New Philadelphia Plate Fragment

Image of plate fragment recovered from excavations at New Philadelphia, an African-American settlement in western Illinois.
Piecing together the past

Rarely are completely intact artifacts found during archaeological explorations. It is up to archaeologists and anthropologists to use their knowledge and skill to find the missing pieces in order to tell the rest of the story. This plate fragment was recovered from excavations at New Philadelphia, an African American settlement in western Illinois founded by Free Frank McWhorter, a former slave. The fragment was found at the site of a home occupied by Alexander Clark, an African American blacksmith.

Here, the “Florentine” pattern in the fragment is matched to an intact plate manufacturered by the Thomas, John, and Joseph Mayer pottery that operated in Staffordshire, England, from 1843-1855. The company produced large amounts of pottery for the American market, and fragments of its wares are commonly found in Illinois archaeological sites, such as New Philadelphia, that date back to the mid-1800s.

Free Frank McWhorter was a former slave who became the first African-American in the United States to establish a town. He purchased his wife’s freedom in 1817 and then his own freedom in 1819. He later purchased freedom for family members. He lived from 1777-1854. He established New Philadelphia in Pike County in 1836.

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