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 Five: Black Pathfinders on the Illinois Frontier
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Black Pathfinders on the Illinois Frontier
The first settler in this township [Hadley] after the Indians had been driven westward, was not a white man, but a colored man. He was known as “Free Frank,” and came with his wife and three children to this township, . . . He was from Kentucky, and had spent the previous winter in Greene county, 111. He had purchased his freedom and that of his family.l

After spending more than a year in careful preparation for the move north, Free Frank sold his farm homestead in September 1830 as his final step before leaving Kentucky to settle a new frontier. The family left in the fall of that year: Lucy, now approaching her sixtieth birthday; their three freeborn children, Squire, Commodore, and Lucy Ann; and their slave-born son Young Frank, whose manumission had been secured the previous year. Free Frank was intent on making the westward trek before winter set in. Adequate food provisions to sustain the family during the cold and barren season had been carefully prepared, and for Free Frank, as for most farmers, the autumn months afforded favorable conditions for travel: “The weather was mild, the roads dry and hard and the rivers fordable . . . the crops of the year had been gathered and sold, and . . . the cattle were fat and in good traveling condition.”2 Free Frank's farm wagon with its heavy tarpaulin cover, contemporaneously called a “steamboat wagon” and pulled by an ox-team, provided transportation for the family's journey to their new home in Illinois. These covered wagons were large—numerous pioneers who settled the early Pike County frontier recalled that enormous quantities of freight could be stored in the hold: “beds, baskets, tubs, old-fashioned chairs, including all the household furniture usually used by our log-cabin ancestors.”3

The most important and valuable possessions that a prospective pioneer farmer could take west were his farm tools and equipment. Without a pick-ax, plow, or sickle, several years could pass before a cash crop could be put in that would earn him the cost of these implements. Because of their scarcity on the frontier, the prices for agricultural tools were almost prohibitive. …

In 1830 the uncommon sight of a free black family traveling northwest in a covered wagon pulled by a team of oxen and with cattle trailing behind must have raised more interest and curiosity than the more common sight of their slave brothers on the roads, sometimes chained in gangs, being moved southwestward. As a precaution, Free Frank and Young Frank were not hesitant about taking their rifles. Their determination to use them offered much more protection for the family than their free papers ever could if they should encounter kidnappers, since this free black family represented a potential value of at least $4,000. As an added precaution, Young Frank trailed the family, a tac-tic which afforded greater opportunity for their escape if they should be seized or kidnapped as a group….

  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.