Free Frank: New Philadelphia Illinois  
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History of Free Frank: Chapter Seven: The Development of New Philadelphia
Copyrighted Material
The Development of New Philadelphia
Free Frank . . . laid out the town of New Philadelphia which once had great promise of making a good town.'

By 1840 the financial crisis had depressed property values throughout Illinois, but the effects on town development were catastrophic. At the height of the depression, especially from 1840 to 1843, as Pooley shows, “the little towns suffered. Land and town lots became almost worthless; improved lands could be bought for a dollar and a quarter an acre.” Perhaps the most tragic consequence was that “much property was forfeited because of the inability of the owners to pay taxes.” Only two of the six Pike County towns founded by single proprietors during the speculative period of town platting would survive; New Philadelphia was one of these. Free Frank was never solely dependent on the sale of town lots for his livelihood, and he did not have to vacate New Philadelphia's plat. Despite depressed farm prices, he managed to pay his property taxes, even in 1840 and 1841, when “farm produce was well-nigh worthless.”2

Free Frank's tax receipts for 1840 and 1841 provide information on the assessed valuation of both his real and his personal property during those two years. In 1840 he paid $18.60 in taxes for property valued at $2,694; his real property, 560 acres, was valued at $2,320, and his personal property at $374. In 1841 his property taxes totalled $24.92 for property valued at $2,817; his real property, 560 acres, was valued at $2,400, and his personal property at $417. Certainly the appreciation of the assessed value of his property was more real than apparent, perhaps revealing the monumental effort by Free Frank and his sons to increase farm production during this period to offset low commodity prices. In 1843, even before the depression's end, Free Frank was able to purchase his daughter Sally, age thirty-two, from slavery for $500.3

Significantly, a substantial part of Sally's purchase price came from the sale of New Philadelphia lots and property adjacent to the town site. Even during the depths of the depression Free Frank continued his efforts to promote New Philadelphia's development, emphasizing the site's potential for future growth. In 1840 and 1842 he succeeded in selling four town lots. The most spectacular sale, however, was made in 1841, when a ten-acre section of the eighty-acre tract was sold for $200,4 a substantial amount at that time for any property, especially town lots.

The federal census of 1840, taken four years after New Philadelphia was platted, provides little specific information on frontier towns. It does, however, show a population of 11,720 people in Pike County in 1840, of whom 3,454 worked in agriculture, 68 in commerce, 385 in manufactures and trades, and 61 in the learned professions and engineering.9 The page containing information on Free Frank, which presumably would include information on people who lived in New Philadelphia, lists 30 heads of household with a total of 162 people: 64 occupations are listed under agriculture and one person is listed under manufactures and trades. This evidence, then, does not at all suggest the existence of a town. Seven people are listed in the Free Frank household, four under occupational classification of agriculture and one under manufactures and trades. The Free Frank Papers show that Solomon was involved in a cabinet-making business, so quite possibly he is the one listed under manufactures and trades. Solomon did not live in New Philadelphia, however, but on his father's farm. Thus the federal manuscript census of 1840 provides very little precise information on New Philadelphia's development

The county deed records on town-lot sales, however, are invaluable sources on the growth of New Philadelphia. With the depression coming to an end after 1843, migration to Illinois, including Pike County, steadily increased and was reflected in new sales of New Philadelphia town lots beginning in the mid-1840s (see Tables 8 and 9)….

  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.