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;