My grandfather loves stories, loves history, loves New England, loves genealogy. When my father was born, they got his name from a tombstone in the Old Deerfield Cemetery - which is right next to the mass grave for victims of the Deerfield Massacre. The big wooden be-plaqued houses and histories 'round there are speckled with our name. But my uncle's middle name makes a more symbolic connection between those two graves.

He's named Dustin after a distant relation: Hannah Dustin, always cast as a heroine in grandpa's stories. She was forty and living in Haverhill in March of 1697, the month she bore her eighth child and, a little later, entered history.

Hannah and Thomas Dustin and their children lived in a house slightly separated from the settlement at Haverhill, and were thus perhaps an easy target for attacking natives*. On March 15th, Hannah was still abed after bearing a child a week earlier - her children were around the house and Thomas was out working when an attacking band approached. The children were sent packing toward the village and when daddy came to protect his family, he was sent after them, leaving Hannah, the baby, and the midwife Mary Ness in the house.

The attackers followed Thomas and the children but Thomas fired back and they managed to get to town. So the "salvages" turned back toward the house. They roused Hannah out of bed, ransacked and torched the house, and started their retreat with the captives. As the infant slowed the party's progress, they brained it against an apple tree (some accounts say they laughed at Hannah's horror) and left it in the bloody leaves as they marched on to what is now New Hampshire, camping on an island. Some versions of the tale imply that there were other hostages that were killed as they faltered in the march, but both Hannah and Mary survive - either by force of prayer or, alternately, thirst for bloody revenge. Or, in true New England Old Testament style, both.

At any rate, Hannah resolved to escape one night when they were encamped on an island; apparently she'd been told that on their arrival in Pennacook they'd be forced to run the gauntlet before they could be integrated as slaves and didn't relish the idea, especially after a sixteen-day forced hike sans shoes in March, thinking about her family that she could only assume were dead. She got the cooperation of Mary Ness and an English boy (Samuel Leonardston, also captive), stole a few hatchets, and killed ten of the twelve sleeping indians in the camp. The escaped two were a woman and a boy, who woke and ran. The fugitives then took a canoe and set off back down the Merrimack river.

Before too long, however, Hannah decided to turn back to the scene. She wanted proof of her deeds - whether to prove that she had gone with them against her will, or avenged her baby's death, or just to get the reward, we'll never know. She turned the canoe around and they gathered the ten scalps, which they brought to Boston and were rewarded fifty pounds for, along with other awards and honors.

Hannah is the first woman in the U.S. to have a statue erected to her: the statue in Haverhill was erected in 1879. There is a second statue in Duston Island, N.H. In 1973, there was a commemorative Jim Beam bottle in Hannah's image. She's engrained in our memory. Some of the stories say that her bloody actions may have given indians second thoughts about taking colonial women hostage.

Living at the raggedy rough edge of a cultural collision, in this instant no one was at their best. I don't really feel that her actions should make me proud as a woman or a relative or a human, but who would know what they'd do after a forced march with visions of baby brains playing out over and over? My dad and i thought it might make a disturbing and gritty historical movie: it's already been written up in so many histories.

I just don't know why anyone would name their child after her.


* No accounts i could find specify which tribe - they're mostly called "furious salvages" and "formidable tawnies". However, http://www.hiddenhistory.com/PAGE3/swsts/nuhamp1.HTM says that the Pennacook (or Merrimac) lived near Haverhill and accounts of Hannah's story say they were going to be taken to a settlement at Pennacook. (gosh, i wonder why they were angry and attacking?)

Background on the Dustin kidnapping

The Hannah Emerson Dustin (sometimes spelled "Dustan" or "Duston") incident took place during the conflict called King William's War (also called the War of the League of Augsberg). It was the first of four wars in what is known as the "French and Indian Wars" which ended with the Seven Years War (also called the "French and Indian War"). (The term "French and Indian Wars" is somewhat misleading, since the real adversaries were France and England—since England named it, that's the common title.) It lasted from 1689-1697, ending with the Treaty of Ryswick.

The heart of the conflict was a power struggle to see which country (France or England) would control the continent, and specifically, at the time, New England. The "Indian" part came from the numbers enlisted or pushed into fighting for either side (for the most part, only the Mohawk consistently sided with the English). While England relied largely on its own colonists, France employed a large number of Indians to do its fighting—Indians who saw France as the lesser of two evils and far less expansionist and "extermination-minded" than England (France tended to have better relations among the Indians). Hoping to gain some advantage (and continued existence), they fought for the French as sort of "surrogate" soldiers (which was just fine as far as France was concerned).

For the French, the Abenaki Confederacy was its biggest ally. It contained Indians from the Abenaki, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Pennacook, Maliseet, and Micmac bands. Incidents leading to the war involved the Abenaki Indians' outrage when the governor (English) of colonies in the New England area sent soldiers to an Indian-friendly trading post demanding the head of the post submit to the crown. Then, after some Indians killed some settlers' livestock, the settlers killed sixteen Indians. This unleashed a series of raids on both sides spilling much blood.

The Iroquois, who were trading partners with the English, raided a (French) settlement on the St. Lawrence River, killing 200 and taking 120 prisoner. This gave the French governor of New France "justification" to begin what was termed "la petite guerre" against the Iroquois and the English settlements.

For the most part, the war was a series of frontier raids and massacres between English soldiers (and colonists) against French soldiers and Indians (often acting at the instigation of their French allies). Resentment and hatred ran high on both sides and since Indians (particularly ones allied with the Catholic French) were already considered by many as less than human and "primitive" or "savage," it was easy to hate them. On the other side, the colonists represented the English (many fought for them) and their "extermination" policies, as well as the continual encroachment onto Indian land. This all made for a violent, bloody conflict that involved what would normally be noncombatants in raid and counterraid.

The Indians who abducted Hannah were probably Abenakis (or another member of the Confederacy). Of the ten Indians killed, Hannah killed nine. The makeup of the ten was two warriors, two women, and six children (or youths). Later she applied for the scalp bounty but found the time limit on receiving rewards had passed. She petitioned the authorities and managed to receive a special payment, later being given a pension as an "Indian fighter."

Cotton Mather (and other preachers of the time) found a lot of material for sermons from her experiences. According to Mather, the "evil of the Indians" was attributable to their "Catholic conversion by French missionaries" and the escape an "example of the Protestant ideal of divine deliverance from evil" (Waldman). Her story also became the basis of a work by Nathaniel Hawthorne and an essay by Henry David Thoreau.

Asides. I find it interesting how many sites make the claim that her actions somehow "checked" the act of taking women prisoner by Indians by showing them how women weren't "weak" or "helpless" (which they aren't, but that's beside the point). This seems to be more wishful thinking and an attempt to make her into some sort of "hero for women." It's doubtful it had any impact on the practice of taking captives. And while her actions in order to escape are understandable, and even justified, as noted elsewhere: scalping (and receiving payment for such) "is a savage, cruel practice that has no place in any civilization, in time of war or not."

(Sources: Ward Churchill A Little Matter of Genocide: holocaust and denial in the Americas, 1492 to present, 1997; Carl Waldman Biographical Dictionary of American Indian History to 1900 rev. ed. 2001; Atlas of the North American Indian rev. ed. 2000; www.britannica.com/women/articles/Duston_Hannah.html)

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