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 Eight: The Achievement of a Dream
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The Achievement of a Dream
As he [Free Frank] could save up money sufficient, he would return to Kentucky and buy one or more of his children. This he continued until he had bought all of his living children, and two of his grandchildren, the whole, including himself and wife, costing over ten thousand dollars ... at the time of his death, which occurred in 1854, there remained four of his grandchildren in slavery, for the purchase of whom he made provision in his will, which was carried out to the letter, by his son Solomon.'

Free Frank's activities to earn money for his family's freedom, while at the same time working to promote New Philadelphia's growth, were carried out in a period of increasing legal proscription of blacks. Illinois's new 1848 constitution included a proviso that would allow the statutory exclusion of free blacks; it would also be illegal for slaveowners to bring their slaves into the state for the purpose of freeing them.2 Finally passed in 1853, the law provided that a fine of $100 to $500 would be imposed on any person who brought free blacks into the state, and that if a free black came on his own, he would be arrested and deported.3 Both provisions of the 1853 law would affect Free Frank: his purpose in establishing New Philadelphia had been to provide a place of settlement not only for his family as he purchased them from slavery, but also for other blacks who might want to settle in Illinois.

Although Illinois was nominally a free state, legislation limited the freedom of blacks and curtailed their economic capabilities. Without political rights, their legal status differed little from that of their brothers in chains who lived in the slave South. Illinois from the beginning had attempted to prevent the settlement of free blacks, and it was not until 1850 that the federal census showed no listings of blacks as slaves in the state. The 1853 act, then, would be received with a great deal of apprehension by Illinois's black population, including Free Frank, who was now seventy-six years old. Certainly for the former slave, the black anti-immigration law only confirmed that there would never be a time or place where people of African descent would be accorded as full a measure of freedom as that allowed white Americans.

Long before, Free Frank had expressed disillusionment with the conditions of freedom allowed free blacks in Illinois. Solomon's 1835 emancipation deed had referred to the United States rather than the state of Illinois as the guarantor of his sons freedom….

In his discussion of black familial relationships during slavery, Gutman indicates that “fictive, or quasi, kin played yet other roles in developing slave communities, binding unrelated adults to one anotherand thereby infusing enlarged slave communities with conceptions of obligations that flowed initially from kin obligations rooted in blood and marriage. The obligations to a brother or a niece were transformed into the obligations toward a fellow slave or a fellow slave's child, and behavior first determined by familial and kin obligation became enlarged social obligation. ”47

By 1854 nine family members had been purchased from slavery, but Galen Gibson expresses concern at this time as to whether Solomon will return to Pulaski County, and Sally's daughter wonders if she will ever see her family again. Their concern may reflect the anxiety caused by passage of the Illinois anti-immigration law, which had gone into effect the previous year, and the uncertainty of how it would affect the members of the family yet remaining as slaves in Pulaski County.

Unfortunately, Free Frank would never see Charlotte or his great-grand-daughter or Sally's other five children free. On September 7, 1854, the black pioneer died at the age of seventy-seven. He had not lived to see the achievement of his dream that his entire family be freed from slavery. Even as he lay dying, his final concern was that there be little delay in the probate of his estate so that the money would be available to purchase the family members remaining in slavery.

As a result of Solomon’s efforts in carrying out the will, a total of seven grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Free Frank were purchased from slavery within three years of his death. Table 14 lists the fifteen family members, in addition to Free Frank himself, who were purchased as a result of his lifetime of work….

  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.