister, frequently held church services at the schoolhouse (Matteson 1964: Postscript). Larry Burdick remembers attending, “all eight years of grade school in this building. It was closed in 1947 when the county consolidated the area’s rural schools” (Burdick 1992: np) (Figure 2.6). Children who once attended the one–room schoolhouse before the consolidation, afterwards attended a larger central school built in Barry. In 1949, the land of the old school house was sold and the building torn down. There were some school reunions held in the 1950s, with many of the former students, teachers, and families attending (Pike County Illinois Schools 1996:153).
Figure 2.6: A class at the New Philadelphia School House in the 1920s.
Students are from the surrounding community.
(click on image for larger view)
No original structures remain of the former community except a few foundations and a graveyard containing the headstones of the former residents. The town has all but disappeared from the landscape. New Philadelphia is an archaeological site covered by agricultural fields and prairie grass. The few exposed foundations serve as a reminder of a great achievement in African–American history, a sojourn toward self–determinism, freedom and the will to exist. The history of the entire town, both “black,” and “white,” from the 1830s through 1930s, is an important component of the region’s history and our national heritage.
Those writing the early histories of Pike County’s communities quickly forgot about New Philadelphia. For instance, in an 1876 centennial address at the county seat in Pittsfield William Grimshaw provided an overview of the history of Pike County. In his address Grimshaw listed the townships and towns and villages in Pike County, but he did not mention New Philadelphia (Grimshaw 1876: 31). In 1906, William Maissie’s county history has a section titled, “The first White Men in Pike County.” However, there is no mention of Frank McWorter or any of the white residents of New Philadelphia – the first settlement in Hadley Township (Maissie 1906: 52). In a speech delivered by Judge Harry Higbee at the Old Settlers’ Meeting in 1907, he recollected the early settlement and development of Pike County. He mentioned some of the early settlers and visitors, like Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, but he did not mention Frank McWorter or New Philadelphia (Higbee 1907: 7).
The story of New Philadelphia has never completely vanished from the memory of the local community. The New Philadelphia School House operated into the 1940s with both white and black students and the memory of the place by older members of the of the community has not faded. A historic marker stood on the town site from the 1940s. In the 1960s Grace Matteson began to gather stories of the town. She described a bi–racial town and noted that many of the families, “were a mixed race: some of them were part French, some part Indian, some Irish, and many of them part Caucasian. It will be recalled that Free Frank himself was described as ‘a yellow man’” (Matteson 1964: 20–21). She also wrote that the whites and the black families lived in harmony with each other in the community (Matteson 1964: 21).
Less than two decades later Helen McWorter Simpson (1981), great granddaughter of Frank McWorter, wrote about her family members and described life in New Philadelphia. Soon after Juliet Walker (1983) wrote a compelling biography of Frank McWorter, from his early days of enslavement in the Carolinas and in Kentucky, to his founding of the town of New Philadelphia. Walker successfully placed McWorter’s gravesite on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), one of only three gravesites in Illinois placed on the Register. The other two gravesites are those belonging to Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas.
In 1996 Pike County citizens incorporated the New Philadelphia Association (NPA) a non–profit group, for the preservation of the New Philadelphia community. In 2001 they invited the University of Illinois–Springfield (UIS), led by Vibert White, chair of the African American Studies Program, to provide scholarly oversight into the study of the community. In turn, UIS and NPA invited the University of Maryland (UM) and the Illinois State Museum (ISM) to lead an archaeological survey to find and document the town in order to help broaden the scope of research for the town of New Philadelphia. The University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign is also part of the archaeological efforts to study the town.
Prior to the archaeological survey, members and students from UM performed a background history of the place, developing a general context for the development of the New Philadelphia research project. Background research was conducted at: Illinois Historical Society, Illinois State Library, Pike County Court House, Pike County Historical Society, City of Barry Library, Barry Historical Society, Hull Historical Society, Western Illinois University Library, and the Library of Congress. This initiative has begun to develop a social history of the entire town, from 1836 through the 1940s. Deed research (Whitt), census data (King), and tax records (Martin) have been compiled and is listed on our web page (www.heritage.umd.edu). This information provides evidence of the town’s population, which peaked in 1865, and included craftsmen, farmers, and laborers who lived there until the early twentieth century. A collection of oral histories by the NPA furnishes some insight into issues of race relations in the town and the surrounding community during the early twentieth century. The archaeology provides a more in–depth view of the development of the town.
This archaeology program has helped to make the town site part of the national public memory. In June, 2005 the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council unanimously voted to recommend to the National Register of Historic Places that the town site of New Philadelphia be placed on the Register as nationally significant for its archaeological integrity. The nomination received a letter of support from U.S. Senators Durbin and Obama, as well as Governor Blagojevich. As of August 11, 2005, the town site is officially listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In June 2005 the McWorter family held their family reunion in Springfield, Illinois and on 25 Junea bus of McWorter descendants visited he New Philadelphia townsite. About 50 family members, 32 archeologists, and 15 members of the New Philadelphia Association participated in the event. The McWorter family viewed the archeological excavation, visited the family cemetery, and enjoyed a barbeque sponsored by the New Philadelphia Association (Figure 2.7 an 2.8).
Figure 2.7. McWorter family descendants held part of their family reunion at the New Phialdelphia site. Here, a few family members view some of the artifacts from the archaeological excavation (Photograph by Elizabeth Davis).
(click on image for larger view)
Figure 2.8. McWorter descendants at the New Philadelphia townsite (Photograph by Elizabeth Davis).
(click on image for larger view)
© 2003-2005 University of Maryland