|Hannah's statue in|
shows her holding scalps
and a tomahawk
Usually, I talk about Southwestern events, places, or trivia. Today's post is one I originally wrote for the Hearts Through History online chapter of Romance Writers of America blog, Seduced By History. Forgive my reusing the story now, but life has interfered with art again and I’m under the weather. Besides, I was very impressed with this woman, who was once called “The Most Famous Woman In America.”
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 eight children, aged two to seventeen, and flee to the nearby garrison and safety. Reluctantly, he left her in order to save their children. Less than a week after the birth of Martha, her ninth child, forty-year-old Hannah and her young aunt who cared for her, Mary Neff, were captured by Abnaki at Haverhill, Massachusetts.
For fifteen days the Abnaki marched the two women north and into New Hampshire. On the way, the Abnaki smashed baby Martha to death against an apple tree. Taken with at least ten other people from Haverhill, those who couldn’t keep up the Abnaki’s pace were killed. 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.
The band set up camp at the conjunction of the Merrimack and Contoocook Rivers (now known as Dustin Island) near what is now 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.” The white women knew they would never live through that experience.
|Hannah Dustin, Mary Neff, and |
Samuel Leonardson escape
As the story goes, Hannah led a captive rebellion. One of the Abnaki men had been teaching Samuel to fight and had showed him how to kill with a tomahawk. Hannah, Mary, and Samuel tomahawked ten Abnaki men, plus two women, and several children to death as they slept. They left only one elderly woman and a small boy. Hannah had the foresight to take scalps before leaving the enemy camp.
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 statue at |
Boscawen, New Hampshire
|Hannah's grave. She died in 1737|
Was she a heroine or a murderer? Don't view her from a politically correct perspective, but from the ideas and practices of colonial life. Imagine the grief of seeing your baby killed in front of you, of watching others murdered because they couldn't keep up the pace. Imagine her concern for her other eight children and her husband. Were they all right? Who was helping care for them? None of us knows whether or not we could have followed in her steps. Would I have been able to kill and then scalp people? I don't know, but I doubt it. If they stood between me and my family, and to protect my aunt and a teenage boy, perhaps I could. It's hard to imagine ourselves in that terrorizing setting.
Regardless of your thoughts on whether or not you could follow her example, don’t you agree she was a formidable woman?
Please also stop in to visit me Tuesday, January 10th, at Calisa Rhose’s blog at http://calisarhose.wordpress.com/chit-chat/.
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