Memorial to Indian Hannah

MEMORIAL TO INDIAN HANNAH from the Bulletin of the Chester County Historical Society, 1929 (p. 34)

[Note: The bronze marker described below may be viewed still in 1999 on the east side of Pennsylvania Route 52, about 1/10 mile north of U.S. Route 1, in Chester County, Pennsylvania.]

The tablet marking the birthplace of Indiah Hannah (Mrs. Hannah Freeman), the last of the Lenni-Lenape Indians (or Delawares) in Chester county, was formally unveiled and dedicated with very appropriate and interesting exercises on Saturday afternoon, September 5, 1925, in the presence of an unusually large gathering of residents of this section and nearby. The tablet was erected under the auspices of the Pennsylvania State Historical Commission and the Chester County Historical Society. The boulder is a picturesque, water-worn stone, secured from the bed of old Pocopson creek, a western branch of the famous Brandywine. To this rock is attached an inscribed bronze tablet, designed by the architect, Paul. P. Cret, Philadelphia. This marker is located on the east side of the West Chester road, about 400 yards north of the site of the old Anvil Tavern, which stood on the old Nottingham Road of Colonial days, now the Baltimore Pike, on the Longwood Estate of Pierre S. DuPont, several miles east of Kennett Square.

Following is the inscription upon the tablet:
INDIAN HANNAH 1730-1802 the last of the Indians in Chester County was born in the vale about 300 yards to the east on the land of the protector of her people the Quaker Assemblyman WILLIAM WEBB. Her mother was Indian Sarah and her grandmother was Indian Jane of the Unami Group, their totem the tortoise of the Lenni-Lenape or Delaware Indians --- Marked by THE PENNSYLVANIA HISTORICAL COMMISSION and the CHESTER COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY 1925.

A small platform had been erected in the shade of the trees near the boulder, with rows of chairs fronting it and alongside the roadway. At 2 o’clock, Albert Cook Myers, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, called the meeting to order. Col. Henry W. Shoemaker, chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission, made a short address, in which he referred to this noted historic shrine and expressed his thanks to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. DuPont, and to the hearty co-operation of the Chester County Historical Society. Mr. DuPont then presented the deed of gift for the site of the land on which the marker stands, to the Pennsylvania State Historical Commission. Col. Shoemaker accepted the deed and expressed his thanks for the munificent gift, that is more valued than acres of land. The tablet was then unveiled by Miss Beulay E. Webb, eighth in direct descent from Wm. Webb, upon whose land Indian Hannah was born.

Mr. Myers, the next speaker said: "Today is of greatest interest in the Commonwealth. Just south of here was the old Anvil Tavern and the road which was the path of the British at the Battle of the Brandywine; nearby is the meeting house of the Progressive Friends, and the 'Westminster Abbey of Chester County,' where are buried Hon. Bayard Taylor, and other distinguished sons of the county; also, near here is Pierce’s Park, or arboretum, and the Kennett Friends’ Meeting House, erected in 1710; also Longwood, where there was an underground railroad station. This section is part of the tract of 15,500 acres that William Penn gave to his beloved daughter Laetitia, in 1701, for one beaver skin yearly and her affection. Among the papers of the Marshall family was found data referring to the birth of Indian Hannah, in 1730, in Kennett township, on land of William Webb, fifty yards from the Marlborough line. There was a pond in this vale where the papooses were soused into the cold water to make them hardy, after the ice had been broken by tomahawks. The old house, now occupied by Mr. and Mrs. DuPont, was erected in 1730 also, and on the datestone are the initials of Joshua [Peirce], whose wife was Rachel Gilpin."

William Webb, who took care of Indian Hannah, was a Member of the Assembly, Justice of the Peace, surveyor and traveler. He was a good Quaker, but did not like the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. Mr. Myers also said that William Webb had lived in a house one mile from here that is still standing, Hannah spent her maidenhood in the usual handiwork, and one basket that had been made by her was shown, (the property of Miss Martha G. Cornwell, West Chester). Indian Hannah lived for a time in wigwams and cabins along the Brandywine, and spent her time, too, in the families of the Chandlers, as Thomas and Swithin Chandler were devoted to the Indians, because their ancestors had been kindly treated by the Indians. The meadow on the farm of Jared Darlington, near Darlington [Delaware County, PA], was the migratory home of Indian Hannah, who also sojourned on “Whiskey Run,” near Swarthmore [also in Delaware County]. At some length Mr. Myers reviewed the wanderings of Indian Hannah for several years, and then said that in the early days of the Revolution she took her abode on the lands of the Marshall’s at Northbrook, on what she considered her own land. In 1795, Jacob Pierce [Peirce?] entered upon his books that he had bled Indian Hannah, and again in 1799, and in 1800, he took her to Moses Pennock, near Kennett. Indian Hannah traveled as far southward as New Castle, eastward to Goshen, northward to Northbrook, and westward to Avondale. She made a great impression upon the white people. In winter, she made brooms and baskets, etc., and in the spring time and summer, she wandered around selling the baskets, etc. She had a horse, and rode horseback, accompanied by two dogs and some pigs. In an interview with Amos Burton, aged ninety years, he said that Peter Tuscoraro, an Indian, had developed smallpox and had jumped into the Brandywine and was drowned. The Indians were fond of tortoises and they cooked them in the fireplaces. On one occasion while Hannah was visiting the Harlans, near Embreeville, she sat near the fire and smoked a pipe, and when invited to eat at night, she replied, “Me no owl, me no eat at night.” When visiting in the white families, she spun flax and wool. She was afraid of thunderstorms, and would leave the neighborhood until the storm ceased. She was not given to drunkenness, but was very fond of cider in all its stages. In 1770, she remarked to George Martin, “Me love cider.” Mr. Myers then referred to an original document dated 1798, relative to kindness extended to Indian Hannah, signed by a number of the residents of this county, who agreed thereby to subscribe to contribute to her maintenance, and the funds to be paid to trustees, one of whom was Mordecai Hayes, great- great-grandfather of John Russell Hayes and J. Carroll Hayes. She was passed around from the home of one neighbor to another, and then when the Chester County Home was opened in 1800, she was admitted as one of the first inmates, on November 12, 1800, age 69 years. She died there on March 20, 1802, and her death was the first recorded at the institution. She was interred in the almshouse cemetery, and in 1909, the Chester County Historical Society placed a tablet there on a large boulder. The Society has also placed markers on the site of her last cabin, and the Indian burial grounds near Northbrook. Hannah was promised burial in the grounds of her people in Newlin. Now through the generosity of Mr. DuPont, the place of her birth is marked by a water washed boulder from Pocopson creek.

Col. Shoemaker thanked Mr. Myers for his address, and introduced Dr. Andrew Thomas Smith, Principal of the West Chester State Normal School, and Vice- President of the Chester County Historical Society, who in turn introduced Prof. John Russell Hayes, Librarian at Swarthmore College, and former resident of West Chester, who read an original poem on Indian Hannah.

Working ‘mid my marigolds and zinnias,
I found some arrow-heads the other day-
Straight I journeyed in imagination
To an earlier era far away.
When those Newlin Township hills were peopled
By an older, simpler race than ours,
Folk, perchance with little time for musing
‘Mid low orchard boughs and summer flowers,
Little time to watch the slow unfolding Of the silken-petalled hollyhocks
And the strange and fragrant fascination Of pungent peonies and purple phlox.
Or did perhaps those simple forest children
Look with wistful wonder now and then
On wild daisies dancing on a hilltop
Or Quaker ladies in a mossy glen?
While their fathers tracked the fleet-footed foxes,
Did the little woodland children there
Gather berry-blooms to weave in garlands
And roses wild to wind among their hair?
I can picture one bright, dark-eyed damsel
Roaming often by Wawassan’s stream,
Wandering far apart from all her playmates
By those grassy shores to muse and dream;
Happy in her world of winds and waters,
Clouds and leaping fish and warbling birds;
Learning nature’s secrets through the seasons,
Chanting of her love in liquid words.
In these ancient meadows here about us
Stood the wigwam of her infant days;
Here her father set forth on his hunting,
Here her mother worked their patch of maize.
Here the maiden watched the summer sunsets,
Heard the frozen forest’s wintry roar,
Heard the hills re-echo songs of triumph
As the warriors hastened home from war.
Here she heard the tribal incantations
Chanted to a wild and wizard tune,
Here she joined the mystic tribal dances
Underneath the drowsy harvest moon.
And wherever was her future biding,
To whatever valleys she might roam,
Still she cherished lifelong recollections
Of those ancient fields, her childhood home.
Now besides the waters of the Wawassan,
Northward from these meadows of her birth,
Lies the last of Chester County’s Indians,
Wrapt in slumber in the quiet earth.

This page updated on February 14, 2009