Race Relations in Rural Areas: Examining the Experiences of People of Color on a 19th Century Frontier

In 1836, New Philadelphia, Illinois became the first town legally founded and planned in advance by African-Americans in the United States. Its founding family, the McWorters, worked to free themselves from slavery and create a safer life in a “free” state decades before the Civil War. One family member, Louisa Clark McWorter, achieved remarkable success in agriculture and landownership, allowing full participation in the local market economy and for the support of her family. Excavations of her home site over a several year period yielded an assemblage similar to those of European-American families within New Philadelphia, a pattern uncommon to many urban areas during the same time period. This result suggests the primary social and economic factors influencing material purchases may have varied between urban and rural areas in the 19th century. It is therefore theorized that people of color in some rural areas experienced the constraints and harsh realities of institutional and personal racism in a very different manner than their urban peers.


Dr. Kathryn Fay is an historical archaeologist specializing in 19th century America, with interests in the African Diaspora, material culture studies, public archaeology and history, museum studies, and historic preservation. She earned her doctoral degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and worked in museums and at universities in Illinois, Wyoming, and Colorado. Dr. Fay performed post-doctoral work for the US Army Corps of Engineers, assisting with policy and planning development in order to keep the Army compliant with cultural and environmental preservation laws when building new bases overseas. She currently serves as the Assistant Manager of Exhibitions, Art Collections, and Registration at the Denver Botanic Gardens and teaches anthropology courses online for the University of Toledo.