My book, A Lenape among the Quakers: The Life of Hannah Freeman, emerged from the pages of a dissertation completed to fulfill the requirements for a doctoral degree in history. The path to that dissertation topic was not out of the ordinary. But the space between the dissertation and the final manuscript is as convoluted as the course of the Brandywine River, the center of Hannah Freeman’s world.
My interest in Pennsylvania’s Indian history was both pragmatic and personal. I wanted to work with Sharon Salinger because she was a highly respected colonial scholar, and she had a reputation for being a tough dissertation advisor. And as both a Pennsylvanian and a Native American scholar, I knew that the state’s history was a perfect example of an overly mythologized colonial story that silenced and subverted the history of Native Americans. There was much work to do on that score.
During the early stage of my graduate program, Dr. Salinger brought to my attention a piece published in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. Marshall Becker, an anthropologist, provided a brief discussion of a source he described as the “earliest known autobiography of a Native American woman.” That got my attention. I did not realize it then, but I was beginning a long journey, with Hannah at my side every step of the way. The Examination of Indian Hannah, written by Moses Marshall in 1798, is not an autobiography as such but rather a two-page deposition used to satisfy Chester County’s residence requirements in order to commit Hannah Freeman to the poorhouse. She was their first inmate and the only Native American woman. Two hundred years later, her story opened a door to a little-known past, and I walked through.