New Philadelphia, Illinois

The story of Frank McWorter and the town of New Philadelphia, Illinois, is one of daring and hard work, luck and shrewd family leadership—all aimed at freedom.

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. He negotiated with his owner so as to hire out his own time and keep some of the money.  As part of this, 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 and four of their children left Kentucky for Illinois in 1830, the year the Thomas Lincoln family, with son Abraham, came to Illinois from Indiana. McWorter bought a farm in Pike County’s Hadley Township and platted the town of New Philadelphia in 1836.

Excellent information on maps, surveys, and land records of New Philadelphia is available at Historical Landscapes of New Philadelphia, a site built by archaeologists who worked on the site for almost a decade.

McWorter promoted New Philadelphia strenuously, and by selling town lots and farming with his family managing to buy the freedom of at least sixteen family members over a period of forty years. The town itself became a racially integrated community long before the Civil War, the 1850 and subsequent U.S. Census data showing black and white families living there. (See New Philadelphia Census Data.)

Frank McWorter died at New Philadelphia in 1854. One of his sons, Solomon, assumed family leadership. Bypassed by the railroad in 1869 and depopulated as Americans everywhere moved to big cities for work, the townspeople slowly dispersed from the scene from the late 1880s. Today, the town site is an open field marked by informational signs and antique cabins.

New Philadelphia Map with Deed Information shows the town lots and streets of Philadelphia.

The New Philadelphia Association, a not-for-profit organization formed by area residents, seeks to appropriately preserve a substantial portion of the town site in honor of a remarkable man and family of the antebellum Western Illinois frontier. For information about becoming a member, click on Join or donate! or write to Carol McCartney, Secretary, NPA, Route 1, Pittsfield, IL 62363.