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FAQ's about the New Philadelphia Project

 


 

How did the archaeology project get started?

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. 

Our initial archaeological survey work along with GIS overlays identified several areas with discrete archeological deposits associated with known house lots.  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 the start of 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 this summer.  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 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.

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Why place the town of New Philadelphia on the National Register of Historic Places.  Why is the town significant?

Frank McWorter’s accomplishments are important in American history and his gravesite has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Dr. Juliet Walker successfully wrote the nomination and it is one of only three gravesites in Illinois listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (The other two are Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln.)

Placing the town of New Philadelphia on the National Register of Historic Places will help raise the visibility of this bi-racial town.  It is the first town founded and platted by an African American and it existed as a town from 1836 until about 1885 (Walker 1983).  Even though parts of the town were vacated, people still lived in the community until it was virtually abandoned by 1940.  As the NSF-REU proposal states, archaeology at New Philadelphia is important because “most studies in African-Americans archaeology and material culture have dealt with the pre-emancipation era…. An archaeological study of New Philadelphia will allow students in the REU program the opportunity to examine the development of a pre-emancipation era community that continued to exist into the twentieth century.  New Philadelphia provides a unique case study since it survived as an integrated community for about a century.” 

In the summer of 2004, archeologists and the NSF-REU students detected and investigated several undisturbed architectural features below the plow zone, at least one dating to before the Civil War era.  The town site is eligible for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places under review considerations such as the Register’s criterion D.

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What do we hope to find with the archaeology?

Archaeology provides a unique perspective on history.  Our archaeology project is exploring the growth and development of the entire town and we will show how people co-existed in a biracial rural community in the antebellum and post-bellum eras.  As stated in our NSF proposal: “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.”

 We are looking for similarities and differences between the various households and we will make some conclusions about the health and diet of different households and their ability to access consumer goods. We will trace the development of the settlement and provide a history of its eventual demise.  Archaeology is a way to provide a story of a people who have not been traditionally recorded in history.  Our goal is to tell the story of New Philadelphia from the bottom-up and provide an inclusive story of the town.

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What are the goals of the NSF-REU program?

Part of this NSF-REU program is to provide an experience to students who may not have otherwise had an opportunity to learn scientific techniques in archaeology.  A primary consideration was to encourage students who are of ethnic or cultural heritage underrepresented in these types of research projects to apply and participate in the fieldschool.  Another consideration was to provide hands-on research experience to students enrolled in small liberal arts colleges who would not normally have access to these kinds of scientific research methods programs.  The field school provided a comprehensive and enriching experience for these undergraduates as they worked together as a cohesive group for 10 weeks.  During the summer we show the recent three part PBS documentary on “Race,” and we conducted discussions on the history of race and the failure of modern American society to recognize and abolish facets of racialization in our society.  We also hosted four guest lectures for the students that were open to the local community.  They focused on various topics of racism including; 1) racism and the Irish, 2) slavery in northern Missouri, 3) the Underground Railroad in Illinois, and 4) interpretation and curation of artifacts from African American sites. This REU program recognizes that racism is an important topic for the study of New Philadelphia, the surrounding region, and our nation’s history. 

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Can you estimate the town's population?

The 1855 census shows that 58 people lived in New Philadelphia.  This is the only census that connects people specifically to this place.  The town’s population increased throughout the  Civil War (Walker 1983:164). Deciphering the remaining census data from subsequent years becomes more difficult since only the township (Hadley) is attributed to each resident.  In this case researchers must take care on how to delineate who lived in New Philadelphia in 1860 and afterwards.  Census takers usually moved from house to adjacent house.  With this assumption, and by taking into consideration the known deed records, and by studying the town atlases which mark land ownership, it becomes clearer as to who actually lived in New Philadelphia.  For instance, if people listed on the census fall between two families, one that owns land on the west of town and one that owns land on the east town, there is a very strong possibility that these listed families lived in New Philadelphia.  While these numbers may be subject to a slight error, they are very close to reality.  The census and deed data are displayed at www.heritage.umd.edu  (follow the links to the New Philadelphia project reports.)  The census data indicates that the town population grew to approximately 170 people by the time of the 1865 census.  The population declined significantly in the following decades.

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What happened to New Philadelphia?

New Philadelphia began its demise after the railroad bypassed the town.  Into the twentieth century a cluster of households remained within the former town boundaries.  While the town had lost its commerce, both European Americans and African Americans, like the Vennicombs, Butlers, Burdicks, and Browns, lived within the town’s boundaries. 

In fact, one resident, Mr. Burdick, a descendant of one of the earliest inhabitants, still called New Philadelphia his home until the 1970s.  Today, only a few foundations in a field of prairie grass remain in the former town.

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Can the archaeology say anything about past racial relations?

The antebellum and postbellum eras in the United States were very difficult for African Americans.  By the 1890s, Jim Crow laws limited African Americans’ ability to attain equal access to many of the rights that white Americans could attain.  To think that life in New Philadelphia was harmonious would be difficult to state based on what we know of the growing disenfranchisement of African Americans after Reconstruction.  Oral histories from three of the community’s descendants recall a cross burning incident by the KKK in the mid 1920s.  According to the oral histories, this incident contributed to chasing away blacks who were working on the construction of Route 36, about a half mile south of the former town.

While the archaeology will probably not be able to show specific evidence of particular episodes of racial harmony or disharmony, it can provide evidence of the lifeways of groups of people who lived in a bi-racial community. 

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2003-2006
University of Maryland