Free Frank: New Philadelphia Illinois  
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New Philadelphia Illinois Historic Preservation Foundation, Founder and Executive Director, Dr. Juliet E.K. Walker  
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Historical Research: Entrepreneurship

Sufficient evidence does exist to reconstruct the sequence of events and the patterns inherent in the process which saw Free Frank become a slave entrepreneur on the Kentucky frontier. However carefully Free Frank provided for the efficient and profitable organization of his productive resources, the discretionary enforcement of these laws exerted a more powerful determining influence on the success or failure of his enterprises than did his business acumen and obvious entrepreneurial abilities. Taking advantage of frontier conditions, first as a slave and then as a freedman, Free Frank shrewdly used the law to promote the profitable expansion of his economic activities and as a means to protect his ownership rights in his land and property.

Entrepreneurial success requires the ability to organize business ventures in a rational manner. From the perspective of production, management, organization, and marketing, Free Frank's relative success as a saltpeter manufacturer, small land speculator, commercial farmer, and town founder and developer places him in the tradition of creative capitalism on America's developing frontiers. Thus while Afro-American history has focused on the agricultural, unskilled, service, and craft occupational participation of blacks, and American business history has emphasized those black business enterprises peripheral to the developing economy, Free Frank's diverse business activities, while limited in scope, provide examples of the parallel between black and mainstream business activity in nineteenth-century America. Free Frank's entrepreneurship provides an unprecedented perspective on the multi-faceted dynamics of race relations on the antebellum frontiers.

As my analysis of Free Frank's life shows, the extent to which this black pioneer participated in the commercial life of the developing communities where he lived was determined, not so much by his status as a slave or a freedman, as by the conditions of freedom allowed by the whites who shared the frontiers with him.

Free Frank's experiences suggest that some blacks were allowed to develop entrepreneurial activities in frontier communities because the sparse population demanded an elastic labor supply and greater occupational diversity. Once the frontier period came to a close, however, racism set limits to Free Frank's profitable pursuits, notwithstanding his ingenuity, resourcefulness, immeasurable determination, and subtle aggressiveness. Free Frank's life, his successes and failures, his limitations and his options, thus illuminate the harsh reality of frontier life for blacks.


  Reprinted With Permission from Dr. Juliet E.K. Walker; ©Copyright Juliet E.K. Walker, Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1983, 1995). Reproduction in Whole or In Part is Prohibited without Written Permission.