Frank McWorter was an American slave who purchased his freedom in 1836, and later founded the town of New Philadelphia in Illinois.
McWorter was born 1777 into slavery in South Carolina to Juda, born in West Africa and abducted into slavery and transported to the new world. His father was more than likely her white master, George McWhoter, a Scots-Irish planter. According to family, Juda had to beg McWhoter to allow their mixed-race son to live.
In 1799, McWorter married Lucy, an enslaved black woman on a neighboring plantation. They had four children, all of whom were born into slavery. By 1817, Frank had earned enough money to buy Lucy from her master for $800 and give her freedom. Two years later in 1819, he bought his own freedom at the same price, earning him the name “Free Frank.”
In 1830, McWorter and his family moved to Pike County, Illinois. They started a farm and, in 1836, McWorter filed to create the village of New Philadelphia on 80 acres. He had purchased the land from the government for 100 dollars.
McWorter established residence in New Philadelphia with his family and sold other lots to new residents. The town eventually drew both black and white residents to the area and the children attended an integrated school.
McWorter was the first black man in the United States to incorporate a municipality. He served as mayor of New Philadelphia, which was soon settled by African-Americans and European-Americans, for years.
In 1869 the first railroad was built through Pike County, bypassing New Philadelphia to the north for Baylis, which had a train station. Businesses moved there for better access. The population of New Philadelphia rapidly declined. McWorter died in 1854, but not before purchasing the freedom of eight more relatives.