Buried beneath farmlands in Western Illinois, lie the remains of the first American town founded by a free African American — decades before the Civil War. The story of New Philadelphia is a little-known episode from our frontier past and a dramatic testament to victory over enslavement. Born into slavery, "Free Frank" McWorter purchased freedom for himself and his family from a Kentucky plantation owner, beginning with his wife Lucy in 1817. In 1830, Frank, Lucy and four of their children headed North to Illinois. After they arrived, he planted roots, started a town, and sold enough property to purchase the rest of his family out of slavery. Eventually, New Philadelphia became a thriving, multi-racial community, which endured until well after the Civil War. The local landowners, descendants of the town's residents, and the McWorter family want to uncover what remains of New Philadelphia to commemorate its place in history. Time Team America was invited to join the research already in progress and to help answer this question:
- Can we find evidence of the schoolhouse where New Philadelphia's African American children learned to read and write in freedom?