Monday, May 14, 2007

Dustin Family Saga: Chapter 23: The Final Chapter: Some musing, and Hannah has the last word.

As promised (and with apologies for this blog being long over due, and most likely overly long), the personal reactions, thoughts and feelings that I experienced this past March as I blogged the story of my ancestors Thomas and Hannah Dustin, Hannah's sister Elizabeth Emerson, and others who lived in the Haverhill community during the perilous times of the spring of 1697.

Should you be a new reader of this blog, the entire Dustin Family Saga can be found on the sidebar next to this writing, under LABELS. Look for "Dustin Family Saga" which will take you to all related the posts beginning with Chapter 1 which was posted March 8th. You will need to scroll down to the bottom of the first set of chapters and click on "Older" to reach the first chapter.
There are twenty-two chapters in the story, and this post is the conclusion of the story.

(Pictured above: Jill Dustin Spriggs (that's me) and my father Carl Dexter Dustin, in 1997, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of Hannah Dustin's Escape from Captivity.)

First I should share my motivations for blogging the Dustin Family Saga in the first place.
It was important for me to record this saga with as much documentation and insight as possible, in hopes that later generations of my lineage, though not carrying the surname Dustin, will nevertheless will want to know this part of their heritage, and benefit as people from the knowing.
I was born a Dustin, and now I am an only child. My dad, my dad's twin sisters Marcia Dustin Evans and Muriel Dustin Phippen, and I are the last living members of the Dustin line from which I descended who were born with the Dustin name. My aunt's children, though just as much of Dustin blood as I, never live as, or were called by the name of Dustin.

My brother, who was an only son, died without having any children. My father was also an only son, as was his father.
Having only one son per generation makes for slender odds for the possibility of a family name continuing on.
I'm also aware that having more sons does not have necessarily changed those odds; my mother's father was one of many sons, all of which had girls, and there was just one boy who had no children.
Along with the Dustin family name, the name of my mother's father's family (Stein), my mother's mother's family name (Beamon), and my father's mother's family name (Brosnan) are all now ended. There were no sons born to those line by which those names would continue on for yet another generation.

It happens.

I could rightfully claim that my two children are also Dustin descendants. And of course they genetically have just as much of Dustin blood as my twin aunt's children do.

It just that here is something different about carrying a name.
Something different happens to your identity when you write a name and answer to it, instead of just seeing the name occasionally on a chart, or a document that describes those who came before you.
There are other famous people way back in my family tree, yet until very recently I knew nothing of them.
I would feel very odd mentioning that I was related to that famous family; no one in my family tree has carried that particular family name since the late 1700's.

When my children were born, there was a lot of discussion about patra-linear naming traditions.
I am very traditional, and never wished to have a "mix and match" collection of last names in our nuclear family. I did consider giving our son the name Dustin as his middle name, and if we had had another son, I would have wanted to name him Dustin Andrew. But when we were in the process of naming our children, I was expecting that eventually my brother would have a child to carry on the name. It was a reasonable expectation, it just never came to pass.
Not that it matters now. Now days I frequently meet children with the first name Dustin. It is a common first name for both boys and girls. It doesn't sound much like a last name at all anymore. Sometimes I wonder: Do kids named Dustin and Madison know that their names used to be only heard as historical last names?

My heritage has always been important to me, and exploring this saga at this time of my life has been incredibly insightful. I had known the Dustin/Duston story ever since I was a young child, but I knew it more as a quick recitation of a startling event than as a personal experience of very real people. This time I considered the story differently. It was the first time I had explored the story as an academic, using my professional skills to research and weave the historic, cultural and artistic details together to create a fuller and truer picture than I had ever known before.

It was only recently that I found writings concerning the historical views on Thomas Dustin. After seeing his name so frequently mentioned for his heroism in writings from the late 1700 and early 1800's it seems impossible to me that I grew up hardly aware of his part in the story. His story impacted me greatly. I found I wanted to make sure that future generations would benefit from knowing about him.

If I could talk to future generations of Dustin/Duston families I would tell the Dustin sons about their famous ancestor Thomas who risked all to save all his children.

I would tell them of the sorrow of the men in Haverhill who somehow didn't, or couldn't save their children, and who watched as Thomas shepherded his children into church while they themselves sat alone.

I would teach them of the marvelous family care that Thomas provided, and how much he loved each of his children. I would encourage them to be like Thomas, unable to decide which child he favored most, and therefore resolved that all must be saved.

I would read his will aloud, written while he was facing death, with tender mention of each of his children, and his support of each of his son's endeavors.

I would point out that Thomas was active in his church, volunteering to provide for the clergy, and later, after his pastor was massacred in another Indian attack upon their township, how he helped to seek a new pastor by leading a rather trying committee, that had the same sort of group dynamics that are found in modern committees everywhere.

I would explain why Thomas's father and mother came to America, leaving a highly civilized and convenient England behind, in their search for a place to worship freely, safely and what they believed was rightly before God.

I would confirm that Thomas knew his rights as a citizen.
He loaned money to the government to pay for the soldiers that guarded Haverhill when there was no funds available for a time and later when his house had burned along with the note, he petitioned for repayment and received his amount.
He also was bold to go before the government to get what he felt was his due, or rather, what was Hannah's due, for the bounty on the terrorist Indians scalps. He took on local tasks, serving as the area volunteer police, and providing protection for his neighbors even inside his own home.

There was so much to admire about Thomas Dustin that is a wonder to me that the sensationalism of Hannah's story managed later to eclipse his example of a "substantial honest man." (Nathan Webster 1725.) I would encourage later generations of Dustin descendants to go to Haverhill, and touch the brick of the Garrison House, and know that they were touching the bricks that were made by the hands of their honest forebearer.

Hannah's story took on breathtaking dimension for me as I considered and pondered and wrote her story over fifteen days, covering the time from the birth of her daughter Martha to Hannah's return from captivity. I stayed with her in my mind, stayed in her moment as much as I could, thinking of her, and learning of her world as quickly as I could. At times I was overwhelmed with her story; knowing what hardships she endured drained me and I found myself awashed in tears.

I checked the weather daily in Haverhill and wondered how it was like there 300 years ago.
I read up on the Puritan life style and was surprised at how much I found to admire about their family life, and how prejudice my thinking had been about the term in the past. The more I read, the more
I became incensed when I stumbled upon the term "puritanical" in modern articles where the word Puritanical was used as a term of censure.

"If only they knew," I found myself thinking.

I found it interesting that the Puritans were gentle with their animal; they felt animals were as much a creature of God as themselves, and while they were not vegetarians, the Puritans decreed that farm animals should be made as comfortable as possible, with adequate shelter, food, and freedom.

They were a passion people who encouraged and enjoyed sexual pleasure within marriage. Sexual expression for the Puritan was for both reproduction and enjoyment, and as a means of understanding God's passion for his people. It was a radical view for the time, a time when sexual pleasure was usually viewed as sinful, and the purpose of sex was only to procreate and without enjoyment.

By contrast, Puritan women took their husbands to court if the husband did not provide sexual pleasure to them. The court records showed that such frigid husbands were subject to fines and penalties!

Puritanical view of sex?
Not what most people typically think it means!

The relations between husbands and wives were, at least as shown in journals and letters, quite passionate in emotion terms as well.
Journal keeping was critical to the Puritans as a means of evaluating whether they were or were not becoming most Christ-like as the years went by. If they were to dare to declare themselves one of the elected to receive the gift of eternal salvation, they sought to show themselves prepared to receive the honor without disgracing their benefactor, the very Son of God himself.

They resolved to purify themselves, and their church, and thereby they could safeguard against the upcoming wrath of a vengeful God, whose judgements they felt were soon to befall their homeland of England and Europe beyond. To become Pure and avoid wrath, as they felt the Bible called for the church to be, and in their zeal, they christened themselves with the name of Puritans.

Every political, social or political movement has its excesses; the Puritan's certainly had theirs. Yet while I disagree with some of their religious conclusions, I have found more things to praise, more aspects of their ways to praise than I have found to criticize.

All of my research helped me understand Hannah's world a bit more. Thinking about her made me understand her a lot more. I discovered I could see myself walking in her famous one shoe in modern times, and could search my heart more objectively about her actions. I began to understand the horrors that she faced, and appreciated the comment that she must have been out of her mind with terror when she swung a hatchet to kill her captors. Perhaps she was. Perhaps she was the most calm that she had ever been in her life.

I found I could understand her actions, and could not only imagine, but could actually hope that I could do as she did under similar circumstances, with the exception of killing the Indian children. Recent mass murder on the Virginia Tech campus made me wonder why no one risked stopping the gunman, instead, at best, everyone focused on escaping.

I wondered what would have happened if someone had been brave enough, like Hannah, to risk taking aggressive actions to end the free reign of the killer. As I talked with others on my campus, talked as part of planning against any scenario that would unfold on our college campus, I was heartened to find other women who said they would rush a gunman, and take the slim chance of being shot, in hopes that by creating a target, others could rush the gunman and the shooting spree would end.

It meant a lot to know it was other women, older women, who would readily risk their lives to try to save the lives of others.

It helped to study the Indian tribes of Massachusetts at the time of Hannah's captivity. It really helped to learn that while there were several tribes, the Abnakis tribe (also known as Tarratines) was the only tribe described as "warlike".

Perhaps they as a tribe at the time rightly deserved to be designated "terrorist." It bewilders me to know that representatives of that tribe were at the 300th anniversary event, and gave statements which I never had opportunity to hear or read. Somewhere someone has a documentary of the event; I would relish a chance to see what was filmed on that day.

I considered Hannah's plan to allow one of the Indian children to survive, perhaps because the child was a friend of Samuel.

I wondered if Hannah planned to use him as a barter to trade for her own children if they had been taken captive.

I wondered if she thought she would raise the child as a missionary back to his own people.

And I wonder if she thought if her husband and her children were all dead, this one saved Indian child would become her only family.

As I studied about Cotton Mathers part in Dustin story, and the Mathers family's impact on America's genesis, I gained an awe and appreciation for what one faith-inspired family did for America. The Mathers teaching and preaching created a culture that marked the beginning of freedom and laws that supported good things such as the world had never before experienced. The Mather family fingerprints are all over America's beginnings; it was a marvel to consider how much interaction my ancestors had with Cotton Mathers. It is a tragedy to acknowledge that there are those today who bear the last name Dustin who have no tenderness toward God and consider a life of faith as worthless in modern times.

I was by no means blinded by family prejudice. The times were troubled, the trajectory of history wobbled. Another generation beyond Hannah and Thomas, and the Puritan's children no longer shared their parent's vision for spiritual purity, and spiritual harmony. The faith adapted to accommodate the flaws of the religion and the faults of the children. As a faith structure, the Puritan mores integrated or evolved into other denominational structures, some of which still exists. The original thinking had merit, the details were yet to be worked out.

Hannah's story has been judged repeatedly for over 300 years now. She has been scorned, she has been praised. Books have been written about her ("Gallant Warrior"), scholarly writers still debate her. Hollywood has considered filming her story.

It is a story that makes one think. It is a story that would be shocking at any time. I hope people will always be shocked; that a woman killing murderers in the night will never seem common place. I also hope that young girls in my bloodline will always be told about Hannah, and grow up realizing that when they need strength to battle, strength they will always find though God and determination to be in His will. I hope young girls in my bloodline will always think deep down inside "If Hannah could do what she did, then I can do what I need to do too."

Hannah does have the last word in this.

By way of background, it is important to remember that Puritans did not believe that faith in Jesus Christ was enough for the guarantee of salvation. They believed some were "elected" or chosen for eternal life at the beginning of time. The only way to be sure that they were indeed "elected" was by careful self observance, watching for signs of Christ-like behavior manifesting within their ways.

Effort was to be put forth to be Christ-like; Mathers suggested doing a good deed or kind act hourly, consciously looking for ways to prefer and care for others. Strangely, it was important to put forth the effort toward "redeemed" behavior, lest should you actually be one of the chosen, that you would not inadvertently bring shame to the one who chose you.

It was grace that saved, it was behavior that was the proof evidence of that grace.

While Hannah attended church and daily prayers consistently throughout her entire life, she did not esteem herself as one of the elect until late in her life, in March 1724, at age 67.

Thomas Duston also waited until his later years for membership. He requested to join the church as a member at age 72, in January of 1724, during a time when he was quite ill. He was received into membership on March 1, 1724 and lived until November 1732, when he died at 80 years of age.

Perhaps it was because Thomas was ill at the time of his request that his document contained nothing unusual beyond a simple request to be joined to the church.

Hannah's letter, (discovered several centuries later along with other church letters in a box in the church building's wall), was far more eloquent. It touched upon her childhood education, and more poignantly, upon her thoughts about her captivity which I have high lighted in red.

It was her comments in this letter that allowed me to quote the scriptures that she pondered as she suffered at the hands of the indians.

Her letter, the only first person comment we have from Hannah on any subject, read:

"I Desire to be Thankful that I was born in a Land of Light & Baptized when I was Young: and had a Good Education by My Father, Tho I took little Notice of it in the time of it: -I am Thankful for my Captivity, twas the Comfortablest time that ever I had; In my Affliction God made his Word Comfortable to me. I remembered 43 ps. ult --and those words came to my mind --ps. 118-17...I have had a great Desire to come to the Ordinance of the Lords Supper a Great while but fearing I should give offence & fearing my own Unworthiness has kept me back; reading a Book concerning +s (note:symbol of cross-jill) Suffering Did much awaken me. In 55th of Isa. beg. We are invited to come:- Hearing Mr. Moody preach out of ye 3d of Mal. 3 last verse put me upon Consideration. Ye 11th of Matthew has been Encouraging to me- I have been resolving to offer my Self from time to time ever since the Settlement of the present Ministry; I was awakened by the first Sacram'l Sermon (Luke 14:17) But Delays and fears prevailed upon me; - But I desire to Delay no longer, being Sensible it is My duty-. I desire the Church receive me tho' it be at the Eleventh hour; & pray for me- that I may hon'r God and obtain the Salvation of my Soul.

Hanah Duston wife of Thomas AEtat 67


Laura said...

Fabulous! Simply, amazingly fabulous! I applaud you! Beautiful work! Loved it, Mom.

Lovella said...

Jill, your ancestors would be proud of you. You have told Hannah's story with such care and time. I know you spent hours making sure that you represented the family . . .not adding any details or taking away from important points.
It still amazes me that you can go and touch your ancestral home. What a gift. I can only wonder of mine. I wonder of those who made my family the way it is.

Thank you for sharing this history with us all. It deserves to be reread in its entirety. I intend to do just that.

Julie said...

Jill, you were right! -I did miss your post!!and I have been watching for it!!!! I must have checked just before you posted last night! Thanks for letting me know.

What a journey for you to 'feel' your way into Hannah's heart and life and making it all come alive for us. I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know people and events that happened so long ago. You told the story in a very captivating way. And I was happy to learn more about Thomas Dustin, I was curious about him too.
I am not sure I could have done what Hannah did... but I did not live then..I did not experience what she did.. and we all act and react influenced by the times we live in. I greatly admire her strength and faith. And I am very honoured to 'personally' know a Dustin descendent.
I LOVED reading Hannah's own words, what a treasure to have! What a woman!!
What a rich heritage you have!

Thank you so much! for all your hard work, I'm sure it ended up taking a lot more time than you originally thought it would.
I hope you have it printed out and bound for your descendents to have, to carry on the memory.

Vee said...

Well this puts the lid on the box for me. I am in awe of your commentary and your tenderness toward your ancestors. It wasn't easy being a settler in any way, shape or form. In fact, it must have been terrifying much of the time.

Vee said...

I have since found a testimony of one Ruth Haynes (also an ancestor of mine) whose words sound much like Hannah's. Quite remarkable really.