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Thursday, Jan. 15, 2004 02:20 pm


Work on recreating historic New Philadelphia, the first American town organized by a black man, has received a major shot in the arm with the award of a grant to fund excavation work and undergraduate training.

New Philadelphia, located near Barry in Pike County, was founded in 1836 by Frank McWorter, who was born into slavery in South Carolina in 1777. After buying his freedom in 1831, McWorter settled in central Illinois, took up farming and eventually acquired 80 acres from the federal government. Other family members, whose freedom was purchased by McWorter, joined him in a community that was named for Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. Once a commercial center, New Philadelphia disappeared in the late 19th-century.

For more than two decades, there have been halting efforts to document the community's history, but only in recent years have university archaeologists become involved [see "History in the making," Illinois Times, April 17, 2003].

Those efforts have proceeded slowly, but thanks to a recent $226,500 grant from the National Science Foundation, undergraduate students will have the opportunity to work with archaeologists from the University of Maryland, the Illinois State Museum, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The three-year grant, awarded to Maryland anthropology professor Dr. Paul Shackel, will fund excavation work and undergraduate training.

The goal is to recruit college students who don't have access to an extensive science curriculum or archaeological research. "This will be an opportunity for minority students who don't have that kind of opportunity to participate," says Dr. Terrance Martin, curator of anthropology at the Illinois State Museum.

Each summer, nine students will spend five weeks in the field and five weeks in the lab at the Illinois State Museum learning excavation techniques and artifact analysis. Shackel, Martin and Dr. Chris Fennell of U. of I. will supervise the fieldwork, and Martin and Marge Schroeder, the project ethnobotanist, will supervise the lab work. "This is a tremendous opportunity for students to be mentored by scientists who are renowned in their areas of expertise," Shackel says.

The 7,000 artifacts collected during the surface walkovers in October and November 2002 and March 2003 must be catalogued before work can begin. According to Phil Bradshaw, president of the New Philadelphia Association, the group is raising funds to cover the cost of cataloging the artifacts. The cataloging should be completed by the end of April.

The artifacts will provide a chronological record of the site based on their period of use and manufacture. The surface distribution of the artifacts, and census and deed data, will help pinpoint individual town lots and provide details about when the sites were settled and who occupied the sites. Census data shows the community was 30 percent African-American and 70 percent people of European heritage. This information will guide the excavations.

Dr. Michael Hargrave of the CERL lab, based at U. of I., will perform remote sensing at the site, helping identify foundations, outbuildings, and privies. Once the fieldwork is complete, the artifacts will be taken to the Illinois State Museum. Students will learn general curating techniques, and will also clean and process the artifacts. On the final day, students will present reports of their findings.

For more information, go to www.heritage.umd.edu and follow the New Philadelphia links. To contact the New Philadelphia Association, call Phil Bradshaw at 217-833-2446, or Carol McCartney, at 217-285-4629.

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