Hannah Till, also known as Hannah Archer or Hannah Mason after her enslaver Reverend John Mason, was an enslaved cook and servant to General George Washington during the Valley Forge encampment in 1777-78. She purchased her freedom during the American Revolution and continued to work as a salaried cook.
Born in Kent County, Delaware, Hannah was originally named “Long Point—a name given her father for his successful conflict with a buck at that place near Smyrna, Delaware.”1 By 1776, Hannah was legally owned by Reverend John Mason of the Associate Reformed Church in New York.2
Reverend Mason leased Hannah to cook for George Washington and his wartime staff, and so she joined her husband Isaac Till, an enslaved cook leased by Captain John Johnson of Bergen County, New Jersey.3 By the time they were both working for General Washington, Hannah and Isaac already had at least three children. At Valley Forge, while living and working in the kitchen of the Isaac Potts house (known today as Washington's Headquarters), they had another child—Isaac Worley Till—probably born in January 1778.
Both cooks had an arrangement with the commander-in-chief and their respective enslavers whereby they would purchase their freedom, which they each completed on October 30, 1778.4 Nine months later, the couple had Isaac Worley baptized in Philadelphia, apparently as a free child.5 Now paid directly for her work, Hannah Till continued working as Washington’s personal cook, except for half a year, which she spent working for Major General Marquis de Lafayette.
After the war, Hannah and Isaac Till employed themselves cooking for families in Philadelphia. They raised at least seven children together.6 In 1824, John Fanning Watson interviewed a widowed Hannah before she briefly reunited with Lafayette, who had returned to Philadelphia as part of a national tour. In 1826 at a remarkable 104 years of age, Hannah Till died. Her remains now rest at Eden Cemetery in Collingdale, Pennsylvania.
1. John Fanning Watson, Annals of Philadelphia, being a collection of memoirs, anecdotes, and incidents of the city and its inhabitants, from the days of the Pilgrim founders (New York: E.L. Carey & A. Hart, 1830), 552.
2. John Fanning Watson, Annals of Philadelphia, 552, and Supplement to Encyclopædia Britannica (Ninth Edition): A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and General Literature, Volume IV (Philadelphia: Hubbard Brothers, 1889), 326.
3. John U. Rees, “‘To Cash paid the Revrd. John Mason for Servant Hannah’s wages …’ Hannah Till, General Washington’s Wartime Cook” (unpublished manuscript), 4. https://www.scribd.com/document/330715949/To-Cash-paid-the-Revrd-John-Mason-for-Servant-Hannah-s-wages-Hannah-Till-General-Washington-s-Wartime-Cook.
4. Washington, George. George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers: Revolutionary War Vouchers and Receipted Accounts, -1780. /1780, 1776.
Manuscript/Mixed Material, quoted in “The Mystery of Hannah Till & Isaac” (unpublished manuscript), 3.
5. Presbyterian Historical Society; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; U.S., Presbyterian Church Records, 1701-1907; Accession Number: 95-0725 51I Box 2.
6. John U. Rees, “‘To Cash paid,’” 2. https://www.scribd.com/document/330715949/To-Cash-paid-the-Revrd-John-Mason-for-Servant-Hannah-s-wages-Hannah-Till-General-Washington-s-Wartime-Cook.