Marking Time highlights one of the more than 2,500 markers that have been installed throughout the state since 1914 as part of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program, operated by PHMC's State Historic Preservation Office.

Hannah Freeman is a name rarely found in history books, although her story and legend live on in southern Chester County. Known more popularly as “Indian Hannah,” Freeman is remembered in local lore as the last Lenape living in Chester County at the time of her death in 1802. She was born about 1730 on the Webb farm in Kennett Township not far from the Delaware border. Today the farm is part of Longwood Gardens, and Hannah’s life and story are commemorated by a large stone monument erected in 1925 and rededicated in May 2014.

Indian Hannah’s story was recorded by the overseer at the Chester County poorhouse where she spent the final years of her life. It is a unique first-person account of an unmarried Native American woman from the 18th century. Interestingly, it is similar to the life of any working poor woman of any race in a rural setting during this period. Hannah described her adult life as that of a migrant domestic servant, working primarily for room and board in a number of Quaker households in Chester County and earning a modest income by selling handmade baskets and brooms.

We know now that Hannah was not the last Native American in Chester County and that many individuals of Lenape descent live in or near the tribe’s traditional homeland in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland. Throughout the course of Hannah’s lifetime the massive immigration of nonnative peoples forced the pockets of Lenape that remained in the region through the 18th century to either relocate or assimilate, obscuring many of the cultural and physical markers that signaled their presence. Although Hannah was not the last of her people in Chester County, she may be seen as a representative of a fading nomadic lifestyle and a touchstone for understanding the complicated interactions between native peoples and European settlers during the country’s formative years.

In 1925 the Pennsylvania Historical Commission (PHC), predecessor to the expanded Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC), collaborated with the Chester County Historical Society (CCHS) to erect a plaque on a large boulder commemorating Indian Hannah. Pierre du Pont donated a plot of land along the West Chester Road (Route 52) to the Commonwealth for the monument. The large granite boulder with inset bronze tablet was just one of the approximately 150 similar monuments erected by PHC between 1913 and the mid-1930s. A large percentage of these plaques memorialized Native American subjects, including individuals, tribes, settlements and trails, as well as the French and Indian War.

In the late 1990s Longwood Gardens and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation began planning for the relocation of Route 52 to improve traffic flow where it crossed Route 1. In 2012 the realignment of Route 52 to Longwood’s western boundary was completed and the Indian Hannah monument was orphaned along the abandoned roadbed. Longwood staff recognized that having the monument accessible only to their visitors was contrary to the intent of the sponsoring parties. Coupling this with their plans to restore the former roadway to meadow habitat, Longwood started a dialogue with PHMC, CCHS and Kennett Township about moving the marker to a more prominent and accessible location.

On May 15, 2014, Longwood Gardens hosted a rededication ceremony for the Indian Hannah monument in its new location. The ceremony was a recreation of the original September 5, 1925, ceremony with the modern-day counterparts of each of the major partners fulfilling the roles of their predecessors. Representatives from the Lenape Nation of Delaware, Longwood Gardens, CCHS and PHMC all participated in the ceremony. There was even a bugler from a local Boy Scout troop on hand to close the ceremony with “America the Beautiful.”

Longwood Gardens staff designed a fitting new setting for the monument. It now occupies a prominent corner of the Longwood Meeting House property, home to the Brandywine Tourism Information Center just outside Longwood Gardens’ main entrance. Most importantly, it is highly visible in a location that is accessible to the public without entering the Longwood grounds and is situated next to the visitor center, ensuring that Indian Hannah’s story will be available to all interested Pennsylvania residents and visitors.


Karen Galle is on the staff of PHMC’s Bureau for Historic Preservation and has been the coordinator of the Pennsylvania Historical Marker Program since 2005. Previously she worked for 10 years in the agency’s former Commonwealth Conservation Center.