Friday, March 16, 2007

Chapter 11: Hannah's story

The most interesting part of the Three Hundred Year Anniversary gathering in Haverhill, back in 1997, was the opportunity to meet other women like myself, who grew up with the last name Dustin.

We came from all over, and for the most part, we had never before had met.
Most of our ancestry had not included a common ancestor for a hundred years or two hundred, or even more years.

Yet we women all had something in common: We were the daughters of Hannah Dustin.

We were raised knowing her story. Many people are the descendants of famous men; war and politics assure many opportunities for men to acquire fame.

But women? Famous women are few and far between.
We, the decendents of Hannah, were self assured, savvy and strong.

It was interesting to meet so many confident women at once.

For awhile Thomas Dustin was the famous one. During the early 1800's his story appeared in every American child's school book, a shining example of fatherly love. America embraced the image of the father figure in the home. The success of the family, society, and the nation at large rested upon the father figure's shoulders.

John Greenleaf Whittier, Henry David Thoreau, and Nathaniel Hawthorne praised his historic exploits in their writings.

Yet it was Hannah whose name and exploits has inspired the placement of five monuments in her honor. No other American woman can make such a claim, it truly is remarkable.

And it was Hannah's stirring story that made her the first woman in America to have a statue erected in her honor.

Here I will begin her story.

As soon as her husband left to protect their children, the Indians invaded the cabin. Mary Neff attempted to leave with the infant Martha, but she was easily caught.
The "savages" force Hannah to rise, and to dress herself. In her haste to dress, she neglected to put on one of her shoes. She seated herself in the fireplace, which in those days were huge spaces, often with stools upon which one could sit to warm oneself or tend to the cooking.

Sitting despairingly in the chimney, she watched them rifle the house, of all that they could carry away. She watched as they ripped her weaving from her loom.
Grabbing Hannah roughly, the Indians dragged her outside while they fired the house.

A few of the Indians then dragged Hannah and Mary who carried the baby towards the woods. The rest of the Indian band was rejoined by those who had been pursuing Thomas and the children. Together they set about attacking the other houses in the village, killing twenty-seven people and capturing thirteen of the inhabitants.

Mary Neff carried the baby, assisting Hannah as she could via that small favor. The Indians were traveling fast; it was only a matter of time before the village would roust a mob to ride after them.

In the chaos, the infant Martha wailed, and Mary began to struggled to keep up.

One of the Indians settled the matter. Pulling the screaming babe from Mary's arms, the Indian swung Martha against an apple tree, dashing out her brains before her horrified mother's eyes.
Tossing the lifeless infant's body aside, Mary was shoved forward, and onward, as was Hannah as well.

The Indians forced the women to their utmost pace, at last reaching the woods and joining the squaws and Indian children who had been left behind there the night before. Here they were soon after joined by the rest of the savage band, bringing their plunder and other captives.

Fearing a prompt pursuit, the Indians immediately set out for Canada with their booty.

Along the way, some of the weaker captives, unable to keep up, were callously knocked on the head with a hatchet, and then they were rapidly scalped.

Miraculously, inspite of her post-partum condition, poorly clad in a simple shift and partly shod, Hannah, assisted by Mary Neff, somehow managed to keep up.
By her own account they marched "about a dozen miles" that day. Truly a remarkable feat.

During the next few days Hannah, Mary, the Indians and few others traveled about a hundred miles through the unbroken wilderness.
They journeyed on rough trails, in places still covered with the winter's snow, sometimes deep with mud. They crossed icy brooks, while rocks tore Hannah's half shod feet, and their poorly clad bodies suffered from the cold-each step a terrible journey, punishing them both physically and emotionally to the utmost.

Martha was dead. Her friends and neighbors, at first a small comfort of comradeship in the hardship had also been murdered before her eyes. The images must have been burned into her mind: The blood poured from their clubbed head, mixing with brain matter on the ground as they fell.

And then the scalps, there was the scalps that still swung from the belts of the Indians that shoved and threatened them even now.

Perhaps those horrors sealed Hannah into a state of emotional numbness. The hardship of trudging, slipping, through snowy passes and rough terrain probably no longer registered in Hannah's mind.

For Hannah, then, there was no way of knowing if Thomas lived, if the children could have reached the Marsh house safely. Perhaps, most likely, in her mind, they too had been killed.

As far as she knew, her family was dead.

Perhaps she wanted to be dead too.

1 comment:

Lovella said...

I just want you to know I read it, I like most of the others that read this really don't know what to say. It seems wrong to try to make an intelligent remark and yet it seems wrong not to try. How horrible. I complain about such silly little things.
How wonderful for you to meet the other daughters of Hannah Dustin. That must have been amazing.