Hannah Duston

Hannah Duston

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Hannah Duston was born in 1657 and after marrying Goodman Dunston lived in Haverhill, Massachusetts Bay. On 9th March, 1697, Hannah gave birth to her twelfth child, Martha. The following week the village was attacked by a group of Native Americans. Over the next few minutes 27 white settlers were killed.

Hannah and her daughter were kidnapped. On the journey back to the Indian camp, Martha was murdered by the warriors. However, Hannah, a neighbour, Mary Neff, and a 14 year old boy, Samuel Lennardson, were kept alive.

On 30th March, 1697, the three captives were able to escape after using tomahawks to kill ten of the guards. Travelling my night and hiding during the day, Hannah Duston, Mary Neff and Samuel Lennardson eventually reached Haverhill.

Hannah Duston was considered to be a heroine, and was the first woman in the United States to have a monument erected in her honour.

Goodman Duston and his wife, somewhat less than a century and a half ago, dwelt in Haverhill, at that time a small frontier settlement in the province of Massachusetts Bay. They had already added seven children to the King's liege subjects in America; and Mrs. Duston about a week before the period of our narrative, had blessed her husband with an eighth. One day in March, 1698, when Mr. Duston had gone forth about his ordinary business, there fell out an event, which had nearly left him a childless man, and a widower besides. An Indian war party, after traversing the trackless forest all the way from Canada, broke in upon their remote and defenceless town. Goodman Duston heard the war whoop and alarm, and, being on horseback, immediately set off full speed to look after the safety of his family. As he dashed along, he beheld dark wreaths of smoke eddying from the roofs of several dwellings near the road side; while the groans of dying men, - the shrieks of affrighted women, and the screams of children, pierced his ear, all mingled with the horrid yell of the raging savages. The poor man trembled yet spurred on so much the faster, dreading that he should find his own cottage in a blaze, his wife murdered in her bed, and his little ones tossed into the flames. But, drawing near the door, he saw his seven elder children, of all ages between two years and seventeen, issuing out together, and running down the road to meet him. The rather only bade them make the best of their way to the nearest garrison, and, without a moment's pause, flung himself from his horse, and rushed into Mrs. Duston's bedchamber.

The good woman, as we have before hinted, had lately added an eighth to the seven former proofs of her conjugal affection; and she now lay with the infant in her arms, and her nurse, the widow Mary Neff, watching by her bedside. Such was Mrs. Duston's helpless state, when her pale and breathless husband burst into the chamber, bidding her instantly to rise and flee for her life. Scarcely were the words out of his mouth, when the Indian yell was heard: and staring wildly out of the window, Goodman Duston saw that the blood-thirsty foe was close at hand. At this terrible instant, it appears that the thought of his children's danger rushed so powerfully upon his heart, that he quite forgot the still more perilous situation of his wife; or, as is not improbable, he had such knowledge of the good lady's character, as afforded him a comfortable hope that she would hold her own, even in a contest with a whole tribe of Indians. However that might be, he seized his gun and rushed out of doors again, meaning to gallop after his seven children, and snatch up one of them in his flight, lest his whole race and generation should be blotted from the earth, in that fatal hour. With this idea, he rode up behind them, swift as the wind. They had, by this time, got about forty rods from the house, all pressing forward in a group; and though the younger children tripped and stumbled, yet the elder ones were not prevailed upon, by the fear of death, to take to their heels and leave these poor little souls to perish. Hearing the tramp of hoofs in their rear, they looked round, and espying Goodman Duston, all suddenly stopped. The little ones stretched out their arms; while the elder boys and girls, as it were, resigned their charge into his hands; and all the seven children seemed to say. 'Here is our father! Now we are safe!'

Hannah Dustin

Hannah Dustin/Duston was a forty-year-old colonial New England woman who was captured during an Indian raid, and escaped from her captors by killing them in the night and fleeing in their canoe. She is believed to be the first woman honored in the United States with a statue.

Born Hannah Emerson on December 23, 1657, Hannah Dustin, her husband Thomas, and their nine children were living in Haverhill, Massachusetts, when the town was attacked by Abenaki Indians on March 15, 1697. Thomas fled with eight of the children, but Hannah, her six-day-old baby Martha, and her nurse Mary Neff were captured.

The Indians killed the baby and forced Hannah and Mary to walk for days, until they arrived at an island in the middle of the Merrimack River about six miles north of Concord, New Hampshire. There Hannah and Mary met Samuel Lennardson, a 14-year-old white captive. They became friends and plotted to find a way of escape.

They were soon informed that they were to start traveling again to a distant Indian settlement, so they decided to escape before the journey began. When the Indians fell asleep, Hannah and the other two captives seized tomahawks and killed ten Indians: six children, two women, and two men. Before leaving, Hannah insisted that they scalp the dead Indians as proof of their accomplishment and to collect a bounty.

The former captives escaped down the river in a canoe, and traveling only at the night, after several days returned to Haverhill, where Dustin, Neff, and Leonardson received high praise. The Massachusetts General Court later awarded them a generous payment for the ten scalps.

Hannah Emerson Dustin was viewed as a frontier hero, and her story soon entered into American folklore. The event became well known, due in part to Cotton Mather’s account in his publication Magnalia Christi Americana in 1702. Hannah became more famous during the nineteenth century, when her story was retold by Henry David Thoreau and in many genealogical histories.

Image: Hannah Dustin Statue
Haverhill, Massachusetts
In 1879, a bronze statue of Hannah grasping a tomahawk was placed in Haverhill town square, where it still stands, and another on the island in New Hampshire. Some of her artifacts are displayed at the Haverhill Historical Society.

In the 1870s, a statue of Hannah was placed in the Haverhill town square, and another statue of her was erected on the island in New Hampshire where they killed and scalped the natives.

Windham Life and Times – October 26, 2018

So what are we to think about Hannah Duston in the “enlightened” year of 2018. On the one hand she treated indigenous people very terribly (murdering them), and should be loathed for it, but…those indigenous people were alpha males, so they should have been killed anyway, and since it is a tale of woman’s power and strength in the face of calamity, I probably am still allowed to publicly write about her without sending people scurrying to their safe places. On the other hand, people may not like this old folk tale, because it takes the glory from a stoic, powerful, woman and gives the glory to a wood sprite or fairy, whose magical powers save the day.

First, lets recap the story of Hannah Duston. Stories of New Hampshire under The Indomitable Hannah Dustin says that, “At the beginning of the history of New Hampshire women were important, yet few acquired fame. The first heroine of the state was Hannah Duston (The early spelling of her name), famous throughout the nation because she possessed the courage to kill ten Indians to save her life. Hannah was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on December 23, 1657, the daughter of Michael and Hannah (Webster) Emerson. Hannah Webster Emerson distinguished these names long before Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson were born.”

“Haverhill was a forested area in 1635, when only a few families were scattered in the south section of the present city…she married Thomas Duston, December 3, 1677, at the time King Philip (an Indian) was killing the English because they were destroying his hunting grounds and food supply.”

“The couple had seven children and Hannah was recovering seven days after baby Martha was born when on the morning of March 15, 1697, Indians were approaching the home. Hannah urged Thomas to save the children. He told the seven to run into the woods toward the garrison house of Onesiphorus Marsh near the bank of the Merrimack River while he mounted his horse and fought the Indians.”

“Meanwhile the Indians killed the baby and captured Mrs. Duston and her nurse, Mrs. Mary Neff, and compelled them to leave the house that was pillaged immediately. (For you Windham folks, Mary Neff was a Corliss, and related to the Corliss family of Windham who occupied one of the earliest homesteads in town.) The March wind must have been cold and the river at flood, yet it is believed that the Indians, with their captives, paddled up the stream to an island at Penacook, New Hampshire. The story is related that while in camp, Hannah cooked a soup that the Indians ate heartily, then they fell soundly asleep. It is believed that Hannah added the roots of a plant possessing soporific (induces sleep) power.”

While the Indians slept soundly, Hannah and a captive boy killed ten Indians with tomahawks, took their scalps, and then the three captives fled down the river in a canoe, safely to Haverhill.” Quite the heroine, but did Hannah have a little magical help?

In The Legend of Tsienneto, The Fairy we learn the following: “Fairy tales also claim their share of mystery among former settlers. Beaver Lake in Nutfield, now Derry, was supposed by the Indians to be the abode of a Fairy Queen named “Tsienneto, abbreviated to Neto in the legend of Hannah Dustin. Seen or unseen by mortals, Neto was able to perform deeds of friendly service to those in distress.”

“When the Indians brought Mrs. Dustin and their other captives from Haverhill, their first-night encampment was on the shore of Beaver Lake where Queen Neto saw and befriended Mrs. Dustin, promising to accompany her unseen by her captors and to supply all her needs.”

“After the party arrived on the island in the Merrimack River near Penacook, Neto cast a spell over the Indians so that they soundly slept while Mrs. Dustin and her boy companion moved about with the Indians tomahawks, killing all their enemies and escaping down river. It was Neto who guided them in safety to their home and family as this good fairy always was known to do, and thus the Scotch-Irish of Derry explain the miraculous escape of Hannah Dustin.”

How this legend arose is a mystery to historians in both Derry and Londonderry, since it was not written down previously to its being published in New Hampshire Folk Tales in 1932. There was a source for another legend of Tsienneto in a small guidebook published by R.N. Richardson in 1907. However, there is no confirmation in this publication as to the Hannah Duston legend. It instead tells the rather poetic tale of Tsienneto, an Indian prophet, who predicted the demise of the red man as related by a local fairy. “Tsienneto was seized and taken before a council of Chiefs and great men. There he prophesized that a great misfortune would come to the tribes in the region of the Beaver. ‘A peculiar people,’ he said, ‘with pale-hued faces, shall come from beyond the big water. They will devastate the forests, and dwell unmolested in the places thus desolated. The deer shall leave the near country, the beaver cease their craft in the waters of that region, and your campfires shall be forever out. Yonder isle shall disappear, and fishes prowl where now stands my lodge. In the days of the third forest the deer shall return, but the beaver—never.’ ‘And all the great men assembled were afraid, for they had heard the power of Tsienneto. A sign! A sign! Prove thy power they cried. On the eastern end of the island stood a great pine, large enough for what was called in the latter days a King’s tree. In the time of Tsienneto it was called the Guardian of the Isle of Great Enchantment.” To prove his power, and the truth of his prophecy, Tsienneto hurled a huge boulder a half mile across the lake and destroyed the tree. With its destruction, the island sank, and the spiritual protection of the tree to the Indians was lost.

So was Tsienneto a wise Native American prophet or a small Native American fairy that protected Hannah Duston? I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

Hannah Duston’s Complicated History Divides New England Communities : NPR

The Hannah Duston statue in G.A.R. Park in Haverhill, Mass. The monument has become the subject of fierce public debate.

The Hannah Duston statue in G.A.R. Park in Haverhill, Mass. The monument has become the subject of fierce public debate.

A statue of a woman towers over a patch of daffodils in a city park in Haverhill, Mass. Scowling ferociously, she leans forward, gripping a hatchet.

The statue honors Hannah Duston, a 17th-century English colonist who is believed to have killed 10 Native Americans in order to escape captivity during King William’s War. It has become a flashpoint in the country’s ongoing debate about racist monuments, as locals reevaluate the Duston legend.

“That hatchet is supposedly the one that she actually used to, quote unquote, ‘scalp the warriors,’ ” says Ron Peacetree, of the Haverhill Historical Commission.

Peacetree explains how the popular legend — in which Duston acted in self-defense against a group of Native American warriors who had kidnapped her — is contradicted by historical evidence. A number of the scalps Duston later collected a bounty on, he says, belonged to children.

Scholars believe that’s because by the time Duston made her escape, she was no longer traveling with her original captors but with a family group — likely Abenaki — who may have planned to ransom her back to her family, which was common practice at the time. The events unfolded in 1697, during one of the era’s many conflicts between English and French colonists and their Native allies.

Peacetree says the monument, which was built nearly 200 years after Duston’s capture, was propaganda to justify westward expansion.

“The propaganda story feeds into the white manifest destiny thing, feeds into the hatred against Native Americans,” he says.

Growing up in the 1960s, Peacetree, who is half Haudenosaunee (commonly known as Iroquois), felt the consequences of this prejudice personally. He recalls the time his family was turned away from a hotel. “[The clerk] looked at my mom and us four kids and said, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t serve your kind here,’ ” Peacetree says. “This [statue] is the roots, part of the foundation of the philosophy that made that OK.”

Ron Peacetree, of the Haverhill Historical Commission, says the monument was propaganda to justify westward expansion.

Ron Peacetree, of the Haverhill Historical Commission, says the monument was propaganda to justify westward expansion.

Last year, calls to remove the Haverhill statue ignited a fierce public debate. This month, the city decided to keep the statue, but alter some of the offensive language on the base, remove the hatchet, and provide space in the park for a Native American monument.

I’m glad they left it where they left it,” says 79-year-old Lou Fossarelli, who grew up in Haverhill and now lives in nearby Newburyport. “But I am not happy that the city is going to build a monument to the Indians. … I know the history. There is no other version.”

Meanwhile, an hour north of Haverhill in Boscawen, N.H., plans are already underway to rewrite the version of history most people know. There, the state’s division of parks and recreation intends to redesign the site of another Duston monument.

Craig Richardson, a direct descendent of Duston who serves on an advisory committee for the project, believes a fuller story should be told. The committee is considering “changing the signage, changing the name of the park,” he says, as well as adding a memorial to Duston’s victims and information about Abenaki history.

“On one hand, as an Indigenous person, we don’t want a statue that honors Hannah, but on the other hand, we need an outlet in order to share the true history of the region,” says committee member Denise Pouliot, the lead female speaker for the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People. (A lead female and male speaker share leadership duties for the tribe.)

Though Pouliot finds the statue offensive, she believes it’s her best opportunity to set the record straight.

“How many historical books have been written based on this false narrative that I can no longer wipe off the shelves?” she says.

In particular, Pouliot hopes to counter the version of the story popularized by the Puritan author Cotton Mather, in which Duston’s captors brutally murdered her newborn baby. It’s a story scholars now doubt.

Four reliefs on the side of the statue depict the story of Hannah Duston in Haverhill, Mass.

Hannah Duston - History

On 15 Mar 1697, George CORLISS (1617 – 1686)’s daughter Mary Neff was nursing Hannah Dustin who had given birth the week before. They taken prisoner by the Indians in an attack on Haverhill and carried towards Canada.

Hannah Duston (1657 – 1736) was a colonial Massachusetts Puritan woman who escaped Native American captivity by leading her fellow captives in scalping their captors at night. Duston is the first woman honored in the United States with a statue.

Hannah Dustin Statue Penacook New Hampshire

Today, Hannah Dustin’s actions are controversial, with some calling her a hero, but others calling her a villain, and some Abenaki leaders saying her legend is racist and glorifies violence. As early as the 19th Century, Hannah’s legal argument had lost its Old Testament authority and came to be interpreted, or misinterpreted, as a justification for vengeance.

Chief Nancy Lyons of the Coasek tribe of the Abenaki Nation, said using Dustin as a promotional tool not only insults American Indians but glorifies violence.

“It’s not so much because Hannah Duston killed Indians. The biggest issue that I find absolutely appalling is that the promotion that they’re doing is extremely racist – it’s emphasizing violence and they’re promoting that to young people,” Lyons said. “More than being an Indian, being a mother I find it absolutely appalling that a community would promote violence and a violent act in a racist manner to young people today.”

Charles True, speaker of the Abenaki Nation of New Hampshire, said Duston has become a folk legend over the years and her legend bears little resemblance to the actual events of 1697.

“Folk legends rarely represent the actual truth about things,” True said. “In New England history books, our people have not had a fair shake. We were victimized very cruelly by New England people. … It makes you wonder why history books for schoolchildren over the years have made us out to be blood-thirsty savages. Haverhill can do what it pleases with its folk hero. We’re not interested.”

Margaret Bruchak, an Abenaki historian, said in order to properly understand the Duston story, it’s important to understand the Abenaki culture’s view of combat and captivity.

“The whole point of taking a captive was to then transport that person safely. For the whole of that journey they were treated like family,” Bruchak said. “When captives were taken, they were almost immediately handed off from the warriors to individuals who would then look after them. Hannah, we know for a fact, was handed over to an extended family group of two adult men, three women, seven children and one white child.”

That’s why the Abenaki viewed Duston’s actions after she escaped with such horror, she said.

“It’s almost like the Geneva Conventions, when you think about it. Hannah betrayed the Abenaki Geneva Conventions. It wasn’t while she was in the midst of warfare that she did these supposedly brave acts. It was while she was in the care of a family,” Bruchak said. “If she had merely escaped, there probably would be very little story to tell, but the fact that she escaped, then stopped and went back to collect scalps – the bloody-mindedness of it is really quite remarkable. …

“She became a hero because of it. The Colonial Puritan society which saw the killing of white children as an unpardonable sin that required the death penalty saw the killing of Indian children as a glorious act that turns someone into a hero,” she said.

Hannah’s name has been used to sell every conceivable product including a rock concert, liquor and horse racing and still remains extremely attractive to people seeking to prove a genealogical connection. In 2008, after the New Hampshire Historical Society began selling a Hannah Duston bobblehead, one employee has quit and another has refused to sell it. They said they find the Duston doll, as well as another bobblehead of Chief Passaconaway, offensive to Native Americans. The bobblehead is also for sale at the John Greenleaf Whittier Birthplace in Haverhill and the Friends Shop at Haverhill Public Library.

Early nineteenth-century New England, apparently under the impetus of the romantic interest of the past, rediscovered its own colonial history and exploited it in novels and tales. Stories of captivity of the colonists had a wide appeal, not only because they were straight-forward and exciting, but because the ancestors of many New England men and women had been among the captives.

Some even want to make a movie. “It’s the ultimate feminist story,” said Rebecca Day, a Massachusetts native and freelance writer who has done script development for Hallmark Entertainment and Lifetime Television. “It has all the qualities of a hot Lifetime movie. I would pitch it as ‘Ransom’ meets ‘The Crucible.'”

“What interests me is exploring what made her tick,” Day said. “I think the story perfectly illustrates what happens when one’s world turns into chaos. A person really has to go into survival mode, regardless of what role society thinks he or she is supposed to play. Although women at this time were considered second-class citizens, I think it’s funny how many men so easily became her followers and admirers.”

The story of Hannah Dustin is memorable among such accounts because it is both briefer and more violent than most of the narratives. From the beginning it appealed not only to the historical imagination of its readers but to the moral imagination as well. It illustrated the hardihood of New England pioneers but it raised questions about the moral cost of their triumph. As succeeding generations retold Hannah Dustin’s story, it came to illustrate not only frontier conditions during King William’s War, but the shifting judgements and sensibilities about morality and the role of women of later centuries.

Hannah Dustin and Mary Neff take justice into their own hands — Painted in 1847, by Junius Brutus Stearns

Twenty-seven persons were slaughtered, (fifteen of them children) and thirteen captured. The following is a list of the killed:-John Keezar, his father, and son, George John Kimball and his mother, Hannah Sarah Eastman [Daughter of Deborah Corliss and grand daughter of George CORLISS] Thomas Eaton Thomas Emerson, his wife, Elizabeth, and two children, Timothy and Sarah Daniel BRADLEY’s son Daniel Bradley, his wife, Hannah (she was also Stephen DOW’s daughter), and two children, Mary and Hannah Martha Dow, daughter of Stephen DOW Joseph, Martha, and Sarah Bradley, children of Joseph Bradley, another son of Daniel BRADLEY Thomas and Mehitable Kingsbury [Children of Deborah Corliss and grand daughter of George CORLISS]. Thomas Wood and his daughter, Susannah John Woodman and his daughter, Susannah Zechariah White and Martha, the infant daughter of Mr. Duston.” Hannah Dustin’s nurse Mary Neff, daughter of our ancestor GEORGE CORLISS, was carried away and helped in the escape by hatcheting her captors. Another captive who later wrote about the adventure and was kidnapped a second time ten years later was Hannah Heath Bradley, wife of Daniel BRADLEY’s son Joseph, daughter of John Heath and Sarah Partridge, and grand daughter of our ancestor Bartholomew HEATH.

Cotton Mather Portrait c. 1700

The account begins with Cotton Mather, not only because he heard the story from Hannah herself and was the first to record it, but because his account in the Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) contains the germs of all the moral and social questions to which later writers would respond: Is the killing of one’s Indian captors justified? Is killing squaws and children ever justifiable? Is killing Christian (although Catholic) Indians justifiable? Is scalping Indian victims and collecting a bounty on the scalps justifiable? Should a wife and mother be judged by standards not applied to men? And finally, was Hannah admirable as well as courageous?

Mather’s account in the Magnalia served as a primary source for all except two of the subsequent retellings.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

John Greenleaf Whittier popularized the incident in “A Mother’s Revenge” . His story differed significantly from the Mather account, apparently reflecting both local tradition and conscious literary manipulation of his material. His theme was the resolution created in a woman’s character by the exigencies of the frontier. In Whit tier’s version of the story, Hannah heroically sends her husband to protect the children. He thus adds luster to Hannah’s character and redeems Thomas Dustin from possible charges that he deserted his wife and infant daughter.

Statue of Hannah Dustin in Haverhill, Mass

George Chase, in the History of Haverhill (1861), brought together the Mather, Sewall, and Mirick accounts, supplementing them by use of the town records. He corrected Mirick at some points and provided a definitive recital of the Indian raid and its aftermath. He reprints Mather’s Magnalia account in its entirety because he says it is the most reliable, Mather having “heard the story direct from the lips of Mrs. Dustin.” Then, having discussed the location of the Dustin house, Chase deliberately and needlessly turns to compare Hannah’s deeds unfavorably with those of her husband. He reasons that Hannah attacked “twelve sleeping savages, seven of whom were children, and but two of whom were men. It was not with her a question of life or death, but of liberty and revenge.”

In this instance Chase, with the Mather account directly before him, discarded both of Mather’s justifications for the killings. Chase judges Hannah on the basis of a revenge motive that he, Whittier, and Bancroft ascribe to her. The only support for such an interpretation is Hannah’s explanation that being where she had not her own life secured to her by law she felt it lawful to kill the Indians, “by whom her child had been butchered.” The context in which these words appear suggests that Hannah is not seeking vengeance but invoking the Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye” which, for people who consciously formed their legal system upon Biblical law, represented not revenge but justice.

As time passed Hannah’s legal argument lost its Old Testament authority and came to be interpreted, or misinterpreted, as a justification for vengeance. As Hannah’s historians became further removed from frontier life, they increasingly admired women rather for their frailty than for their hardihood. The new crop of authors, fascinated by Hannah’s story, yet deploring her conduct, insisted upon the harsher details of her exploit, while religious ardor and ethical judgement faded before social convention.

Detailed Account
Here’s a more detailed account of Hannah and Mary from The Duston / Dustin Family, Thomas and Elizabeth (Wheeler) Duston and their descendants. and The Story of Hannah Duston Published by the Duston-Dustin Family Association, H. D. Kilgore Historian Haverhill Tercentenary – June, 1940. I’ve kept most of the 19th Century language, only removing a few breathless adverbs, opinionated adjectives and changing some pejorative nouns.

On March 14, 1697, Thomas and Hannah Duston lived in a house on the west side of the Sawmill River in the town of Haverhill. This house was located near the great Duston Boulder and on the opposite side of Monument Street.

Their twenty years of married life had brought them material prosperity, and of the twelve children who had been born to them during this period, eight were living. Thomas, who was quite a remarkable man, – a bricklayer and farmer, who, according to tradition, even wrote his own almanacs, and wrote them on rainy days, – was beginning to have time to devote to town affairs, and had just completed a term as Constable for the “west end” of the town of Haverhill.

He was at this time engaged in the construction with bricks from his own brickyard of a new brick house about a half mile to the northwest of his home to provide for the needs of his still growing family, for Baby Martha had just made her appearance on March 9.

Under the care of Mrs. Mary Neff, (daughter of George CORLISS and widow of William Neff) both mother and child were doing well, the rest of the family were in good health, his material affairs were prospering, and it was undoubtedly with a rather contented feeling that Thomas, to say nothing of his family, retired to rest on the eve of that fateful March 15, 1697, little knowing what horrors the morrow was to bring.

Of course, there was always the fear of Indians. However, since the capture in August of the preceding year, of Jonathan Haynes and his four children while picking peas in a field at Bradley’s Mills, near Haverhill, nothing had happened, and apprehensions of any further attacks were gradually being lulled. Besides, less than a mile on Pecker’s Hill, was the garrison of Onesiphorus Marsh, one of six established by the town containing a small body of soldiers. It was believed that there was little ground for uneasiness.

But this was only a false security. Count Frontenac, the Colonial Governor of Canada, was using every means at his disposal to incite the Indians against the English as part of his campaign to win the New World for the French King. The latter, due to the need for troops in Europe, where the war known as King William’s War was going on, was unable to send many to help Frontenac. So, with propaganda and gifts, the French Governor had allied the tribes to the French cause and bounties had been set on English scalps and prisoners. Every roving band of Indians was determined to get its share of these, and even now, such a band was in the woods near Haverhill, preparing for a lightning raid on the town with the first light of dawn. The squaws and children were left in the forest to guard their possessions, while the Indian warriors moved stealthily towards the house of Thomas and Hannah Duston, the first attacked. [The Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 ended the war between the two colonial powers, reverting the colonial borders to the status quo ante bellum. The peace did not last long, and within five years, the colonies were embroiled in the next phase of the French and Indian Wars, Queen Anne’s War.]

Early the next morning, Thomas, at work near the house, suddenly spied the approaching Indians. Instantly seizing his gun he mounted his horse and raced for the house, shouting a warning which started the children towards the garrison, while he dashed into the house hoping to save his wife and the baby. Quickly seeing that he was too late, and doubtless urged by Hannah, he rode after the children, resolving to escape with at least one. On overtaking them, finding it impossible to choose between them, he resolved, if possible, to save them all. A few of the Indians pursued the little band of fugitives, firing at them from behind trees and boulders, but Thomas, dismounting and guarding the rear, held back the savages from behind his horse by threatening to shoot whenever one of them exposed himself. Had he discharged his gun they would have closed in at once, for reloading took considerable time. He was successful in his attempt, and all reached the garrison safely, the older children hurrying the younger along, probably carrying them at times. This was probably the garrison of Onesiphorus March on Pecker’s Hill.

Escape of Thomas Dustin & children. Source: Some Indian Stories of Early New England, 1922

Meanwhile a fearful scene was being enacted in the home. Mrs. Neff, trying to escape with the baby, was easily captured. Invading the house, the Indians forced Hannah to rise and dress herself. Sitting despairingly in the chimney, she watched them rifle the house of all they could carry away, and was then dragged outside while they fired the house, in her haste forgetting one shoe. A few of the Indians then dragged Hannah and Mrs. Neff, who carried the baby, towards the woods, while the rest of the band, rejoined by those who had been pursing Thomas and the children, attacked other houses in the village, killing twenty-seven and capturing thirteen of the inhabitants.

Hannah Dustin Memorial Bas Relief 1.

Finding that carrying the baby was making it hard for Mrs. Neff to keep up, one of the Indians seized it from her, and before its mother’s horrified eyes dashed out its brains against an apple tree. The Indians, forcing the two women to their utmost pace, at last reached the woods and jointed the squaws and children who had been left behind the night before. Here they were soon after joined by the rest of the group with their plunder and other captives.

Fearing a prompt pursuit, the Indians immediately set out for Canada with their booty. Some of the weaker captives were knocked on the head and scalped, but in spite of her condition, poorly clad and partly shod, Hannah, doubtless assisted by Mrs. Neff, managed to keep up, and by her own account marched that day “about a dozen miles”, a remarkable feat. During the next few days they traveled about a hundred miles through the unbroken wilderness, over rough trails, in places still covered with the winter’s snow, sometimes deep with mud, and across icy brooks, while rocks tore their half shod feet and their poorly clad bodies suffered from the cold – a terrible journey.

Near the junction of the Contoocook and Merrimack rivers, twelve of the Indians, two men, three women, and seven children, taking with them Hannah, Mrs. Neff and a boy of fourteen years, Samuel Lennardson (who had been taken prisoner near Worcester about eighteen months before), left the main party and proceeded toward what is now Dustin Island, situated where the two rivers unite, near the present town of Penacook, N.H. This island was the home of the Indian who claimed the women as his captives, and here it was planned to rest for a while before continuing on the long journey to Canada.

This Indian family had been converted by the French priests at some time in the past, and was accustomed to have prayers three times a day, – in the morning, at noon and at evening, – and ordinarily would not let their children eat or sleep without first saying their prayers. Hannah’s master, who had lived in the family of Rev. Mr. Rowlandson of Lancaster some years before told her that “when he prayed the English way he thought that it was good, but now he found the French way better.” They tried, however, to prevent the two women from praying, but without success, for as they were engaged on the tasks set by their master, they often found opportunities. Their Indian master would sometimes say to them when he saw them dejected, “What need you trouble yourself? If your God will have you delivered, you shall be so!”

[Mary (White) Rowlandson (c. 1637 – Jan 1711) was a colonial American woman who was captured by Indians during King Philip’s War and endured eleven weeks of captivity before being ransomed. After her release, she wrote a book about her experience, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, which is considered a seminal work in the American literary genre of captivity narratives.

During the long journey Hannah was secretly planning to escape at the first opportunity, spurred by the tales with which the Indians had entertained the captives on the march, picturing how they would be treated after arriving in Canada, stripped and made to “run the gauntlet” jeered at and beaten and made targets for the young Indians’ tomahawks how many of the English prisoners had fainted under these tortures and how they were often sold as slaves to the French. These stories, added to her desire for revenging the death of her baby and the cruel treatment of their captors while on the march, made this desire stronger. When she learned where they were going, a plan took definite shape in her mind, and was secretly communicated to Mrs. Neff and Samuel Lennardson.

Samuel, who was growing tired of living with the Indians, and in whom a longing for home had been stirred by the presence of the two women, the next day casually asked his master, Bampico, how he had killed the English. “Strike ‘em dere,” said Bampico, touching his temple, and then proceeded to show the boy how to take a scalp. This information was communicated to the women, and they quickly agreed on the details of the plan. They arrived at the island some time before March 30, 1697.

After reaching the island, the Indians grew careless. The river was in flood. Samuel was considered one of the family, and the two women were considered too worn out to attempt escape, so not watch was set that night and the Indians slept soundly. Hannah decided that the time had come.

Hannah Dustin Memorial Bas Relief 2

Shortly after midnight she woke Mrs. Neff and Samuel. Each, armed with a tomahawk, crept silently to a position near the heads of the sleeping Indians – Samuel near Bampico and Hannah near her master. At a signal from Hannah the tomahawks fell, and so swiftly and surely did they perform their work of destruction that ten of the twelve Indians were killed outright, only two – a severely wounded squaw and a boy whom they had intended to take captive – escaped into the woods. According to a deposition of Hannah Bradley in 1739 (History of Haverhill, Chase, pp. 308-309),

“above penny cook the Deponent was forced to travel farther than the rest of the captives, and the next night but one there came to us one Squaw who said that Hannah Dustan and the aforesaid Mary Neff assisted in killing the Indians of her wigwam except herself and a boy, herself escaping very narrowly, shewing to myself & others seven wounds as she said with a Hatched on her head which wounds were given her when the rest were killed.”

Hastily piling food and weapons into a canoe, including the gun of Hannah’s late master and the tomahawk with which she had killed him, they scuttled the rest of the canoes and set out down the Merrimack River.

Original Gun taken by Hannah Dustin

Suddenly realizing that without proof their story would seem incredible, Hannah ordered a return to the island, where they scalped their victims, wrapping the trophies in cloth which had been cut from Hannah’s loom at the time of the capture, and again set out down the river, each taking a turn at guiding the frail craft while the others slept. [this was Hannah’s explanation, Is it credible to you?]

Hannah Dustin and Mary Neff make their escape

Thus, traveling by night and hiding by day, they finally reached the home of John Lovewell in old Dunstable, now a part of Nashua, N.H. Here they spent the night, and a monument was erected here in 1902, commemorating the event. The following morning the journey was resumed and the weary voyagers at last beached their canoe at Bradley’s Cove, where Creek Brook flows into the Merrimack. Continuing their journey on foot, they at last reached Haverhill in safety. Their reunion with loved ones who had given them up for lost can better be imagined than described.

Thomas took his wife and the others to the new house which he had been building at the time of the massacre, and which was now completed. Here for some days they rested. The fear induced by the massacre caused Haverhill to at once establish several new garrison houses. One of these was the brick house which Thomas was building for his family at the time of the massacre. This was ordered completed, and though the clay pits were not far from the home, a guard of soldiers was placed over those who brought clay to the house. The order establishing Thomas Duston’s house as a garrison was dated April 5, 1697. He was appointed master of the garrison and assigned Josiah HEATH, Sen., Josiah Heath Jun., Joseph Bradley, John Heath, Joseph Kingsbury, and Thomas Kingsbury as a guard.

In 1694 a bounty of fifty pounds had been placed on Indian scalps, reduced to twenty-five pounds in 1695, and revoked completely on Dec. 16, 1696.

Hannah had risked precious time to gain those scalps. The explanation sometimes given later, that her story would not be believed without evidence, is patently false. If her credibility were the only issue at stake, sooner or later there would be corroborative accounts. Actually, Hannah Bradley, another Haverhill woman, was a captive in the camp where the wounded squaw sought refuge. But to collect a scalp bounty Hannah needed to produce the scalps.

Thomas Duston believed that the act of the two women and the boy had been of great value in destroying enemies of the colony, who had been murdering women and children, and decided that the bounty should be claimed. So he took the two women and the boy to Boston, where they arrived with the trophies on April 21, 1697.

Here he filed a petition to the Governor and Council, which was read on June 8, 1697 in the House

To the Right Honorable the Lieut Governor & the Great & General assembly of the Province of Massachusetts Bay now convened in BostonThe Humble Petition of Thomas Durstan of Haverhill Sheweth That the wife of ye petitioner (with one Mary Neff) hath in her Late captivity among the Barbarous Indians, been disposed & assisted by heaven to do an extraordinary action, in the just slaughter of so many of the Barbarians, as would by the law of the Province which——–a few months ago, have entitled the actors unto considerable recompense from the Publick.

That tho the———-of that good Law————–no claims to any such consideration from the publick, yet your petitioner humbly—————-that the merit of the action still remains the same & it seems a matter of universal desire thro the whole Province that it should not pass unrecompensed.

And that your petitioner having lost his estate in that calamity wherein his wife was carried into her captivity render him the fitter object for what consideration the public Bounty shall judge proper for what hath been herein done, of some consequence, not only unto the persons more immediately delivered, but also unto the Generall Interest

Wherefore humbly Requesting a favorable Regard on this occasion

Your Petitioner shall pray &c
Thomas Du(r)stun

Despite the missing words its purport is clear. Hannah has performed a service to the community and deserves an appropriate expression of gratitude. It also implies a justification for killing the squaws and children, if any justification were needed when the captives’ safety depended upon several hours head start.

The same day the General Court voted payment of a bounty of twenty-five pounds “unto Thomas Dunston of Haverhill , on behalf of Hannah his wife”, and twelve pounds ten shillings each to Mary Neff and Samuel. This was approved on June 16, 1697, and the order in Council for the payment of the several allowances was passed Dec. 4, 1697. (Chapter 10, Province Laws, Mass. Archives.)

While in Boston Hannah told her story to Rev. Cotton Mather, whose morbid mind was stirred to its depths. He perceived her escape in the nature of a miracle, and his description of it in his “Magnalia Christi Americana” is extraordinary, though in the facts correct and corroborated by the evidence.

In Samuel Sewall’s Diary, Volume 1, pages 452 and 453, we find the following entry on May 12, 1697:

Fourth-day, May12….Hanah Dustin came to see us:….She saith her master, who she kill’d did formerly live with Mr. Roulandson at Lancaster: He told her, that when he pray’d the English way, he thought that was good: but now he found the French way was better. The single man shewed the night before, to Saml Lenarson, how he used to knock Englishmen on the head and take off their Scalps: little thinking that the Captives would make some of their first experiment upon himself. Sam. Lenarson kill’d him.

This remarkable exploit of Hannah Duston, Mary Neff, and Samuel Lennardson was received with amazement throughout the colonies, and Governor Nicholson of Maryland sent her a suitably inscribed silver tankard.

Dustin Tankard, A gift from the Gov. of Maryland to Hannah Dustin in 1697. In possession of the Haverhill Historical Society, Hav. Mass. Source: Some Indian Stories of Early New England, 1922

Historian Kathryn Whitford notes that the Abenaki Indians themselves didn’t take revenge on Hannah, though they had the opportunity and there are a good many recorded instances of Indian vengeance upon men who had betrayed them. She concludes “It almost seems as though the Indians recognized that they and Hannah approached border warfare in the same spirit and that they owed her no grudge.”

Statue of white woman holding hatchet and scalps sparks backlash in New England

The statue is the earliest publicly funded monument to a woman in the US.

It stands in the out-of-the-way town of Boscawen, New Hampshire. It shows a woman holding a hatchet in one hand and a fistful of scalps in the other. Her name is Hannah Duston.

As protests across the US topple statues of historical figures with connections to colonialism and slavery, Duston’s name has largely stayed out of the national conversation. But concerns about the New Hampshire statue, and another in Haverhill, Massachusetts, are now emerging.

This is because Duston is implicated in the deaths, and scalping, of 10 Native Americans.

“The statues were made to send a message to the indigenous community, that they are inferior, that their land would be seized, and they would be removed and put on reservations,” Judy Matthews, a Haverhill resident, told the Guardian.

The Duston statue vandalized in Boscawen, New Hampshire. Photograph: Denise Pouliot

She spoke during a 30 June city council meeting in Haverhill, asking officials to consider moving the statue to a less public place.

Those who support keeping the Duston statues claim their removal alone won’t benefit indigenous people, and that Duston was acting in self-defense.

Duston was born and raised in Haverhill, then a small farming town, amid disputes among English colonists, the French in Canada, and various Native American nations. She was a homemaker with nine children, and her cousin and uncle were tried at the Salem witch trials.

She was captured by the Abenaki nation during a military engagement in 1697 with her nurse-maid and newborn and was forced to trek a great distance to an encampment in present-day Boscawen, where she claimed the Abenaki killed her baby by bashing her head against a tree.

Duston, probably with the help of other captive colonists, killed the Native Americans – six of whom were children – before escaping and being generously rewarded for the scalps.

The two statues were erected in the mid-19th century to vilify Native Americans following the civil war and to promote the idea of westward expansion. Several other markers and memorials that do not bear Duston’s image were put up in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

For decades, Abenaki, residents, scholars and local municipalities have debated what should be done with the two statues, and those concerns have come to a boil.

On 3 July, an online petition began to circulate among local social media groups calling for the removal of the Haverhill statue. A counter-petition shortly followed. Ten days after Matthews spoke at the city council meeting, the monument was vandalized with the words “Haverhill’s own monument to genocide” written in chalk.

Shortly after the vandalism, Haverhill’s mayor, James Fiorentini, appointed two Native Americans to the Haverhill Historical Commission (HHC), which protects the town’s historic structures, to make recommendations for the future of the monument.

“I want to tell the other side of the story – of the Native Americans who lived here, of the immigrants who built the shoe factories, of the African Americans who were freed from slavery, and of African Americans who lived here as slaves in Haverhill,” said Fiorentini.

Yet the historical commission has not met since the start of the coronavirus pandemic and does not have a plan for when it will do so again.

Descendants of Duston, such as Diane Dustin Itasaka, who works alongside other family members at the Dustin Garrison House, are glad these conversations are happening but believe people should delve more deeply into Duston’s history before declaring that the statue must go.

“I want people to know that Hannah or any of the other women, children, babies, and men who had gone through any raid like this, if she really did do the unthinkable, it wasn’t because they were natives but because they were her captors,” Itasaka said. “If the French had captured her, it would have been the French. It wasn’t because they were native.”

Itasaka hopes the saga will be included in the history curriculum at local schools because “if school kids or adults knew more of the history, they would understand more of how and where we are today”.

Similar conversations are happening in New Hampshire. Elizabeth Dubrelle, the head of education and public programs at the New Hampshire Historical Society, says the group made the conscious decision not to include Duston’s story in the revamped school curriculum.

That is “in part because we don’t think it’s appropriate for kids”, she said. “I think it’s way too violent. No matter whose side you take, or what you think about it, I just don’t think it’s a good story for kids.”

Unlike in Massachusetts, there is now a concrete plan to adapt the New Hampshire statue. Proposed by representatives of the Cowasuck band of the Pennacook Abenaki people and New Hampshire state officials, it was approved on 17 July.

The changes include renaming the site of the Duston statue from the Hannah Duston Memorial Site to Unity Park N’dakinna, which means “our land” in Abenaki, and adding additional signage and monuments around the statue discussing discrepancies within the story, allowing the visitor to come up with their own conclusions.

For Denise Pouliot, who is Abenaki and involved in the project, one of the most important things to come out of it might simply be reminding others of her people’s long history in the region.

“If you go out on to anywhere on the other side of the Mississippi [River] and you ask about an indigenous tribe in New England, they’ll tell you there are none,” she said. “That’s a fundamental educational problem within this country, and how are we going to move forward as a nation if even our history is so broken?”

Hannah Duston - History

Pioneer (1657 - 1737)

The ordeal of Hannah Dustin (also Duston) is among the most horrific in New England colonial history. According to an early account by Cotton Mather, Dustin was captured on March 15, 1697 by a group of about 20 Indians and pulled from her bed one week after giving birth to her eighth child. Her husband managed to get the others to safety. The infant was killed when a member of the raiding party smashed it against a tree. Dustin and small group of hostages were marched about 60 miles from her home in Haverhill, MA to an island in the Merrimack River near Concord. Enlisting the help of others, including her nurse and an English boy previously captured, the group managed, amazingly, to kill 10 of their captors. Dustin sold the scalps to the local province for 50 pounds in reparation. A monument to Dustin can be seen in Haverhill and the site of her escape with companions Mary Neff and Samuel Lennardeen can be seen in Boscowen, NH. The Hannah Dustin Trail in Pennacook leads to another monument on the island on the Contoocook River. John Greenleaf Whittier popularized the incident in poetry. A symbol or heroism and independence in the 19 th century, the Hannah Dustin story has suffered a case of political incorrectness of late. Her name has been used to sell every conceivable product including liquor and horse racing and still remains extremely attractive to people seeking to prove a genealogical connection. Her ordeal during the Indian raids (incited by the French and English) of King Williams war also included the Coccecho Massacre in Dover, the Oyster River Raid in Durham and the Bracket Lane attack in Rye, NH.

Taken hostage, she fought back
with deadly force


An amazing collection of images and information related to the story including old postcards, photos of the Dustin Garrison, genealogical information and "All Things Hannah".

Hannah Artifacts
Given to the Haverhill Library by a descendant

Cotton Mather's Report
Made even more famous by his role in the Salem Witch trials. Mather (1663-1728) interviewed Hannah Dustin and offered this report

1839 Version of Hannah's Story
By John Warner Barber reprinted on a Haverhill family web page

Haverhill Duston Photos
Click for clear large images of the monument, the landing and the garrison house. Most other online images, sadly, are poor. These are better.

Haverhill Public Library
Good place to ask questions about Hannah

KING WILLIAM'S WAR (1689 - 1697)

Abenaki History Timeline
King William's War events in the coastal New England area

King William's War from Dow
Chapter in Dow's History of Hampton, a related NH town

Photo of Hannah Duston Monument Courtesy of
The Haverhill Chamber of Commerce

Why an American Woman Who Killed Indians Became Memorialized as the First Female Public Statue

Junius Brutus Stearns, “Hannah Duston Killing the Indians” (1847). Oil on canvas. Courtesy of Colby College Museum of Art, Gift of R. Chase Lasbury and Sally Nan Lasbury.

By Barbara Cutter | April 9, 2018

On a small island north of Concord, New Hampshire, stands a 25-foot-tall granite statue of Hannah Duston, an English colonist taken captive by Native Americans in 1697, during King William’s War. Erected in 1874, the statue bears close resemblance to contemporary depictions of Columbia, the popular “goddess of liberty” and female allegorical symbol of the nation, except for what she holds in her hands: in one, a tomahawk in the other, a fistful of human scalps.

Though she’s all but forgotten today, Hannah Duston was probably the first American woman to be memorialized in a public monument, and this statue is one of three built in her honor between 1861 and 1879. The mystery of why Americans came to see patriotic “heroism” in Duston’s extreme—even gruesome—violence, and why she became popular more than 100 years after her death, helps explain how the United States sees itself in world conflicts today.

Born in 1657, Hannah Emerson Duston lived in Haverhill, Massachusetts, at a time when disputes among English colonists, the French in Canada, and various Native American nations resulted in a series of wars in the region. King Philip’s War (1675-1676), for example, decimated southern New England Indian nations, which lost between 60 and 80 percent of their population as well as their political independence. Many were sold into slavery. By the late 1680s and the start of King William’s War, fragments of those southern tribes had joined the Abenaki and other northern New England Indian nations allied with the French to fight the continuing expansion of the English colonists to the north and west. Native men conducted raids on frontier English settlements, burning property, killing or injuring some colonists, and taking others captive, either to ransom them back to their families, or to adopt them as replacements for their own lost family members.

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Such was the context in which one group, most of whom were likely Abenaki, attacked the town of Haverhill on March 15, 1697—and encountered 40-year-old Hannah Duston at home with her neighbor Mary Neff. The Indians captured the women, along with some of their neighbors, and started on foot toward Canada. Duston had given birth about a week before. The captors are said to have killed her child early in the journey.

The group traveled for about two weeks, and then left Duston and Neff with a Native American family—two men, three women, and seven children—and another English captive, a boy who had been abducted a year and a half earlier from Worcester, Massachusetts. 14-year-old Samuel Leonardson may have been adopted by the family he certainly had their trust. At Duston’s request, he asked one of the men the proper way to kill someone with a tomahawk, and was promptly shown how.

One night when the Indian family was sleeping, Duston, Neff, and Leonardson—who were not guarded or locked up—armed themselves with tomahawks and killed and scalped 10 of the Indians, including six children. They wounded an older woman, who escaped. A small boy managed to run away. Duston and her fellow captives then left in a canoe, taking themselves and the scalps down the Merrimack River to Massachusetts, where they presented them to the General Assembly of Massachusetts and received a reward of 50 pounds.

This statue of Hannah Duston was the second one erected in Haverhill, Massachusetts. In other statues she holds scalps, but here she points her finger accusingly. Photo courtesy of Gregory Rodriguez.

Hannah Duston never wrote down her story. Most of what we know about her comes from the influential Puritan minister Cotton Mather, who published three versions of her tale between 1697 and 1702, embedded in his larger works on New England history. Mather frequently portrayed Indian people as instruments used by the devil to thwart the Puritan mission. He described Duston as a righteous ringleader who had every reason to convince the other captives to act. He stressed the “savagery” of her Indian captors, providing a horrific description of the murder of her child (“they dash’d out the Brains of the Infant, against a Tree.”). We will never know the full truth of Duston’s ordeal—was her baby murdered or did it die?—but Mather’s version of the death highlighted Indian violence to justify Duston’s gruesome vengeance.

Mather asserted that Duston and Neff never meant to kill the small boy who escaped he was “designedly spared” so they could bring him home with them, if he hadn’t run away. At the same time, Mather was apparently unconcerned that six of the “wretches” the captives scalped were children. He compared Duston to the biblical heroine Jael, who saved her people by driving a spike through Sisera’s head while he slept. Cotton Mather understood the wars between New England Puritans and Indians as battles between good and evil and this clearly shaped the way he told Duston’s story. She was a heroine saving her people from “savage” outsiders, fighting a justified war.

After 1702, Americans forgot about Hannah Duston until the 1820s, when there was a half-century-long revival of interest in her story, stoked by the nation’s expansion westward into Indian lands. The nation’s foremost literary figures, including Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry David Thoreau, and John Greenleaf Whittier, all wrote about her. Virtually all histories of the United States from that time contained a version of the story, as did numerous magazines, children’s books, biographies of famous Americans, and guidebooks. A mountain in northern New Hampshire was named “Mt. Dustan” in her honor—and of course, communities erected the three monuments.

It is no coincidence that Americans renewed their interest in the Duston story during this time. From the 1820s, when Georgia began pressing for the forced removal of native people, through the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890, the so-called “Indian problem” was almost always in the news. 19th-century white Americans were well aware of the moral issues that Indian removal raised, and engaged in heated national debates. As an 1829 “Circular: Addressed to Benevolent Ladies of the United States” put it, “The present crisis in the affairs of Indian Nations in the United States, demands the immediate and interested attention of all who make any claims to benevolence or humanity.” The circular described Indians as “free and noble” yet “helpless,” and “prey of the avaricious and the unprincipled” who wanted to steal their land, not caring that Indians would “perish” if removed.

Women, excluded from formal politics at this time, were active in the anti-removal campaign. They justified their involvement in a political issue by framing Indian removal as a moral question. In the 1820s, virtue was central to American national identity, and embodied in women. This is why Columbia became such a popular symbol of the nation—and why some turned to the story of Hannah Duston as ammunition in the debate over Indian removal.

How could a virtuous democratic nation evict Native Americans from their homelands, and wage war against them when they refused to give up those lands? It was possible only if those Indians were “bloodthirsty savages” who attacked innocent white Americans. Because female virtue was linked to the nation’s virtue, what violent act could be more innocent than that of a grief-stricken mother who had just witnessed the murder of her newborn child?

Accordingly, like Cotton Mather’s accounts, 19th-century versions of the Duston story depicted Native Americans as excessively violent. In a popular 1823 history textbook by Charles Goodrich, the Indians who took Duston captive burned “with savage animosity” and “delighted” “in the infliction of torment.” Goodrich claimed that “[w]omen, soon expecting to become mothers, were generally ripped up” by Indian captors and that some captives were even “roasted alive.”

But one problem remained: How could an “innocent” wronged mother murder someone else’s children herself? Tellingly, the fact that the “innocent” Duston killed six children was increasingly erased from accounts of her actions from the 1830s on. She thus became an American heroine.

Efforts to commemorate Duston began in earnest with the acceleration of western expansion in the 1850s. The first monument, built in Haverhill in 1861, was a marble column. On its base was a shield, surrounded by a musket, bow, arrows, tomahawk, and scalping knife. Engravings on its sides told the story of the “barbarous” murder of Duston’s baby and her “remarkable exploit” the column was topped by an eagle, symbol of the American nation. The monument’s builders, however, never fully paid for it, and in August 1865 it was stripped and resold to another town as a Civil War memorial.

The second monument was the 1874 New Hampshire scalp-wielding statue. Located on the island where it was thought Duston had killed the Native American family, it was unveiled on June 17th, the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, making the link between Duston, her violent acts, and American patriotism explicit. Haverhill built the last monument in 1879, as a replacement for the repossessed column. This time around, Duston, in long flowing hair and a gown, held a tomahawk in one hand and pointed the other outward in accusation, both highlighting her violence and suggesting that responsibility for it lay elsewhere. The scalps were gone. At its installation, the philanthropist who donated money for the statue emphasized its patriotism, stating that the purpose of the monument was to remember Duston’s “valor” and to “animate our hearts with noble ideas and patriotic feelings.”

As long as the so-called “Indian problem” continued, Duston remained an important historical figure, her story presented as moral justification for American expansionism onto Indian lands and into Mexico. But by 1890 officials had pronounced the “frontier” closed. The Indian population had reached a historic low, and the U.S. government confined virtually all Natives who remained in the West to reservations the “Indian problem” was over. The nation reassessed its attitudes toward Native Americans, and public interest in Duston’s story plummeted correspondingly. The tale disappeared from textbooks and popular culture.

Still, the powerful dynamic the story helped to establish remains with us today. The idea of a feminized, always-innocent America has become the principle by which the United States has structured many interactions with enemy others. In international wars as on frontiers past, it has portrayed itself as the righteous, innocent, mother-goddess-of-liberty patriotically defending herself against its “savage” enemies.

HP075: Hannah Duston

Hannah Duston was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She was born in circa 1657. She was the daughter of Michael Emerson and Hannah Webster. Michael was a shoemaker who immigrated from England. Nothing is known about Hannah Duston before her marriage to Thomas Duston. Duston is also written, Dustin with an I, Dusten with and E and Durstan. Thomas and Hannah married in December of 1677. Thomas was originally from Dover, New Hampshire. He was a bricklayer and farmer by trade. Thomas was a well respected citizin of Haverhill and eventually was elected a constable. They lived in a cottage two miles from Haverhill. The couple had 13 children……

Robert D. Arner. “The Story Of Hannah Duston: Cotton Mather To Thoreau,” American Transcendental Quarterly, 18 (1973). 19-23.

Samuel Willard Crompton. “100 Colonia Leaders Who Shaped North America,” p.69

Tory Horwitz. “The Devil May Care: Fifty Intrepit Americans and their Quest for the Unknown,” p.25-28.

Hannah Duston. Britannica Biography Collection via EBSCOhost


Welcome to HistoryPodcast 75! I’m Jason Watts your host and Kyle from South Carolina called in the the History Hotline with this request.

Hannah Duston was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She was born in circa 1657. She was the daughter of Michael Emerson and Hannah Webster. Michael was a shoemaker who immigrated from England. Nothing is known about Hannah Duston before her marriage to Thomas Duston. Duston is also written, Dustin with an I, Dusten with and E and Durstan. Thomas and Hannah married in December of 1677. Thomas was originally from Dover, New Hampshire. He was a bricklayer and farmer by trade. Thomas was a well respected citizin of Haverhill and eventually was elected a constable. They lived in a cottage two miles from Haverhill. The couple had 13 children. The twelve born March 1697.

Thomas had recently been appointed Captain of a local garrison on the fears that an Indian attack was eminent. A group of Abenaki raiders (Canadian Indians) attacked the frontier town of Haverhill, Massachusetts on March 15, 1697. Thomas saw the Indians approaching his home from the fields he was working in. He raced to his home, but was only able to escape with seven of his children. He was unable to save his wife, 1 week old newborn and Mary Neff, their nurse who came to live with them while Hannah recouped from her pregnancy. Thomas led the seven children to a garrison a few miles away. In the brief conflict the Indians killed many, burned some of the residences, and captured a dozen whites. Included in the group of captives was Hannah Duston, her newborn, Mary Neff.

The Indians stopped long enough to swing the newborn’s head against an apple tree on their way out of the flaming settlement. Hannah was forced to watch as they killer her child. Days later the Indian group split they would re-join at a village near Penacook River in Maine. Once they arrived at there the women were told that they would be stripped, whipped, and forced to run the gauntlet. An Indian family of twelve, who were Roman Catholic converts were assigned to watch Hannah, Mary and Samuel Lennardson, a boy of 15 captured 8 months earlier in Worcester. The Indian family consisted of two warriors, three women, and seven children.

Lennardson had convinced one of his captors to explain how to kill and scalp. He then shared this information with Duston. She decided to use this new information on March 30, 1697. Accounts differ on whether the captives attacked their sleeping foes on the early morning on the 30th or the late evening of the 30th. While still several days distance from the rendezvous, Hannah gathered other captives and together they used Tomahawks to kill their sleeping guards. Lennardson killed one Indian and Duston nine. Only one Indian woman and one Indian boy escaped. They then scalped the slain Indians and followed the Merrimac River by canoe and foot back to Haverhill. A few days later they travelled to Boston and met with the Massachusetts General Court. Mr. Duston asked that they court give his family a reward as reimbursement for his loss. The General Court, in keeping with it policy for providing bounty for Indian scalp awarded 25 pounds to Duston and gave Lennardson and Neff, 12 pounds, 10 schillings each for their bravery. The deeds of Hannah were widely publicized. Francis Nicholson the Governor of Maryland send Hannah a gift. In later years Mrs. Duston requested more compensation for her services as Indian murder and received it.

While in Boston Hannah also shard her story with Samuel Sewall and Cotton Mather, who wrote about it in his Magnalia Christi Americana. This is where the story is first printed. Mather touted Mrs, Duston’s harrowing escape as a wonder of Christian religion and painted her as a Puritan saint.

In his book Mather failed to mention the moral objections of Duston murdering and scalping the sleeping Indians. Instead his account of Duston raises her on high as a unquestionable model for all Puritans.

Many artists preferred to paint images of Mr. Duston saving his seven children than one of Hannah hacking at sleeping Indians. However, there is an image up at the website of Hannah doing just that.

Many writings about Hannah’s ordeal handle the issue of her killing the Indians guards differently. Some state they she killed them in revenge of her newborns slaughter. One could argue that she could have just crept into the night to escape. Maybe she was afraid that they would come after her or hear her leaving.

Interestingly enough Hannah never became a part of American folklore as did John Smith and Pocahontas. Hannah does not reflect the American character. With the decrease in Puritanism, she lost her significance as a hero/saint and became only a slayer of Indians. Also, her story was limited to the shores of the Merrimac, which cannot support a national legend.

Hannah returned to Haverhill to live out her years. She had one more child in 1698. Her husband Thomas died in 1732. Hannah moved in with her son Johnathan and died circa 1736.

Other interesting notes on the Duston family….

In 1676, Hannah’s father was fined for “cruel and excessive beating . . . and kicking ” of Hannah’s younger sister Elizabeth Emerson, who was eleven years old at the time. Seventeen years later, Elizabeth herself entered the court, accused of killing her newborn twins. She had given birth to illegitimate children at home, without her parents’ knowledge, hidden their bodies in a chest by her bed and later buried them in the garden. She claimed not to have hurt the infants, and it is possible that they were stillborn (one of them had its umbilical cord twisted about its neck). But the colonial laws had been revised in 1692 to make “concealing of the death of a bastard child ” a capital crime. Elizabeth was tried by a jury and hanged on June 8, 1693. In a striking coincidence, one of the women who examined Elizabeth at the discovery of the dead babies was Mary Neff, the widow who four years later assisted Hannah in killing six Native American children.

Robert D. Arner. “The Story Of Hannah Duston: Cotton Mather To Thoreau,” American Transcendental Quarterly, 18 (1973). 19-23.

Samuel Willard Crompton. “100 Colonia Leaders Who Shaped North America,” p.69

Tory Horwitz. “The Devil May Care: Fifty Intrepit Americans and their Quest for the Unknown,” p.25-28.

Hannah Duston. Britannica Biography Collection via EBSCOhost


Todays frapper mappers are:

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Thanks for making your mark on the frapper map. If you would like to hear your name on history podcast please visit the new website at historyonair.com. The wiredness in Internet Explorer has been corrected. Many thanks to Christian for pointing this out to a firefox user.

I will be on vacation next week and unable to podcast. However, I am assigning homework, kinda…

It is time for another contest! This time please call the history hotline and give me the best intro you can. Be creative. But please include your name and where you live! On the last episode of September I will announce the winner. That means all entries must be received by September 25! The prize will be a copy of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq by George Packer.

Some plugs for the Assassins’ Gate….

The New York Observer says…”sobering…A pocket history of Iraq and the United States tangled history….its indispensable…The Assassins’ Gate is a book every American needs to read.

Town's Statue Of Colonial Woman Who Killed Natives Sparks Debate

A statue of 17th-century English colonist Hannah Duston in Massachusetts has become a flashpoint in the ongoing debate about racist monuments.

Statues of Hannah Duston face a reckoning in two New England communities. Duston was a 17th-century English colonist who was said to have been captured by Native Americans who then killed 10 of them in order to escape. WBUR's Amelia Mason has this report, which includes descriptions of violence.

AMELIA MASON, BYLINE: The statue of Hannah Duston in Haverhill, Mass., towers over a patch of daffodils in the city's G.A.R. Park. Legend says that in 1697, Duston killed 10 Native American warriors who'd kidnapped her. The statue depicts her holding a hatchet.

RON PEACETREE: That hatchet is supposedly the one that she actually used to, quote, unquote, "scalp the warriors."

MASON: Ron Peacetree of the Haverhill Historical Commission says a number of people Duston killed were children. Historical records suggest she was being taken north not by warriors, but by an Abenaki family. Peacetree says the monument was propaganda to justify westward expansion.

PEACETREE: The propaganda story feeds into the white manifest destiny thing, feeds into the hatred against Native Americans.

MASON: Peacetree is half Haudenosaunee, also known as Iroquois. And he says growing up in the 1960s, his family faced discrimination, like the time a hotel clerk turn them away.

PEACETREE: And he looked at my mom and us four kids and said, I'm sorry, we don't serve your kind here. The place you want is two miles down the road.

MASON: The statue, Peacetree says, helped shape the philosophy that made that discrimination OK. Last year, calls to remove the Haverhill statue ignited a fierce public debate. This month, the city decided to keep the statue but provide space for a Native American monument.

For 79-year-old Lou Fossarelli, who grew up in Haverhill, the compromise changes too much about the legend he knows.

LOU FOSSARELLI: I'm glad they left it where they left it. But I'm not happy that the city is now going to build a monument to the Indians. I know the history. There is no other version.

MASON: Meanwhile, and hour north in Boscawen, N.H., plans are already underway to tell a different story. The state's division of parks and recreation intends to redesign the site of another Duston monument. An advisory committee is considering adding a memorial to Duston's victims and information about Abenaki history.

Here's committee member Craig Richardson, a direct descendant of Hannah Duston.

CRAIG RICHARDSON: Changing the signage, changing the name of the park - you know, it isn't just about Hannah Duston.

DENISE POULIOT: On one hand, as an Indigenous person, we don't want a statue that honors Hannah. On the other hand, we need an outlet in order to share the true history of the region.

MASON: Denise Pouliot, a council leader for the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People, is also on the committee. She finds the statue offensive but says it's a chance to set the record straight.

POULIOT: How many historical books have been written based on this false narrative that I can no longer wipe off the shelves?

MASON: In particular, Pouliot hopes to counter the version of the story popularized by the Puritan author Cotton Mather, in which Duston's captors brutally murdered her newborn baby. There is reason to doubt his account, says Barbara Cutter, a professor of history at the University of Northern Iowa. But she says that when considering the New England statues, we shouldn't focus too much on what may or may not have happened in 1697.

BARBARA CUTTER: I think it's really more important to think about what people meant when they supported putting up this statue. It was about an effort to hide the violence of colonization and imperialism.

MASON: How we should judge Hanna Duston is the wrong question, Cutter says. Instead, we should ask ourselves how we choose who to memorialize and what stories we're trying to tell. For NPR News, I'm Amelia Mason.

Watch the video: The 1697 Revenge of Hannah Duston w. Jay Atkinson - A True Crime History Podcast