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Sunday, November 7, 2010

HANNAH DUSTIN--THE MOST FAMOUS WOMAN IN AMERICA

Hannah's statue, Haverhill
Ever heard of Hannah Dustin? In her lifetime, folk figure Hannah Emerson Dustin became a role model for pioneer women as her exploits spread across Anglo America. She is the first woman in the U.S. to have a statue erected in her honor. In fact, she has two statues . . . but I’ve gotten ahead of the story.


The time is March 15, 1697 and toward the end of King William’s War. When she learned they were being attacked, Hannah urged her husband, Thomas, to take their other children, aged two to seventeen, and flee to the nearby garrison and safety. Reluctantly, he left her to save their children. Less than a week after the birth of her child named Martha (her ninth), forty-year-old Hannah and her aunt, Mary Neff, were captured by Abnaki at Haverhill, Massachusetts.

The Abnaki smashed baby Martha to death against an apple tree before marching the two women for fifteen days north into New Hampshire. Taken with at least ten other people from Haverhill, those who couldn’t keep up the Abnaki’s pace were killed and left for carrion. Hannah and Mary were parceled out as slaves to another Abnaki group consisting of half a dozen adults and several children, including an adolescent captive boy, Samuel Leonardson, who had been taken from Worcester eighteen months earlier.

Hannah's statue in Boscawen
The band set up camp at the conjunction of the Merrimack and Contoocook Rivers (now known as Dustin Island) near what is currently Boscawen, New Hampshire and near Concord. One of the Abnaki men told Samuel that they would soon be moving to Canada where the captives would be stripped and forced to “run the gauntlet.” One of the Abnaki men had been teaching Samuel to fight and had showed him how to kill with a tomahawk. As the story goes, Hannah led a captive rebellion. She, Mary, and Samuel tomahawked ten Abnaki men, women, and children to death as they slept. They left alive only one elderly woman and a small boy. Hannah had the foresight to take scalps before leaving the enemy camp. There is speculation as to whether this was pay back for killing her baby and friends or necessary for escape. My guess would be both.

Hannah, Mary, and Samuel scuttled the enemy canoes except for one, which they used to travel down river at night. They reached Haverhill in three days. After some weeks of recovery, the now famous trio traveled to Boston where they requested bounty money for the scalps. The Massachusetts Bay Courts had enacted a bounty on scalps in 1694, but it had been repealed. However, the Massachusetts General Court made an exception for Hannah and her two companions. Accounts vary, but the most widely mentioned is that Hannah received twenty-five pounds and Mary and Samuel each received half that amount. In 1697, that was a considerable amount of money.

Hannah's grave, she died in 1736
Hannah became famous for her escape and exploits. A statue of her stands in Haverhill, Massachusetts showing her with a tomahawk in one hand and scalps in the other. Another statue is located in Boscawen, New Hampshire, site of the escape. Her story is retold in “The History of Haverhill," in “Notable American Women,” in Henry David Thoreau’s “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers," by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in Laurel Ulrich’s “Goodwives,” and other tomes too numerous to mention. In some accounts, Dustin is recorded as Dustan, Durstan, or Duston. A remarkable woman, Hannah Dustin, the most famous woman in America in her time.

Thanks for stopping by Seduced by History,
Caroline Clemmons

6 comments:

Sally said...

These women who were moved to bravery by their circumstances, or just their nature, are wonderful examples for everyone. They are great story starters too!

Paty Jager said...

Interesting history! Thanks Caroline.

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Thanks for this. I'd never heard of her before. Her story is intriguing.

Terry Blain said...

Janice Holt Giles used this as a template for her book HANNAH FOWLER.

The first book in her series, THE KENTUCKIAN was based on the background of a Master's Thesis called The Life and Times of Benjamin Logan (who appears as a secondary character in the KENTUCKIAN).

These books were the inspiration for me to write my first novel, KENTUCKY GREEN.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Thanks for stopping by. Sally, indeed these women were brave.

Paty, I found the story interesting and am glad you did too.

Elizabeth, I had never heard of her before until I came across her last month.

Terry, I haven't read Janice Holt Giles book. Thanks for mentioning it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing about Hannah Dustin. I am one of her many dirrect descendants, and I grew up heariing this story. The woman in my family have alwys been proud of her bravery.