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History of Free Frank: Chapter Two: The Formative Years
Copyrighted Material
The Formative Years
A man must be hard as well as ingenious to survive and to keep his own in an iron age.1

By the time of Free Frank's birth, Union County, South Carolina, already had a history of conflict and protest. Until 1761 it was the home of the Cherokee nation and the scene of several decisive battles in the Anglo-Cherokee wars which forced the Indians to relinquish their land. The threat from the Cherokees had been Jargefy removed when the family of George McWhorter, who became Free Frank's owners, settled the undeveloped up-country of Union County in 1763. George was one of four sons of John and Eleanor McWhorter. John, who was Scotch-Irish, had immigrated early from Ireland to the American colonies, where he married. His name is found in county deed records and on the tax list for land ownership in what is now Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Sometime around 1743 the family moved to Albemarle County, Virginia, apparently following the back country movement of other Scotch-Irish who settled the western Piedmont region of Virginia and the Carolinas. John must have died around 1758, since that is when the inventory of his estate was settled. Some five years later his widow Eleanor and her four sons, including George, moved to South Carolina. In Union County the family settled what was virtually a wilderness outpost on the Pacolet River near the present town of Jonesville.2

The McWhorters were representative of the Scotch-Irish presence in the settlement of the nation's early frontiers. The contribution of this group to the development of wilderness areas had a decided impact on the westward movement, and the determination of the Scotch-Irish to succeed in the new land added to the distinctive character of the Americans as a new people. James Leyburn points to the importance of this group in the history of the American frontier, but emphasizes that their determination to succeed did much to intensify the violence that was a part of life on the early western frontiers. In his study, which includes an important discussion of the eighteenth-century Piedmont frontier, Leyburn shows that the Scotch-Irish were usually “first on the fringe of settlement, of making small farms in the forest . . . [which] called for self-reliance, [and] ingenuity.” He also contends that their heritage from the historic settlement of Ulster “left a streak of cruelty” which found expression on the early American frontier.

During his first year of settlement in Pulaski County, Free Frank met Lucy, who became his wife in 1799-47 Lucy was born a slave in 1771.4s Her Pulaski County owner, William Denham, lived in a settlement on Fishing Creek, although his holdings were located at some distance from George McWhorter's. Denham's daughter had married George McWhorter's brother John in Lincoln County in December 1795, and they too settled in Pulaski County.49 (Pulaski County, created from part of Lincoln County, was established in 1798.) The Denham-McWhorter family ties undoubtedly provided the opportunity for the two slaves to meet and then marry. Although Lucy and Free Frank did take each other as husband and wife, Coleman notes that as far as whites were concerned, “Legally there were no binding marriages among slaves. They were not citizens but mere property.”50

  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.