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Frank McWorter

Free Frank McWorter was an American frontiersman who found fortune, became the first African American to register a town, and spent his life liberating his family.  He discovered saltpeter (potassium nitrate) near the farm he managed and began to mine and market this resource.  The price of saltpeter, the primary ingredient in gunpowder, rose from $0.17 per pound in 1810 to $1.00 per pound in 1812 due to the War of 1812. By 1817, he had established his own business and had bought his pregnant wife’s freedom for $800.  

Two years later he purchased his own freedom (for another $800) and renamed himself “Free Frank”.   With his newfound freedom and fortune, he began land speculating and at one point he owned 517 acres in Kentucky.   In the 1820’s he became invested in commercial farming.  He sold his saltpeter operation in 1829 to buy the freedom of his oldest son Frank Jr. who had escaped American bondage and sought freedom in Canada for the estimated price of $2500. This is roughly $85,000 in today’s currency.  By 1836 he had amassed 620 acres, part of which he founded as New Philadelphia. He mapped out 144 lots and sold them to both Freedmen and European settlers alike.  New Philadelphia prospered and by 1865 had a population of 160, 30% of which was African American.  In the early 1850’s rail lines began to dominate transport of goods and displaced carriages and steamboats. By 1885, New Philadelphia was no longer legally recognized as a township, though the land remained occupied by a few residents until the 1940s. Today, none of the original structures remain.

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