The McWorter family’s path to freedom

Jessica Gray, Museum Associate-Curator

As part of our celebration of Black History Month, Bureau County Historical Society Curator Jessica Gray will give a captivating presentation about Illinois’ early history and one particularly amazing family’s role in forging new paths for Black citizens. The event is 1:00pm, February 25th, 2023 at the Princeton Public Library. Admission is free and open to the public.

The story follows the Free Frank McWorter family from slavery all the way to the beginnings of the Golden Age of Flight. In 1836, McWorter founded the small town of New Philadelphia, IL., the only town founded and platted by a former slave. Located in Pike County, the town was dangerously located less than 15 miles from the Mississippi River and just across from the slave state of Missouri.

After first purchasing the freedom of his pregnant wife, Lucy, and then himself, McWorter would use the sale of town lots, livestock and produce to purchase the freedom of his grown children, their spouses, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. In total, 16 members and four generations of his family would be freed through McWorter’s tireless efforts. 

McWorter’s grave is one of two in the state on the National Historic Register – the other being President Abraham Lincoln’s – and although the town today has returned to agricultural land, it has been designated a National Historic Landmark and a site on the Underground Railroad. Come listen to this remarkable story of perseverance and love one man had for his family, and learn of the trials and triumphs of the McWorter family as they fought to succeed following the Civil War and the Reconstruction Era.

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