The Examination of Indian Hannah

The Examination of Indian Hannah
Oil on Canvas
66 x 48 inches

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The Examination of Hannah Freeman

On July 28, 1797, Moses Marshall, as justice of the peace and overseer of the poor, summoned Hannah Freeman to the new Chester County courthouse in West Chester.  Officially, he wanted to interview her to determine which township was liable for her support under the poor laws. Her testimony would also provide Moses Marshall with the authority to commit her to the soon-to-be-built Chester County poorhouse.

Since her health started to fail a few years earlier Hannah, who was most likely in her late sixties, received food and shelter from a long list of local Quaker families, including the Marshalls, whom she had lived amongst and worked for all of her life. They agreed to provide for her welfare until her death and to pay for her burial. This was an act of affection and benevolence, but it also marked the end of Hannah’s previously independent life. It is also probable that these Quaker families were aware of the fact that, in this dependent state, Hannah Freeman would no longer have any legal claim to land that still belonged to the Lenape. Moses Marshall and his fellow Quakers had a vested interest in the designation of Hannah Freeman as a pauper and “the last of the Lenape.”

This tragic moment in the life of Hannah Freeman is imagined, in this painting, as taking place in Old Caln Meeting House, built in 1726. The ancient and stark simplicity of Old Caln, made gentle with age, is used to create a severe and abstract angularity which comes across as menacing. The muted color combination, consisting of a limited pallet of only four colors (white, black, red and yellow), reinforces the somber atmosphere as Hannah Freeman, described in one Quaker document as “an ancient woman of the Delaware Tribe,” stands before the three Quaker figures, her friends and neighbors, who are participating in the final and successful non-violent disenfranchisement of the American Indians in Chester County.

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