|Solomon McWorter, son of Free Frank
(Civil War Era Photo)
Free Frank turned his 160 acres of Illinois farmland into a cash operation by transporting his produce to the Mississippi River for sale. With the purchase of additional acreage, he established the first known town platted by a Negro, naming it New Philadelphia. Although the town prospered for decades, New Philadelphia later declined. Over time he sold lots to both whites and Negroes. Before the Civil War, New Philadelphia had become one of the stations along the Underground Railroad for shepherding escaped slaves to Canada.
McWorter died before the Civil War, having never experienced the benefits of citizenship that came with the Fourteenth Amendment. Though living in the free state of Illinois, the family was never entirely safe from slave catchers (the reverse underground railroad capturing freed slaves and selling them back into slavery) who moved along the Mississippi River before the Civil War. McWorter could not protect himself from white claim-jumpers because the black laws prohibited the testimony of a Negro in a court case involving a white man. Only with the aid of powerful white friends could "Free Frank" retain his property.
The McWorters remained in the community of New Philadelphia for generations as farmers and artisans.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D.