CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
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 then used revenue from the sale of the lots to purchase his family’s freedom (Walker 1983). African Americans as well as those of European descent moved to New Philadelphia and created a bi–racial community. New Philadelphia serves as an important example of a farming community on the nation’s Midwestern frontier.
The town’s population peaked at about 160 people after the American Civil War, a size comparable to many Pike County communities today. By the end of the century, however, 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 twentieth century, only a few families remained.
Today, most of the original 42 acres have been returned to agricultural use, are planted in prairie grass, or lay fallow. Only a few scattered house foundations are visible in the 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 tax records (all posted on the web page www.hertage.umd.edu and follow the links to New Philadelphia), as well as 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, also see the above web page).
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 census, deed, and tax information provided the research team with a good idea about the general settlement of the site.
During the summers of 2004 and 2005, 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. In 2005 UIUC also held their summer field school at the New Philadelphia town site. Undergraduate students from around the United States participated in this 10–week project. They worked for five weeks conducting archaeological excavations and for five weeks performing laboratory analyses at ISM. Students worked with professionals to excavate portions of several town lots for which archaeological and geophysical evidence indicated the likely remains of past domestic sites. Students learned to excavate, catalogue artifacts, identify macrofloral remains, and perform faunal analysis.
Prior to excavations Michael Hargrave (U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory [CERL]) conducted a magnetometer and an electrical resistivity survey along with the NSF–REU students in 2004 and 2005. This work, coupled with the archaeological survey data and the historical records, provided additional information that located potential archaeological features. All of these data helped develop an excavation strategy.
The primary goals of this research project are to 1) understand the town’s founding and spatial 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.
New Philadelphia had a varied and wide ethnic diversity and we believe that by focusing on this initiative we can highlight many of these research questions. The New Philadelphia story is about the quest for freedom, life on the frontier, facing racism, and the struggle of a small rural town to survive. As the project develops we will immediately make our conclusions available to the public. Our goal is to be as democratic and transparent as possible and allow professionals and the public to see how we develop and create our conclusions about New Philadelphia. This research will elucidate how individual members and families of this bi–racial community made choices to create their immediate environment, diet, agricultural practices, and consumer choices.
While we do not pretend to be the last word on the history of the town, our efforts, with input from the larger community, will build a better understanding of this town. We hope to make the stories connected with this place part of the American story and the national public memory.
Completion of the project’s ongoing work will allow the collaborative research team to explore other avenues for funding future work centering on issues of race and group boundaries. It is important to understand that ethnic boundaries are fluid and it is necessary to see what forces have transformed these boundaries 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 archaeological 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. However, once those frontier situations become part of the core or semi–peripheral 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 the town. It is important to examine both the material culture record and the social history of the town in order to look and look for variability in the archaeological record as a way to see how the material culture may have changed as racism influenced the development and everyday lives of New Philadelphia’s inhabitants.
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 (McMurry 1988; Purser 1992; Schlereth 1989). 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 archaeological 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. In 2005 the UIUC archaeology field school also participated in excavations and laboratory work. The 2004 and 2005 field seasons received tremendous support from the New Philadelphia Association and various other individuals and organizations. These people and organizations include:
2004 and 2005
Larry and Natalie Armistead
Larry and Mary K. Bennett
Philip and Linda Bradshaw
Tom and Joan Coulson
Likes Land Surveyors, Inc.
Claire F. Martin
Sprague’s Kinderhook Lodge
Mr. and Mrs. Roger Woods
Harry and Helen Wright
Carnes & Sons Trailer World
Fat Boys Restaurant
Oitker, Ford Sales
Charles E. Orser, Jr.
Red Dome Inn
2004 NSF–REU Field School Students
2004 NSF–REU Field School Staff
2005 NSF–REU Field School Students
Jordan Bush (volunteer)
2005 NSF–REU Field School Staff
2005 University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign Field school Students
Maria Elana Frias
2005 University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign Field school Staff
Christopher Valvano copy-edited this report and photographed the archeological assemblages.
© 2003-2005 University of Maryland