New Philadelphia



2004 Archaeology Report Contents

Background History
3 The Archaeology
Oral Histories

New Philadelphia : 2004 Archaeology Report








Paul Shackel




New Philadelphia in Pike County, Illinois is situated between the Illinois and Mississippi rivers.  It is the first known town established and platted by an African American, Frank McWorter.  In 1836, McWorter subdivided 42 acres to form the town.  He used revenue from the sale of the lots to purchase the freedom of family members (Walker 1983).  African Americans as well as those of European descent moved to New Philadelphia to create a bi-racial community. New Philadelphia serves as a rare example of a farming community on the nation’s Midwestern frontier.


The town’s population reached its peak of  about 170 people after the Civil War, a size comparable to many Pike County communities today. However, by the end of the century racial and corporate politics of America’s gilded age resulted in the death knell for the settlement: the new railroad line bypassed the town.  Many of New Philadelphia’s residents moved away and, by the early 20th century, only a few families remained.


Today, most of the original 42 acres have been returned to agricultural use or are planted in prairie grass.  Only a few scattered house foundations are visible in the plowed fields. In the summer of 2002, Vibert White, then from the University of Illinois-Springfield (now with University of Central Florida [UCF]), initiated a long-term research project to study and celebrate the history of New Philadelphia with the support of the New Philadelphia Association (NPA). The University of Maryland (UM) gathered census data, deeds, and other primary and secondary sources. A collaborative project between the UM, Illinois State Museum (ISM), University of Illinois-Springfield (UI-S), and the New Philadelphia Association helped to initiate an archaeological pedestrian survey in 2002 and 2003 (Gwaltney 2004). 


Our initial archaeological survey work along with GIS overlays identified several areas with discrete archeological deposits associated with known house lots (see below and Gwaltney 2004).  This information along with the collection of deed and census data provides the research team with a good idea about the general settlement of the site. 


In the summer of 2004, UM served as the host institution, along with the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), ISM, and NPA, for a three-year National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (NSF-REU) program.  Undergraduate students from around the United States participated in this 10-week project.  The students worked for five weeks in the field and for five weeks performing laboratory work at ISM. They worked with professionals to excavate portions of four lots in the town for which evidence indicated the likely remains of past domestic sites.  Students learned to excavate, catalogue artifacts, identify macrofloral remains, and perform faunal analyses.


The first step included a magnetometer and an electrical resistivity survey performed by Michael Hargrave (U.S Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory [CERL]) along with the NSF-REU students.  This work, coupled with the archaeological survey data, provides additional information that located potential archaeological features.  Both data sets helped develop an excavation strategy. 


The primary goals of the project are to 1) understand the town’s founding and development as a bi-racial town; 2) explore and contrast dietary patterns between different households of different ethnic and/or regional backgrounds by examining faunal and botanical remains; 3) to understand the townscape and town lot uses of different households using botanical data and archaeological landscape features; 4) elucidate the different consumer choices residents of different ethnic backgrounds made on a frontier situation and understand how household choices changed with the increased connection to distant markets and changing perceptions of racism.


The project uses typical archaeological field methods to recover archaeological material culture and archaeobiological remains.  The analysis of these data will create a hands-on mentoring process for students in an interdisciplinary setting. Ultimately, these different data sets will be integrated and the students will gain an understanding of the importance of scientific interdisciplinary research as they examine the growth and development of the town.  This research will elucidate how individual members and families of this integrated community made choices to create their immediate environment, diet, agricultural practices, and consumer choices.


Completion of the project’s ongoing work will allow the collaborative research team to explore other avenues of funding for future work that will center on the issue of race and group boundaries.  It is important to understand that ethnic boundaries are fluid and it is necessary to see how these boundaries have been transformed over time (McGuire 1982:161; Rodman 1992).  In a place like New Philadelphia that developed as a bi-racial town, defining these boundaries becomes increasing difficult since it appears to be a small community in which neighbors supported and traded with each other.  However, it is probable that some form of local hierarchy may have existed that was based in part on racial categories.  Placing future archaeology work within the context of the changing meaning of race is essential to knowing how groups in this community became racially identified and how racial conflicts have shaped American society (see Omi and Winant 1994). 


Many studies in African-American archaeology and material culture have dealt with the pre-emancipation era (Epperson 1999; Ferguson 1992; Kelso 1986; Upton 1988; Vlach 1993). An archaeological study of New Philadelphia allows archaeologists the opportunity to examine the development of a bi-racial community on the western frontier during the pre- and post- emancipation eras.  New Philadelphia provides a unique case study since it survived as a bi-racial community for about a century. Anthropologist Mary Douglas (Douglas and Isherwood 1979) notes that on a periphery, such as a frontier situation, differences and deviations from the norm are acceptable.  But once those frontier situations become part of the core or semi-periphery area, material culture and behavior often becomes standardized.  The same may be true for the frontier situation of New Philadelphia.  The town developed as a bi-racial town from the 1840s onward, a situation that was not the norm in the core area of the eastern states. But when the Illinois frontier closed, racism set its limits to the town’s growth.  Racism probably influenced the social and economic interactions between residents within the community as well as with residents outside of the town.  It is important to examine the material culture record and the social history of the town and look for variability in the archaeological record and see how the material culture may have changed as racism influenced the development and everyday lives of the inhabitants of New Philadelphia.


Understanding the role of consumerism and consumer behavior in an inter-racial community will be a key issue for this study.  Several scholars have examined how ideals of consumerism filtered into rural and frontier communities (Purser 1992; Schlereth 1989; McMurry 1988).  Consumption practices varied across regional boundaries as well as through ethnic, class, and gendered groups.  Mullins (1999) shows how an urban African-American community chose to participate in consumer society as a way to avoid local racism and confront class inequalities. An analysis of rural consumption in New Philadelphia will reveal the complexities of how mass-produced and mass advertised products infiltrated the rural community and it will show how consumption patterns changed as the concept of racism changed. 


While the current archaeology work at New Philadelphia has further defined the boundaries of the town and occupation areas within the town, an in-depth study of artifacts using GIS and the recovery of additional archaeological materials will contribute to the town’s social history.  The research team’s goal is to develop a material and social context for the site in order to raise the visibility of the site and make it part of our national public memory.


The New Philadelphia archaeology program is sponsored by the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.  The 2004 field season received tremendous support from the New Philadelphia Association and various other individuals and organizations.  These people and organizations include:


Larry and Natalie Armistead

Darlene Arnette

Larry and Mary K. Bennett

Philip and Linda Bradshaw

Carnes & Sons Trailer World

Joe Conover

Tom and Joan Coulson

Karen Crider

Carolyn Dean

Terrell Dempsey

Fat Boys Restaurant

Christopher Fennell

Lynn Fisher

Tony Goodwin

Shirley Johnston

Charlotte King

Cheryl LaRoche

Likes Land Surveyors, Inc.

Terrance Martin

Carol McCartney

Oitker, Ford Sales

Charles E. Orser, Jr.

Terry Ransom

Red Dome Inn

Sprague Kinderhook Lodge

Vibert White

Robin Whitt

Mr. and Mrs. Roger Woods

Harry and Helen Wright







Douglas, Mary and Baron Isherwood

1979    The World of Goods: Towards and Anthropology of Consumerism.  W.W. Norton, New York, NY.


Ferguson, Leland

 1992   Uncommon Ground: Archaeology and Early African America, 1600-1800.  Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, DC.


Gwaltney, Tom

2004    New Philadelphia Project Fieled Survey: Phase I Archaeology at the Historic Town of New Philadelphia, Illinois. ArGIS Consultants, Bethesda, MD.


Kelso, William

1986    Mulberry Row: Slave Life at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.  Archaeology 39(5):28-35.


McGuire, Randall H.

1982    The Study of Ethnicity in Historical Archaeology. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology: 1(2):159-178.


McMurry, S.

1988    Families and Farmhouses in Nineteenth Century America: Vernacular Architecture and Social Change.  Oxford University Press, New York, NY.


Mullins, Paul R.

1999    Race and Affluence: An Archaeology of African America and Consumer Culture. Klewer Academic/Plenum Publishers, New York, NY.


Omi, M. and H. Winant

1994    Racial Formation in the United States from the 1960s to the 1990s. Routledge, New York, NY.


Purser, Margaret

1992    Consumption as Communication in Nineteenth Century Paradise Valley, Nevada.  In Meanings and Uses of Material Culture, edited by Barbara J. Little and Paul A. Shackel.  Historical Archaeology 26(3):105-116.


Rodman, M.

1992    Empowering Place: Multilocality and Multivocality.  American Anthropologist 94:640-656.


Schlereth, Thomas J. (editor)

1989    Material Culture Studies in America.  The Association for State and Local History, Nashville, TN.

Upton, Dell

1988    White and Black Landscapes in Eighteenth-Century Virginia.  In Material Life in America, 1600-1800, edited by Robert Blair St. George, pp. 357-369.  Northeastern University Press, Boston, MA.


Vlach, John M.

1993    Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery.  The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC.


Walker, Juliet E. K.

1983 (reprinted in 1995)   Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier. University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY.




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