Historical Markers
Indian Hannah (1730-1802) Historical Marker
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Indian Hannah (1730-1802)

Philadelphia and its Countryside/Lehigh Valley


Marker Location:
PA 52 (E side) .2 mile N of junction US 1, Longwood

Behind the Marker

The reference to "the last of the Indians in Chester County" in the marker text above calls to mind James Fenimore Cooper's classic novel and its modern film adaptation, The Last of the Mohicans. When Fenimore Cooper published his novel in the 1820s, he created one of the great character types in American fiction: the vanishing Indian, who paused for one last moment to lament the passing of his people before the tide of white settlement wiped them away.

No doubt, the people of Chester County had such images in mind when they raised this marker in 1925 to their own "last" Indian, an old woman who died in the county poor house more than a century earlier. None of them, however, likely anticipated that the 2000 federal census would count more than 50,000 people living in Pennsylvania with all or some Native American ancestry, or that among that number would be Lenape who considered Hannah a distant relative. The interpretation of history evident on this marker wrote Indians out of Pennsylvania's present, but Indians remained a part of the state's population nonetheless.
Indian Hanna Basket
Indian Hanna Basket

Indian Hannah also went by the name Hannah Freeman. The historical sources do not indicate when or how she acquired that last name, but it indicates a familiarity with white society and a proud claim to autonomy and equality within it. The marker few biographical details we have of Hannah come from a brief life story she dictated to Moses Marshall, overseer of the poor in Chester County in 1797.

In many respects, it is an unremarkable account of a hardscrabble life among the rural poor of eighteenth-century America, but it also offers an interesting look at the life of Indians in southeastern Pennsylvania as the French and Indian War and American Revolution transformed the world around them.

Hannah was born in 1730 or 1731 to Lenape parents who lived on the property of Quaker William Webb in Kennett Township [now Kennett Square] in Chester County. Her family, which also included a grandmother, two aunts, and two brothers, typically spent winters in their cabins on Webb's property and then moved during the summer months to sites near Brandywine Creek, where they fished and planted corn. As the surrounding area became more densely settled with colonists, the Indians were squeezed out of their summer encampments, and many moved farther inland to the Susquehanna Valley. Hannah's father did so, removing with some other Indians from the Brandywine Valley to Shamokin on the Susquehanna River, but her female relatives chose to stay.

In December 1763, a mob of frontier vigilantes known as the Paxton Boys murdered the Indians of markerConestoga Indian Town, and they announced their plans to march on Philadelphia to kill any Indians they found there, as well as any Quakers protecting them. Shortly thereafter, Hannah and her family moved east across the Delaware River into New Jersey, perhaps on the advice of their Quaker neighbors in Chester County.
Hand-Colored Print of The Indian at Work: Maple-Sugar-Making in the Northern Woods after a sketch by W.M. Cary, ca. 1880-1890.
The Indian at Work: Maple-Sugar-Making in the Northern Woods, after a sketch...

After seven years, Hannah returned to Chester County with her mother, grandmother, and aunts (we do not know what became of her brothers). Hannah never married, and as her relatives died off, she found herself living with her white neighbors, earning wages or room and board for her sewing and basket making. Eventually, she reached a point in her life at which she had "almost forgot to talk Indian" and no longer liked "their [Indians"] manner of living so well as the white peoples."

As she grew aged and infirm, she took to "moving about from place to place making baskets and staying longest where best used," but always remaining within a local range of friends and neighbors who knew her well. She was among the first residents of Chester County's poor house when it opened in 1800, and she was buried on its property when she died there two years later.

Hannah Freeman never acquired the reputation or political influence of markerQueen Aliquippa, another eighteenth-century Indian woman who spent her life in what would become Pennsylvania, but her life reflected the matrilineal bonds that held Indian families and societies together. Her reliance on handicraft production to earn her keep among colonial neighbors also reflected the experience of the Conestoga Indians in Lancaster County before the Paxton Boys massacre. In brief, Hannah's life may seem uneventful, but it reflected in miniature the adaptation and persistence of Indian peoples in Pennsylvania during the tumultuous years of the late eighteenth century, defying the conventional notion of a "vanishing Indian."
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