Saturday, March 31, 2007

Chapter 19: Smote

I think the best way to tell what happened on the early hours of March 30th is to let the Dustin family historian, and the diary entries of Hannah's contemporaries state the facts.

"Shortly after midnight she (Hannah) 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."

Sleeping Abenaki Indians on the Duston Monument, Haverhill, Massachusetts. Hannah and two other English captives killed ten of the twelve sleeping Indians on an island camp in the Merrimack River in March or April of 1697.
(Photography by Joseph R. Modugno)

(courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum)

"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. "

Junius Brutus Stearns, N.A. signed & dated 1847

According to a deposition of Hannah Bradley (the other Hannah taken captive from Havehill) 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.”

From Heroism of Hannah Duston : together with the Indian Wars of New England, 1874, by Robert Boodey Caverly (1806-1887).

"Hasting 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 (Hannah, Mary and Samuel) scuttled the rest of the canoes and set out down the Merrimack River.

Photography by Joseph R. Modugno)

"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."

(A piece of Hannah's weaving is inside the frame laying on the table top. The knife with which she scalped her foe is in the upright frame leaning against the window. Picture taken by Jill Spriggs, August 1997 , Buttonwood Dustin Museum, Haverhill Massachusetts.)

(Map of river route between Penecook Island in New Hampshire and Haverhill, Massachusetts.) courtesy of “The Story of Hannah Duston/Dustin of Haverhill, Massachusetts” Website )

"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."

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On this point of land dwelt John Lovewell, one of the earliest settlers of Dunstable, at whose house Hannah Duston spent the night after her escape from the indians at Penacook Island March 30, 1697. Erected by Matthew Thornton Chapter D.A.R. 1902.

"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. Doubtless Samuel was a hero of the younger generation for many days."

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.

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.

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 innocent 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 (Mass. Archives Vol 70, p. 350), setting forth the above belief and claiming the reward, pleading that “ the merit of the Action remains the same” and claiming that “ your Petitioner having Lost his Estate in the Calamity wherein his wife was carried into her captivity rendrs him the fitter object for what consideracon the publick Bounty shall judge proper for what hath been herein done”, etc.

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,....
(Surprise! HIM again!)

....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 doubtless quite correct and corroborated by the evidence.

The Duston / Dustin Family, Thomas and Elizabeth (Wheeler) Duston and their descendants. Compiled by the Duston - Dustin Family Association Genealogists

Cotton Mathers' report in his "Magnali Christi Americana", is as follows, and he also recounted the story in two other writings:

Magna Christi Americana,

The Ecclesiastical History of New England

by Cotton Mather 1702

On March 15, 1697, the salvages made a descent upon the skirts of Haverhill, murdering and captivating about thirty-nine persons, and burning about half a dozen houses. In this broil, one Hannah Dustan, having lain in about a week, attended with her nurse, Mary Neff, a body of terrible Indians drew near unto the house where she lay, with designs to carry on their bloody devastations. Her husband hastened from his employments abroad unto the relief of his distressed family; and first bidding seven of his eight children (which were from two to seventeen years of age) to get away as fast as they could unto some garrison in the town, he went in to inform his wife of the horrible distress come upon them. Ere she could get up, the fierce Indians were got so near, that, utterly desparing to do her any service, he ran out after his children; resolving that on the horse which he had with him, he would ride away with that which he should in this extremity find his affections to pitch most upon, and leave the rest unto the care of the Divine Providence. He overtook his children, about forty rod from his door; but then such was the agony of his parental affections, that he found it impossible for him to distinguish any one of them from the rest; wherefore he took up a courageous resolution to live and die with them all. A party of Indians came up with him; and now, though they fired at him, and he fired at them, yet he manfully kept at the reer of his little army of unarmed children, while they marched off with the pace of a child of five years old; until, by the singular providence of God, he arrived safe with them all unto a place of safety about a mile or two from his house. But his house must in the mean time have more dismal tragedies acted at it. The nurse, trying to escape with the new-born infant, fell into the hands of the formidable salvages; and those furious tawnies coming into the house, bid poor Dustan to rise immediately. Full of astonishment, she did so; and sitting down in the chimney with an heart full of most fearful expectation, she saw the raging dragons rifle all that they could carry away, and set the house on fire. About nineteen or twenty Indians now led these away, with about half a score other English captives; but ere they had gone many steps, they dash'd out the brains of the infant against a tree; and several of the other captives, as they began to tire in the sad journey, were soon sent unto their long home; the salvages would presently bury their hatchets in their brains, and leave their carcases on the ground for birds and beasts to feed upon. However, Dustan (with her nurse) notwithstanding her present condition, travelled that night about a dozen miles, and then kept up with their new masters in a long travel of an hundred and fifty miles, more or less, within a few days ensuing, without any sensible damage in their health, from the hardships of their travel, their lodging, their diet, and their many other difficulties.These two poor women were now in the hands of those whose "tender mercies are cruelties;" but the good God, who hath all "hearts in his own hands," heard the sighs of these prisoners, and gave them to find unexpected favour from the master who hath laid claim unto them. That Indian family consisted of twelve persons; two stout men, three women, and seven children; and for the shame of many an English family, that has the character of prayerless upon it, I must now publish what these poor women assure me. 'Tis this: in obedience to the instructions which the French have given them, they would have prayers in their family no less than thrice every day; in the morning, at noon, and in the evening; nor would they ordinarily let their children eat or sleep, without first saying their prayers. Indeed, these idolaters were, like the rest of their whiter brethren, persecutors, and would not endure that these poor women should retire to their English prayers, if they could hinder them. Nevertheless, the poor women had nothing but fervent prayers to make their lives comfortable or tolerable; and by being daily sent out upon business, they had opportunities, together and asunder, to do like another Hannah, in "pouring out their souls before the Lord." Nor did their praying friends among our selves forbear to "pour out" supplications for them. Now, they could not observe it without some wonder, that their Indian master sometimes when he saw them dejected, would say unto them, "What need you trouble your self? If your God will have you delivered, you shall be so!" And it seems our God would have it so to be. This Indian family was now travelling with these two captive women, (and an English youth taken from Worcester, a year and a half before,) unto a rendezvous of salvages, which they call a town, some where beyond Penacook; and they still told these poor women that when they came to this town, they must be stript, and scourg'd, and run the gantlet through the whole army of Indians. They said this was the fashion when the captives first came to a town; and they derided some of the faint-hearted English, which, they said, fainted and swooned away under the torments of this discipline. But on April 30, while they were yet, it may be, about an hundred and fifty miles from the Indian town, a little before break of day, when the whole crew was in a dead sleep, (reader, see if it prove not so!) one of these women took up a resolution to imitate the action of Gael upon Siberia; and being where she had not her own life secured by any law unto her, she thought she was not forbidden by any law to take away the life of the murderers by whom her child had been butchered. She heartened the nurse and the youth to assist her in this enterprize; and all furnishing themselves with hatchets for the purpose, they struck such home blows upon the heads of their sleeping oppressors, that ere they could any of them struggle into any effectual resistance, "at the feet of these poor prisoners, they bow'd, they fell, they lay down; at their feet they bow'd, they fell; where they bow'd, there they fell down dead." Only one squaw escaped, sorely wounded, from them in the dark; and one boy, whom they reserved asleep, intending to bring him away with them, suddenly waked, and scuttled away from this desolation. But cutting off the scalps of the ten wretches, they came off, and received fifty pounds from the General Assembly of the province, as a recompence of their action; besides which, they received many "presents of congratulation" from their more private friends: but none gave 'em a greater taste of bounty than Colonel Nicholson, The Governour of Maryland, who, hearing of their action, sent 'em a very generous token of his favour.

(Governor Nicholson was a friend of Thomas Spriggs, my husband's ancestor. The Manorial, or ruling families of wealth sent Hannah a large sum of money as well. It pleases me to think my husband's ancestor had heard about my ancestress, and honored her at that time.)

A tankard that was presented to Hannah, either by the Massachusetts or Maryland leaders.

From: Diary of John Marshall, dated April 1697

"At the latter end of this month two women and a young lad that had been taken captive from Haverhill in March before, watching their opportunity when the Indians were asleep, killed ten of them, scalped them all and came home to Boston. [They] brought a gun with them and some other things. The chief of these Indians took one of the women captive when she had lain in childbed but a few days, and knocked her child in [the] head before her eyes, which woman killed and scalped that very Indian. This was done just about the time the council of this province had concluded on a day of fasting and prayer through the province."

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.

Much later there were people who wrote the story as they had heard it.

Whittier was positive about Hannah's choice:

From: "Legends of New England" by John Greenleaf Whittier
copyright 1831

THE MOTHER'S REVENGE"..... Woman's attributes are generally considered of a milder and purer character than those of man. The virtues of meek affection, of fervent piety, of winning sympathy and of that " charity which forgiveth often", are more peculiarly her own. Her sphere of action is generally limited to the endearments of the home- the quiet communion with her friends, and the angelic exercise of the kindly charities of existence. Yet there have been astonishing manifestations of female fortitude and power in the ruder and sterner trials of humanity; Manifestations of a courage rising almost to sublimity; the revelation of all those dark and terrible passions, which madden and distract the heart of manhood. The perils that surrounded the earliest settlers of New England were of the most terrible character. None but such a people as were our forefathers could have successfully sustained them. In the dangers and the hardihood of that perilous period, woman herself shared largely. It was not unfrequently her task to garrison the dwelling of her absent husband, and hold at bay the fierce savages in their hunt for blood. Many have left behind them a record of their sufferings and trials in the great wilderness, when in the bondage of the heathen, which are full of wonderful and romantic incidents, related however without ostentation, plainly and simply , as if the authors felt assured that they had only performed the task which Providence had set before them, and for which they could ask no tribute or admiration. In 1698 the Indians made an attack upon the English settlement at Haverhill (Mass.)- now a beautiful village on the left bank of the Merrimack. They surrounded the house of one Duston, which was a little removed from the main body of the settlement. The wife of Duston was at that time in bed with an infant child in her arms. Seven young children were around her. On the first alarm Duston (Thomas) bade his children fly towards the garrison house, and then turned to save his wife and infant. By the time the savages were presenting close upon them. The heroic women saw the utter impossibility of her escape- and she bade her husband fly to succor his children and leave her to her fate. It was a moment of terrible trial for the husband- he hesitated between his affection and his duty- but the entreaties of his wife fixed his determination. He turned away and followed his children. A part of the Indians pursued him, but he held them at a distance by the frequent discharge of his rifle. The children fled towards the garrison ,where their friends waited, with breathless anxiety, to receive them. More than once, during their flight , the savages gained upon them ; but a shot from the rifle of Duston, followed, as it was , by the fall of one of their number , effectually checked their progress. The garrison was reached, and Duston and his children, exhausted from fatigue and terror, were literally dragged into its enclosure by their anxious neighbors. Mrs. Duston , her servant girl ( Mary Neff her mid wive) and her infant were made prisoners by the Indians, and were compelled to proceed before them in their retreat towards their lurking place . The charge of her infant necessarily impeded her progress; and the savages brook delay when they knew the avenger of blood was following closely behind them. Finding that the wretched mother was unable to keep pace with her captors, the leader of the band approached her ,and wrested the infant from her arms. the savage held it before him for a moment, contemplating, with a smile of grim fierceness the terrors of its mother , and then dashed it from him with all of his powerful strength. Its head smote heavily on the trunk of an adjacent tree, and the dried leaves around were sprinkled with brains and blood. " Go on !" said the Indian. The wretched mother cast one look upon her dead infant, and another to Heaven, as she obeyed her savage conductor. She has often said , that at this moment , all was darkness and horror- that her very heart seemed to cease beating, and to lie cold and dead in her bosom, and that her limbs moved as only involuntary machinery. But when she gazed around her and saw the unfeeling savages ,grinning at her and mocking her and pointing to the mangled body of her infant with fiendish exultation, a new and terrible feeling came over her . It was the thirst of revenge; and from that moment her purpose was fixed. There was the thought of death at her heart-an insantiate longing for blood. An instantaneous change had been wrought in her very nature ; the angel had become a demon,-and she followed her captors with a stearn determination to embrace the earliest opportunity for blood retribution. The Indians followed the course of the Merrimack, until they had reached their canoes, a distance of seventy or eighty miles. They paddled to a small island ( now known as Duston Island, N.H.), a little above the upper falls of the river. Here they kindled a fire; and fatigued by their long marches and sleepless nights, stretched themselves around it, without dreaming of the escape of their captives. Their sleep was deep- deeper than any which the white man knows,- a sleep from which they were never to awaken. The two captives lay silent, until the hour of midnight; but the bereaved mother did not close her eyes. There was a gnawing of revenge at her heart, which precluded slumber. There was a spirit within her which defied the weakness of the body. She rose up and walked around the sleepers, in order to test the soundness of their slumber. They stirred not a limb or muscle. Placing a hatchet in the hands of her fellow captive, and bidding her stand ready to assist her, she grasped another in her own hands, and smote its ragged edge deeply into the skull of the nearest sleeper. A slight shudder and a feeble groan followed. The savage was dead. She passed on to the next. Blow followed blow, until ten out of twelve, the whole number of the savages, were stiffening in blood. One escaped with a dreadful wound. The last- a small boy-still slept amidst the scene of carnage. Mrs. Duston lifted her dripping hatchet above his head, but hesitated to strike the blow. "It is a poor," she said, mentally, "a poor child, and perhaps he has a mother!" The thought of her own children rushed upon her mind, and she spared him. She was in the act of leaving the bloody spot, when, suddenly reflecting that the people of her settlement would not credit her story, unsupported by any proof save her own assertion, she returned and deliberately scalped her ten victims. With this fearful evidence of her prowess, she loosed one of the Indian canoes, and floated down the river to the falls, from which place she traveled through the wilderness to the residence of her husband. Such is the simple and unvarnished story of a New England woman. The curious historian, who may hereafter search among the dim records of our "twilight time"- who may gather from the uncertain responses of tradition, the wonderful history of the past-will find much, of the similar character, to call forth by turns, admiration and horror. And the time is coming, when all these traditions shall be treasured up as a sacred legacy- when the tale of the Indian inroad and the perils of the hunter--of the sublime courage and the dark superstitions of our ancestors, will be listened to with an interest unknown to the present generation,- and those who are to fill our places will pause hereafter by the Indian's burial place, and on the site of the old battle-field, or the thrown-down garrison, with a feeling of awe and reverence, as if communing, face to face, with the spirits of that stern race, which has passed away forever. END

(all above from

Henry David Thoreau, also positive, a few years later had this to say:

H. D. Thoreau’s Retelling of the Hannah Dustin Story
[From A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, “Thursday” section, 1849]

On the thirty-first day of March, one hundred and forty-two years before this, probably about this time in the afternoon, there were hurriedly paddling down this part of the river, between the pine woods which then fringed these banks, two white women and a boy, who had left an island at the mouth of the Contoocook before daybreak. They were slightly clad for the season, in the English fashion, and handled their paddles unskillfully, but with nervous energy and determination, and at the bottom of their canoe lay the still bleeding scalps of ten of the aborigines. They were Hannah Dustan, and her nurse, Mary Neff, both of Haverhill, eighteen miles from the mouth of this river, and an English boy, named Samuel Lennardson, escaping from captivity among the Indians. On the 15th of March previous, Hannah Dustan had been compelled to rise from childbed, and half dressed, with one foot bare, accompanied by her nurse, commence an uncertain march, in still inclement weather, through the snow and the wilderness. She had seen her seven elder children flee with their father, but knew not of their fate. She had seen her infant’s brains dashed out against an apple-tree, and had left her own and her neighbors’ dwellings in ashes. When she reached the wigwam of her captor, situated on an island in the Merrimack, more than twenty miles above where we now are, she had been told that she and her nurse were soon to be taken to a distant Indian settlement, and there made to run the gauntlet naked. The family of this Indian consisted of two men, three women, and seven children, beside an English boy, whom she found a prisoner among them. Having determined to attempt her escape, she instructed the boy to inquire of one of the men, how he should despatch an enemy in the quickest manner, and take his scalp. "Strike ‘em there," said he, placing his finger on his temple, and he also showed him how to take off the scalp. On the morning of the 31st she arose before daybreak, and awoke her nurse and the boy, and taking the Indians’ tomahawks, they killed them all in their sleep, excepting one favorite boy, and one squaw who fled wounded with him to the woods. The English boy struck the Indian who had given him the information, on the temple, as he had been directed. They then collected all the provision they could find, and took their master’s tomahawk and gun, and scuttling all the canoes but one, commenced their flight to Haverhill, distant about sixty miles by the river. But after having proceeded a short distance, fearing that her story would not be believed if she should escape to tell it, they returned to the silent wigwam, and taking off the scalps of the dead, put them into a bag as proofs of what they had done, and then retracing their steps to the shore in the twilight, recommenced their voyage.
[38] Early this morning this deed was performed, and now, perchance, these tired women and this boy, their clothes stained with blood, and their minds racked with alternate resolution and fear, are making a hasty meal of parched corn and moose-meat, while their canoe glides under these pine roots whose stumps are still standing on the bank. They are thinking of the dead whom they have left behind on that solitary isle far up the stream, and of the relentless living warriors who are in pursuit. Every withered leaf which the winter has left seems to know their story, and in its rustling to repeat it and betray them. An Indian lurks behind every rock and pine, and their nerves cannot bear the tapping of a woodpecker. Or they forget their own dangers and their deeds in conjecturing the fate of their kindred, and whether, if they escape the Indians, they shall find the former still alive. They do not stop to cook their meals upon the bank, nor land, except to carry their canoe about the falls. The stolen birch forgets its master and does them good service, and the swollen current bears them swiftly along with little need of the paddle, except to steer and keep them warm by exercise. For ice is floating in the river; the spring is opening; the muskrat and the beaver are driven out of their holes by the flood; deer gaze at them from the bank; a few faint-singing forest birds, perchance, fly across the river to the northernmost shore; the fish-hawk sails and screams overhead, and geese fly over with a startling clangor; but they do not observe these things, or they speedily forget them. They do not smile or chat all day. Sometimes they pass an Indian grave surrounded by its paling on the bank, or the frame of a wigwam, with a few coals left behind, or the withered stalks still rustling in the Indian’s solitary cornfield on the interval. The birch stripped of its bark, or the charred stump where a tree has been burned down to be made into a canoe, these are the only traces of man,—a fabulous wild man to us. On either side, the primeval forest stretches away uninterrupted to Canada, or to the "South Sea"; to the white man a drear and howling wilderness, but to the Indian a home, adapted to his nature, and cheerful as the smile of the Great Spirit.
[39] While we loiter here this autumn evening, looking for a spot retired enough, where we shall quietly rest to-night, they thus, in that chilly March evening, one hundred and forty-two years before us, with wind and current favoring, have already glided out of sight, not to camp, as we shall, at night, but while two sleep one will manage the canoe, and the swift stream bear them onward to the settlements, it may be, even to old John Lovewell’s house on Salmon Brook to-night.
[40] According to the historian, they escaped as by a miracle all roving bands of Indians, and reached their homes in safety, with their trophies, for which the General Court paid them fifty pounds. The family of Hannah Dustan all assembled alive once more, except the infant whose brains were dashed out against the apple-tree, and there have been many who in later times have lived to say that they had eaten of the fruit of that apple-tree.

Not all reviews were glowing.
Nathaniel Hawthorne published a highly critical review of Hannah's actions in 1836.

The final paragraphs were as follows:

"Would that the bloody old hag had been drowned in crossing Contocook river, or that she had sunk over head and ears in a swamp, and been there buried, till summoned forth to confront her victims at the Day of Judgement; or that she had gone astray and been starved to death in the forest, and nothing ever seen of her again, save her skeleton, with the ten scalps twisted round it for a girdle! But, on the contrary, she and her companions came safe home, and received the bounty on the dead Indians, besides liberal presents from private gentlemen, and fifty pounds from the Governor of Maryland. In her old age, being sunk into decayed circumstances, she claimed, and, we believe, received a pension, as a further price of blood.
This awful woman, and that tender hearted, yet valiant man, her husband, will be remembered as long as the deeds of old times are told round a New England fireside. But how different is her renown from his!"

(Sheesh, Nate, take it easy!)

You can read more about Hawthorne's literary history here

The entire Hawthorne article is below:

"The Duston Family"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 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 defenseless 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, issuing out together, and running down the road to meet him. The father only bade them make the best of their way to the nearest garrison, and, without a moment's pause, found himself from his horse, and rushed into Mrs. Duston's bedchamber.
The good woman, as we have before hinted, had lately added an eight 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!'
But if ever a poor mortal was in trouble, and perplexity, and anguish of spirit, that man was Mr. Duston! He felt his heart yearn towards these seven poor helpless children, as if each were singly possessed of his whole affections; for not one among them all, but had some peculiar claim to their dear father's love. There was his first-born; there, too, the little one who, till within a week past, had been the baby, the picture of himself, and another in whom the looks of both parents were mingled; there was one child, whom he loved for his mild, quiet, and holy disposition, and destined him to be a minister; and another whom he loved not less for his rough and fearless spirit, and who, could he live to be a man, would do a man's part against these bloody Indians. Goodman Duston looked at the poor things, one by one; and with yearning fondness, he looked at them all, together; then he gazed up to Heaven for a moment, and finally waved his hand to his seven beloved ones. 'Go on, my children,' said he, calmly. 'We will live or die together!'
He reined in his horse, and caused him to walk behind the children, who, hand in hand, went onward, hushing their sobs and wailing's, lest these sounds should bring the savages upon them. Nor was it long, before the fugitives had proof that the red devils had found their track. There was a curl of smoke from behind the huge trunk of a tree -- a sudden and sharp report echoed through the woods -- and a bullet hissed over Goodman Duston's shoulder, and passed above the children's heads. The father, turning half round on his horse, took aim and fired at the skulking foe, with such effect as to cause a momentary delay of the pursuit. Another shot -- and another -- whistled from the covert of the forest; but still the little band pressed on, unharmed; and the stealthy nature of the Indians forbade them to rush boldly forward, in the face of so firm an enemy as Goodman Duston. Thus he and his seven children continued their retreat, creeping along, as Cotton Mather observes, 'at the pace of a child of five years old,' till the stockades of a little frontier fortress appeared in view, and the savages gave up the chase.
We must not forget Mrs. Duston in her distress. Scarcely had her husband fled from the house, ere the chamber was thronged with the horrible visages of the wild Indians, bedaubed with paint and besmeared with blood, brandishing their tomahawks in her face, and threatening to add her scalp to those that were already hanging at their girdles. It was, however, their interest to save her alive, if the thing might be, in order to exact a ransom. Our great-great-grandmothers, when taken captive in the old times of Indian warfare, appear, in nine cases out of ten, to have been in pretty much such a delicate situation as Mrs. Duston; not withstanding which, they were wonderfully sustained through long, rough, and hurried marches, amid toil, weariness, and starvation, such as the Indians themselves could hardly endure. Seeing that there was no help for it, Mrs. Duston rose, and she and the widow Neff, with the infant in her arms, followed their captors out of doors. As they crossed the threshold, the poor babe set up a feeble wail; it was its death cry. In an instant, an Indian seized it by the heels, swung it in the air, dashed out its brains against the trunk of the nearest tree, and threw the little corpse at the mother's feet. Perhaps it was the remembrance of the moment, that hardened Hannah Duston's heart, when her time of vengeance came. But now, nothing could be done; but to stifle her grief and rage within her bosom, and follow the Indians into the dark gloom of the forest, hardly venturing to throw a parting glance at the blazing cottage, where she had dwelt happily with her husband, and had borne him eight children--the seven, of whose fate she knew nothing, and the infant, whom she had just seen murdered.
The first day's march was fifteen miles; and during that, and many succeeding days, Mrs. Duston kept pace with her captors; for, had she lagged behind, a tomahawk would at once have been sunk into her brains. More that one terrible warning was given her; more that one of her fellow captives, -- of whom there were many, -- after tottering feebly, at length sank upon the ground; the next moment, the death groan was breathed, and the scalp was reeking at an Indian girdle. The unburied corpse was left in the forest, till the rites of sepulture should be performed by the autumnal gales, strewing the withered leaves upon the whitened bones. When out of danger of immediate pursuit, the prisoners, according to Indian custom, were divided among different parties of the savages, each of whom were to shift for themselves. Mrs. Duston, the widow Neff, and an English lad, fell to the lot of a family, consisting of two stout warriors, three squaws, and seven children. These Indians, like most with whom the French had held intercourse, were Catholics; and Cotton Mather affirms, on Mrs. Duston's authority that they prayed at morning, noon, and night, nor ever partook of food without a prayer; nor suffered their children to sleep, till they had prayed to the christian's God. Mather, like an old hardhearted, pedantic bigot, as he was, seems trebly to exult in the destruction of these poor wretches, on account of their Popish superstitions. Yet what can be more touching that to think of these wild Indians, in their loneliness and their wanderings, wherever they went among the dark, mysterious woods, still keeping up domestic worship, with all the regularity of a household at its peaceful fireside.
They were traveling to a rendezvous of the savages, somewhere in the northeast. One night, being now above a hundred miles from Haverhill, the red men and women, and the little red children, and the three pale faces, Mrs. Duston, the widow Neff, and the English lad, made their encampment, and kindled a fire beneath the gloomy old trees, on a small island in Contocook river. The barbarians sat down to what scanty food Providence had sent them and shared it with their prisoners, as if they had all been the children of one wigwam, and had grown up together on the margins of the same river within the shadow of the forest. The Indians said their prayers -- the prayers that the Romish priests had taught them -- and made the sign of the cross upon their dusky breasts, and composed themselves to rest. But the three prisoners prayed apart; and when their petitions were ended, they likewise lay down, with their feet to the fire. The night wore on; and the light and cautious slumbers of the red men were often broken, by the rush and ripple of the stream, or the groaning and moaning of the forest, as if nature were wailing over her wild children; and sometimes, too, the little red skins cried in sleep, and the Indian mothers awoke to hush them. But, a little before break of day, a deep, dead, slumber fell upon the Indians. 'See,' cries Cotton Mather, triumphantly, 'if it prove not so!'
Uprose Mrs. Duston, holding her own breath, to listen to the long deep breathing of her captors. Then she stirred the widow Neff, whose place was by her own, and likewise the English lad; and all three stood up, with the doubtful gleam of the decaying fire hovering upon their ghastly visages, as they stared round at the fated slumberers. The next instant, each of the three captives held a tomahawk. Hark! That low moan, as of one in a troubled dream -- it told a warriour's death pang! Another! -- Another! -- and the third half-uttered groan was from a woman's lips. But, Oh the children! Their skins are red; yet spare them, Hannah Duston, spare those seven little ones, for the sake of the seven that have fed at your own breast. 'Seven,' quoth Mrs. Duston to herself. 'Eight children have I borne -- and where are the seven and where is the eighth!' The thought nerved her arm; and the copper colored babes slept the same dead sleep with their Indian mothers. Of all that family, only one woman escaped, dreadfully wounded, and fled shrieking into the wilderness, and a boy, whom it is said, Mrs. Duston had meant to save alive. But he did well to flee from the raging tigress! There was little safety for a red skin, when Hannah Duston's blood was up.
The work being finished, Mrs. Duston laid hold of the long black hair of the warriours, and the women, and the children, and took all their ten scalps, and left the island, which bears her name to this very day. According to our notion, it should be held accursed, for her sake. Would that the bloody old hag had been drowned in crossing Contocook river, or that she had sunk over head and ears in a swamp, and been there buried, till summoned forth to confront her victims at the Day of Judgement; or that she had gone astray and been starved to death in the forest, and nothing ever seen of her again, save her skeleton, with the ten scalps twisted round it for a girdle! But, on the contrary, she and her companions came safe home, and received the bounty on the dead Indians, besides liberal presents from private gentlemen, and fifty pounds from the Governor of Maryland. In her old age, being sunk into decayed circumstances, she claimed, and, we believe, received a pension, as a further price of blood.
This awful woman, and that tender hearted, yet valiant man, her husband, will be remembered as long as the deeds of old times are told round a New England fireside. But how different is her renown from his!
Source: Nathaniel Hawthorne. "The Duston Family." The American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge. May 1836, pp. 395-97. Page citation:

Hawthorne may have been the first to write harshly about Hannah, but he is by no means the last. There is an entire page of critical journal articles about Hannah with is available here.

Tomorrow I will post the picture of the two other Monuments errected to Hannah's name, and reveal what she herself had to say about her experience. I will also attempt to explain my own feelings about my ancestress, and her actions, some of which I wrestle with even as I write.

I will also wrap up a few details that are still lingering within the story.

Hopefully my readers will allow me the honor of reading their thoughts about this saga. If you are reading these chapters, will you please just leave a post saying something like "I read them." You are certainly welcome to write more, any comments are interesting to me. But I would like to know with whom I have shared my family's history.


Lovella said...

Jill I think you have done an outstandin job of telling your family story.
I know that what Hannah experienced is likely something a person today could never imagine never mind endure. I won't make a judgement one way or another of what she did to survive, I only can think that she must have been half out of her mind when the plan took action. She obviously was a woman of great courage.
I will be fascinated to know who else couldn't stop reading the history of your family.

Julie said...

Hi Jill, I have read your family saga, and have found it fascinating..How privilged you are to have such detailed history.

I am looking forward to reading your personal thoughts about your ancestors actions.