Colonel John Hannum & Squire Thomas Cheyney
Meanwhile two local militia members and prominent Chester County citizens and patriots, who had spent the night at the Center House/Martin’s Tavern, set off down the Great Valley Road from Marshallton.
John Hannum, who later founded West Chester, was colonel of the 1st Battalion of Chester County Militia and Squire Thomas Cheyney was a county “sub-lieutenant,” responsible for organizing the militia. The two were related by more than just the struggle for independence, however, as Cheyney’s brother was married to Hannum’s sister.
That Hannum and Cheyney would find themselves lodging at Martin’s Tavern/Center House is not surprising. Taverns were the typical gathering spots in the townships for news, mail, elections, and the militia. The new owner of the tavern, Abraham Marshall, had just retired as a captain of a musketry company in the Pennsylvania militia under Colonel Samuel J. Atlee a year earlier.
Also, in marrying one Mary Bennett, Thornbury-bred Cheyney had joined one of Marshallton’s most prolific families, the Woodwards, and could call no fewer than 5 of his wife’s uncles or aunts in the immediate Marshallton area his kin. Indeed, Cheyney’s wife was first cousin to the same Abigail (Woodward) Clayton whose initials and marriage date of 1750 were found (during renovation) on the gable of the original dwelling which later became the tavern. (See the tavern history)
As the two patriots approached Trimble’s Ford from the direction of Martin’s Tavern, they saw the mass of Howe’s troops advancing across the ford and Cheyney decided to dash on horseback to Chadds Ford with the news for General Washington.
The Hannum family history relates the event as follows:
“At the time the British army invaded Chester County, on its way from the Head of Elk to Philadelphia, Col. Hannum resided at the "Centre House" (now in the village of Marshallton), between the two main branches of the river Brandywine, and the night of Sept. 10, 1777, was passed by Thomas Cheyney, Esq., a relative of Col. Hannum, at the house of the latter. (At that perilous crisis it was not deemed prudent for Squire Cheyney to lodge at his own house.) Next morning being Brandywine battle day the two set out together to visit the American army, known to be then in the vicinity of Chads Ford. As they descended towards the west branch of the stream, near Trimble's mill and ford, they discovered coming down from the hills opposite a very numerous body of soldiers, evidently British. This very much surprised Messers. Hannum and Cheyney, and they moved round the adjacent hills, in order to observe the direction taken by the enemy. Finding them going toward Jefferis' Ford, on the east branch, and believing them to constitute the chief portion of the English army, our friends resolved at once, and at some personal risk, to proceed with the intelligence to Gen. Washington. Squire Cheyney, being mounted on a fleet hackney, pushed down the stream from Jefferis' Ford until he found the American commander-in-chief.”