By Rachael Pei
Hannah (Archer) Till
Hannah Till (originally named “Long Point” by her father) was born into slavery in Kent County, Delaware to an Oneida father and African American mother. Her birth is estimated to have occurred around 1721.
By 1776, she was owned by Reverend John Mason of the Associate Reformed Church in New York, who leased her to George Washington as his personal cook. Her husband, Isaac (who was also a slave) was leased by Captain John Johnson of Bergen County, New Jersey to cook for Washington as well.
The couple had at least three children when they started working for Washington. While staying at the Valley Forge Encampment, Hannah gave birth to another son named Isaac Worley Till.
Both Hannah and Isaac had an agreement with their owners and with Washington that they could purchase their freedom, and they achieved this on October 30, 1778. After gaining her freedom, Hannah continued working for Washington as a pastry cook. She eventually also worked for Major General Marquis de Lafayette for half a year.
After the revolutionary war, the couple cooked for families in Philadelphia to earn a living. They raised at least seven children together and became members of the First African Presbyterian Church.
In March 1824 (when she was around 102 years old), John Fanning Watson interviewed her. In his book Annals of Philadelphia, he describes her as “a pious woman, possessing a sound mind and memory” (page 552). His sister, who knew Hannah and occasionally visited her, also reported that General Lafayette came to see Hannah in 1824. At the time, Hannah was in arrears for her mortgage. However, after the General’s visit, she learned that he had kindly paid off the debts for her.
At 105 years old, Hannah died of old age on December 13, 1826. She was buried at the First African Presbyterian Church, then later reinterred at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, PA. On October 3, 2015, the Pennsylvania Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Pennsylvania Brigade of the Descendants of Washington’s Army organized a ceremony honoring her and placed a marker at the cemetery in her memory.