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Mr. BURRIS. Mr. President, in 1777, when our Republic was just a year old and the Revolutionary War was raging, a man named Frank McWorter was born in South Carolina.
In 1795, when the war was over and George Washington was President, he moved to Kentucky. He married a woman named Lucy.
And in 1830, he and his family moved to Illinois--the very same year that a man named Thomas Lincoln, along with his son Abraham, moved to there from Indiana.
Frank McWorter decided he would settle down, and so he bought a farm in Pike County's Hadley Township, and he began to plan out the town of New Philadelphia. Other settlers moved in. Soon, there were family homes, businesses, and even a school.
And when Frank McWorter died of natural causes in 1854, having lived more than three-quarters of a century, he died in the town he founded and guided to prosperity.
The community of New Philadelphia continued to thrive until it was bypassed by the expanding railroad in 1869. Left behind by the steam engine, and the wave of expansion it pushed across the western frontier, the residents of New Philadelphia began to disperse by the late 1880's, and the town gradually disappeared again into the Illinois prairie.
The story of Frank McWorter and New Philadelphia is an extraordinary one.
But as I told this story a moment ago, here on the Senate floor, I left out one defining detail.
If Frank McWorter had been a farmer, or a banker, or a soldier, his tale would be remarkable because of the era in which he lived--but in many ways, he would have been no different from thousands of others who grew up in the early days of our country.
But Frank McWorter's story is extraordinary because he was not a farmer, or a banker, or a soldier--no, he was a slave.
When he moved to Kentucky in 1795, he did not go voluntarily. He went with his owners. On the day he met Lucy, his future wife, the two of them were slaves on neighboring farms.
Eventually, Frank was allowed to work odd jobs, and hire out his own time and labor. He learned to mine a major component of gunpowder, which proved profitable.
By 1817, he had earned enough money to purchase freedom for his wife. And in 1819, he bought his own freedom--and set out to build a life for himself, as a free American. That is the story of Frank McWorter.
So, when he started the town of New Philadelphia in 1836, he accomplished something truly remarkable and unique. He became the first known free African American in history to legally found and plan a town.
And he used the proceeds from land sales to purchase freedom for 15 of his family members.
I invite my colleagues to imagine what life must have been like in New Philadelphia in the mid-1800s. In pre-Civil War America--in a time when this country still legally permitted slavery--New Philadelphia, IL, was a place where people of all races lived and worked side by side.
Federal census records indicate that the town was populated by teachers, blacksmiths, merchants, cabinetmakers, and shoemakers. There was a seamstress, a doctor, a wheelwright, and a carpenter. New Philadelphia even had its own post office, which also served as a stagecoach stop.
Imagine what we could learn from studying this unique place, which existed during such an important time.
An in-depth study of New Philadelphia could yield important information about what life was like in an integrated community during that period. It could add new dimensions to our understanding of the history we share.
I urge my colleagues to join with me in preserving this historic site, which was designated a National Historic Landmark last year.
But I believe it's time to take the next step to ensure that the extraordinary story of Frank McWorter and New Philadelphia is preserved for generations to come.
I ask my colleagues to support S. 1629, a bill I have introduced to direct the Secretary of the Interior to begin a Special Resource Study, which would determine whether the New Philadelphia site can be managed as a unit of the National Park Service.
Today, not much remains of the structures where the town's residents
lived and worked. For passersby, the site is an open field just southeast of Springfield, IL.
But in 2004, a three-year National Science Foundation grant allowed archaeologists to explore this site for the first time. They found building foundations, wells, pit cellars, and a total of more than 65,000 artifacts. They recognized that these exciting discoveries have the potential to yield even more information.
And if we pass this bill, and allow the Secretary of the Interior to evaluate the national significance and suitability of this site, we could pave the way for its preservation as part of the National Park Service.
We can re-discover the incredible history that has been hidden among the prairie grass for more than a century.
We can reclaim the spirit that drove Frank McWorter--a man born into slavery--to reach for equality and opportunity, to establish himself and his family as free African Americans, in a time when freedom was extremely hard to come by, and to establish a thriving community--a place of inter-racial peace and cooperation--in a dark period for race relations in America.
I believe we must act to preserve this legacy. I believe we owe it to ourselves--and to future generations of Americans--to examine the history of New Philadelphia, and the life of pioneers like Frank McWorter.
Let us pass S. 1629, so we can better understand those who came before us. In the process, I have no doubt we will discover some remarkable things about ourselves.
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