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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History of Free Frank: Chapter One: A Slave Who Would Be Free
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A Slave Who Would Be Free
When his mother became sick she was sent to the woods after the cows late at night in order that the child might die, the child was born in the wood that night and his mother brought him home alive next morning.

Free Frank was born a slave in 1777 near the Pacolet River in South Carolina's Union County.2 In an age marked by revolution and war, his birth place differed little from other desolate outpost settlements on the upcountry frontier, where few pioneers failed to escape the conflict that quickly devastated the newly developing Piedmont region in the late 1770s.3 The American Revolutionary War had moved into its second year at the time the slave was born. Union County, located in the old Ninety-Six District, South Carolina's last frontier, was isolated from the densely populated Tidewater low country, a fact that seemed only to heighten the county's vulnerability to the chaos and violence of that era.

As the new Americans forced their claim for freedom, Free Frank's mother, the West African-born Juda, fought to assure the survival of her son. She was determined to counter the hostility of a slaveholder anxious that the new slave not survive his birth. Her Scotch-Irish owner, George McWhorter, from all available evidence, was Free Frank's father.4 The family's oral tradition recognizes his paternity but remains deliberately vague, an obvious attempt to obscure any familial relationship. Since written sources that could offer irrefutable proof of the slaveholder's paternity do not exist, the Free Frank family only openly acknowledged that George McWhorter was Free Frank's Kentucky owner, information which they knew could not be refuted from the available evidence.5 Thus, in the family's painful attempt to disassociate his relationship from the slaveholder, Free Frank's grandson Arthur McWorter noted only that Free Frank “was so closely related to his master['s] children he was sold or sent to Pulaski County Kentucky. ”6

In the family's oral tradition, George McWhorter's paternity is not important. Sensitive scholars of the Afro-American historical experience have observed that, with the bitter legacy from their recent past in slavery, few black families retain particularly fond memories of slaveowning whites who held their ancestors in bondage.7 As Free Frank's grandson John McWorter emphasized in 1919, recalling the family's tragic history in slavery, “When I think of what my own family has suffered, the suffering endured by millions of other former slaves. . . . How can this fair land of ours ever fully atone for the crime of human slavery?”8 From this perspective, it is highly significant, considering the many events in Free Frank's early life, irretrievably lost in the family record, that the circumstances of his birth remain a persistent historical memory, a singular event which continues to preface the family's historical tradition.

  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.