A Lenape among the Quakers: The Life of Hannah Freeman

A Lenape among the Quakers: The Life of Hannah Freeman

A Lenape among the Quakers: The Life of Hannah Freeman

A Lenape among the Quakers: The Life of Hannah Freeman

Synopsis

On July 28, 1797, an elderly Lenape woman stood before the newly appointed almsman of Pennsylvania's Chester County and delivered a brief account of her life. In a sad irony, Hannah Freeman was establishing her residency- a claim that paved the way for her removal to the poorhouse. Ultimately, however, it meant the final removal from the ancestral land she had so tenaciously maintained. Thus was William Penn's "peaceable kingdom" preserved.nbsp;

A Lenape among the Quakers reconstructs Hannah Freeman's history, traveling from the days of her grandmothers before European settlement to the beginning of the nineteenth century. The story that emerges is one of persistence and resilience, as "Indian Hannah" negotiates life with the Quaker neighbors who employ her, entrust their children to her, seek out her healing skills, and, when she is weakened by sickness and age, care for her. And yet these are the same neighbors whose families have dispossessed hers. Fascinating in its own right, Hannah Freeman's life is also remarkable for its unique view of a Native American woman in a colonial community during a time of dramatic transformation and upheaval. In particular it expands our understanding of colonial history and the Native experience that history often renders silent.

Excerpt

On July 28, 1797, Hannah Freeman, an elderly indigent Lenape woman, stood before Moses Marshall, Chester County’s newly appointed almsman, and delivered a brief account of her life; two hundred years later one anthropologist credited it as a Native American biography “that predates by nearly one hundred years the earliest Native American story now known.” But few historians note her existence as anything more than incidental to the larger narrative of Pennsylvania history and eighteenth-century indigenous-white relations. However, Hannah Freeman’s story plays a critical role in the popular construction of Pennsylvania’s past on a regional level and provides a portal to examination of the complex dynamics of indigenous-white relations in eighteenth-century North America more generally. A careful study of Hannah Freeman gives us an opportunity to critique the colonialist memorials to her life spent among the Quakers but, more important, her life merits attention because it is a story of Lenape survivance that demonstrates the means by which she and other indigenous peoples found new ways to live in their historic homelands despite the enormous pressures of colonization.

The story of Hannah Freeman is an imperfect history. The paucity of primary documentary evidence and the generational layers of oral accounts, family histories, and intentional silences make the endeavor of unearthing her story all the more daunting. The effort is worth it because Hannah Freeman’s experiences as a Native American woman living deeply entrenched . . .

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