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Public Statements

Senator Burris Champions Legislation Recognizing First Town Founded by Freed African-American

Press Release

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Today, Senator Roland W. Burris will testify before the Subcommittee on National Parks (Committee on Energy and Natural Resources) to advocate his legislation directing the Secretary of the Interior to perform a Special Resource Study to evaluate the national significance, and to determine the suitability of New Philadelphia, Illinois for designation as a National Park. New Philadelphia was the first town founded, planned and legally recorded by a freed African-American, Frank McWorter.

Senator Burris is the lead sponsor of S. 1629, the New Philadelphia Special Resource Study Bill. National significance for the site has been established by virtue of a National Historic Landmark designation in 2009, with the ultimate goal of the creation of a National Park Service unit at the site of the New Philadelphia settlement. The historic town is an archaeological site with no physical remains visible above ground.

Sitting west of Springfield, Illinois, New Philadelphia is hailed for its high potential to yield information of major scientific importance to our understanding of everyday life in a racially integrated community, where formerly enslaved individuals, free born African-Americans, and Americans of European descent lived together.

"In pre-Civil War America -- a time when this country still legally permitted slavery -- New Philadelphia, Illinois was a unique place where people of all races lived and worked side by side," said Senator Burris. "The legacy of this town is a testament to the richness of our shared history, and it offers an extraordinary opportunity to learn about those who came before us."

History of New Philadelphia

The story of Frank McWorter and New Philadelphia is one of daring and hard work, luck, and shrewd family leadership. Born a slave in South Carolina in 1777, Frank McWorter moved to Kentucky with his owner in 1795. He married Lucy, a slave from a nearby farm, in 1799. Later allowed to hire out his own time, McWorter engaged in a number of enterprises, notably a saltpeter works, that enabled him to buy his wife's freedom in 1817 and his own in 1819.

Frank and Lucy McWorter left Kentucky for Illinois in 1830, the same year that the Thomas Lincoln family, with son Abraham Lincoln, came to Illinois from Indiana. McWorter bought a farm in Pike County's Hadley Township and platted the town of New Philadelphia in 1836. Frank McWorter died at New Philadelphia in 1854. A son, Solomon, assumed family leadership. Bypassed by the railroad in 1869, the townspeople slowly dispersed from the scene from the late 1880s. Today, the town site is an open field. New Philadelphia Map with Deed Information shows the town lots and streets of Philadelphia.

New Philadelphia is the first known town planned and legally recorded by a freedman during a crucial period in the development of racial relations in our country's history. As the founder of New Philadelphia, Frank McWorter used proceeds of lot sales to purchase freedom for himself and fifteen family members.


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