Hannah Dustin – Heroine or Cold Blooded Killer

On 15 Mar 1697, George CORLISS (1617 – 1686)’s daughter Mary Neff was  nursing Hannah Dustin who had given birth the week before.  They taken prisoner by the Indians in an attack on Haverhill and carried towards Canada.

Hannah Duston (1657 – 1736) was a colonial Massachusetts Puritan woman who escaped Native American captivity by leading her fellow captives in scalping their captors at night. Duston is the first woman honored in the United States with a statue.

Hannah Dustin Statue Penacook New Hampshire

Today, Hannah Dustin’s actions are controversial, with some  calling her a hero, but others calling her a villain, and some Abenaki leaders saying her legend is racist and glorifies violence. As early as the 19th Century, Hannah’s legal argument had lost its Old Testament authority and came to be interpreted, or misinterpreted, as a justification for vengeance.

Chief Nancy Lyons of the Coasek tribe of the Abenaki Nation, said using Dustin as a promotional tool not only insults American Indians but glorifies violence.

“It’s not so much because Hannah Duston killed Indians. The biggest issue that I find absolutely appalling is that the promotion that they’re doing is extremely racist – it’s emphasizing violence and they’re promoting that to young people,” Lyons said. “More than being an Indian, being a mother I find it absolutely appalling that a community would promote violence and a violent act in a racist manner to young people today.”

Charles True, speaker of the Abenaki Nation of New Hampshire, said Duston has become a folk legend over the years and her legend bears little resemblance to the actual events of 1697.

“Folk legends rarely represent the actual truth about things,” True said. “In New England history books, our people have not had a fair shake. We were victimized very cruelly by New England people. … It makes you wonder why history books for schoolchildren over the years have made us out to be blood-thirsty savages. Haverhill can do what it pleases with its folk hero. We’re not interested.”

Margaret Bruchak, an Abenaki historian, said in order to properly understand the Duston story, it’s important to understand the Abenaki culture’s view of combat and captivity.

“The whole point of taking a captive was to then transport that person safely. For the whole of that journey they were treated like family,” Bruchak said. “When captives were taken, they were almost immediately handed off from the warriors to individuals who would then look after them. Hannah, we know for a fact, was handed over to an extended family group of two adult men, three women, seven children and one white child.”

That’s why the Abenaki viewed Duston’s actions after she escaped with such horror, she said.

“It’s almost like the Geneva Conventions, when you think about it. Hannah betrayed the Abenaki Geneva Conventions. It wasn’t while she was in the midst of warfare that she did these supposedly brave acts. It was while she was in the care of a family,” Bruchak said. “If she had merely escaped, there probably would be very little story to tell, but the fact that she escaped, then stopped and went back to collect scalps – the bloody-mindedness of it is really quite remarkable. …

“She became a hero because of it. The Colonial Puritan society which saw the killing of white children as an unpardonable sin that required the death penalty saw the killing of Indian children as a glorious act that turns someone into a hero,” she said.

Hannah with Axe

Hannah’s  name has been used to sell every conceivable product including a rock concert, liquor and horse racing and still remains extremely attractive to people seeking to prove a genealogical connection.  In 2008, after the New Hampshire Historical Society began selling a Hannah Duston bobblehead, one employee has quit and another has refused to sell it. They said they find the Duston doll, as well as another bobblehead of Chief Passaconaway, offensive to Native Americans.  The bobblehead is also for sale at the John Greenleaf Whittier Birthplace in Haverhill and the Friends Shop at Haverhill Public Library.

Hannah Dustin Bobblehead

Early nineteenth-century New England, apparently under the impetus of the romantic interest of the past, rediscovered its own colonial history and exploited it in novels and tales. Stories of captivity of the colonists had a wide appeal, not only because they were straight-forward and exciting, but because the ancestors of many New England men and women had been among the captives.

Some even want to make a movie.   “It’s the ultimate feminist story,” said Rebecca Day, a Massachusetts native and freelance writer who has done script development for Hallmark Entertainment and Lifetime Television. “It has all the qualities of a hot Lifetime movie. I would pitch it as ‘Ransom’ meets ‘The Crucible.'”

“What interests me is exploring what made her tick,” Day said. “I think the story perfectly illustrates what happens when one’s world turns into chaos. A person really has to go into survival mode, regardless of what role society thinks he or she is supposed to play. Although women at this time were considered second-class citizens, I think it’s funny how many men so easily became her followers and admirers.”

The story of Hannah Dustin is memorable among such accounts because it is both briefer and more violent than most of the narratives. From the beginning it appealed not only to the historical imagination of its readers but to the moral imagination as well. It illustrated the hardihood of New England pioneers but it raised questions about the moral cost of their triumph. As succeeding generations retold Hannah Dustin’s story, it came to illustrate not only frontier conditions during King William’s War, but the shifting judgements and sensibilities about morality and the role of women of later centuries.

Hannah Dustin and Mary Neff take justice into their own hands —  Painted in 1847, by Junius Brutus Stearns

Twenty-seven persons were slaughtered, (fifteen of them children) and thirteen captured. The following is a list of the killed:-John Keezar, his father, and son, George; John Kimball and his mother, Hannah ; Sarah Eastman [Daughter of Deborah Corliss and grand daughter of George CORLISS]; Thomas Eaton ; Thomas Emerson, his wife, Elizabeth, and two children, Timothy and Sarah ; Daniel BRADLEY’s son Daniel Bradley, his wife, Hannah (she was also Stephen DOW’s daughter), and two children, Mary and Hannah ; Martha Dow, daughter of Stephen DOW; Joseph, Martha, and Sarah Bradley, children of Joseph Bradley, another son of Daniel BRADLEY ; Thomas and Mehitable Kingsbury [Children of Deborah Corliss and grand daughter of George CORLISS]. ; Thomas Wood and his daughter, Susannah ; John Woodman and his daughter, Susannah; Zechariah White ; and Martha, the infant daughter of Mr. Duston.” Hannah Dustin’s nurse Mary Neff, daughter of our ancestor GEORGE CORLISS, was carried away and helped in the escape by hatcheting her captors.   Another captive who later wrote about the adventure and was kidnapped a second time ten years later was Hannah Heath Bradley, wife of Daniel BRADLEY’s son Joseph, daughter of John Heath and Sarah Partridge, and grand daughter of our ancestor Bartholomew HEATH.

Cotton Mather Portrait c. 1700

The account begins with Cotton Mather, not only because he heard the story from Hannah herself and was the first to record it, but because his account in the Magnalia Christi Americana (1702) contains the germs of all the moral and social questions to which later writers would respond: Is the killing of one’s Indian captors justified? Is killing squaws and children ever justifiable? Is killing Christian (although Catholic) Indians justifiable? Is scalping Indian victims and collecting a bounty on the scalps justifiable? Should a wife and mother be judged by standards not applied to men? And finally, was Hannah admirable as well as courageous?

Mather’s account in the Magnalia served as a primary source for all except two of the subsequent retellings.

John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892)

John Greenleaf Whittier popularized the incident in “A Mother’s Revenge” . His story differed significantly from the Mather account, apparently reflecting both local tradition and conscious literary manipulation of his material. His theme was the resolution created in a woman’s character by the exigencies of the frontier. In Whit tier’s version of the story, Hannah heroically sends her husband to protect the children. He thus adds luster to Hannah’s character and redeems Thomas Dustin from possible charges that he deserted his wife and infant daughter.

Hannah Dustin

Statue of Hannah Dustin in Haverhill, Mass

George Chase, in the History of Haverhill (1861), brought together the Mather, Sewall, and Mirick accounts, supplementing them by use of the town records. He corrected Mirick at some points and provided a definitive recital of the Indian raid and its aftermath. He reprints Mather’s Magnalia account in its entirety because he says it is the most reliable, Mather having “heard the story direct from the lips of Mrs. Dustin.”  Then, having discussed the location of the Dustin house, Chase deliberately and needlessly turns to compare Hannah’s deeds unfavorably with those of her husband. He reasons that Hannah attacked “twelve sleeping savages, seven of whom were children, and but two of whom were men. It was not with her a question of life or death, but of liberty and revenge.”

In this instance Chase, with the Mather account directly before him, discarded both of Mather’s justifications for the killings. Chase judges Hannah on the basis of a revenge motive that he, Whittier, and Bancroft ascribe to her. The only support for such an interpretation is Hannah’s explanation that being where she had not her own life secured to her by law she felt it lawful to kill the Indians, “by whom her child had been butchered.” The context in which these words appear suggests that Hannah is not seeking vengeance but invoking the Old Testament law of “an eye for an eye” which, for people who consciously formed their legal system upon Biblical law, represented not revenge but justice.

As time passed Hannah’s legal argument lost its Old Testament authority and came to be interpreted, or misinterpreted, as a justification for vengeance. As Hannah’s historians became further removed from frontier life, they increasingly admired women rather for their frailty than for their hardihood. The new crop of authors, fascinated by Hannah’s story, yet deploring her conduct, insisted upon the harsher details of her exploit, while religious ardor and ethical judgement faded before social convention.

Detailed Account
Here’s a more detailed account of Hannah and Mary from The Duston / Dustin Family, Thomas and Elizabeth (Wheeler) Duston and their descendants. and The Story of Hannah Duston Published by the Duston-Dustin Family Association, H. D. Kilgore Historian Haverhill Tercentenary – June, 1940.  I’ve kept most of the 19th Century language, only removing a few breathless adverbs, opinionated adjectives and changing some pejorative nouns.

On March 14, 1697, Thomas and Hannah Duston lived in a house on the west side of the Sawmill River in the town of Haverhill. This house was located near the great Duston Boulder and on the opposite side of Monument Street.

Their twenty years of married life had brought them material prosperity, and of the twelve children who had been born to them during this period, eight were living. Thomas, who was quite a remarkable man, – a bricklayer and farmer, who, according to tradition, even wrote his own almanacs, and wrote them on rainy days, – was beginning to have time to devote to town affairs, and had just completed a term as Constable for the “west end” of the town of Haverhill.

He was at this time engaged in the construction with bricks from his own brickyard of a new brick house about a half mile to the northwest of his home to provide for the needs of his still growing family, for Baby Martha had just made her appearance on March 9.

Under the care of Mrs. Mary Neff,  (daughter of George CORLISS and widow of William Neff) both mother and child were doing well, the rest of the family were in good health, his material affairs were prospering, and it was undoubtedly with a rather contented feeling that Thomas, to say nothing of his family, retired to rest on the eve of that fateful March 15, 1697, little knowing what horrors the morrow was to bring.

Of course, there was always the fear of Indians. However, since the capture in August of the preceding year, of Jonathan Haynes and his four children while picking peas in a field at Bradley’s Mills, near Haverhill, nothing had happened, and apprehensions of any further attacks were gradually being lulled. Besides, less than a mile on Pecker’s Hill, was the garrison of Onesiphorus Marsh, one of six established by the town containing a small body of soldiers. It was believed that there was little ground for uneasiness.

But this was only a false security. Count Frontenac, the Colonial Governor of Canada, was using every means at his disposal to incite the Indians against the English as part of his campaign to win the New World for the French King. The latter, due to the need for troops in Europe, where the war known as King William’s War was going on, was unable to send many to help Frontenac. So, with propaganda and gifts, the French Governor had allied the tribes to the French cause and bounties had been set on English scalps and prisoners. Every roving band of Indians was determined to get its share of these, and even now, such a band was in the woods near Haverhill, preparing for a lightning raid on the town with the first light of dawn. The squaws and children were left in the forest to guard their possessions, while the Indian warriors moved stealthily towards the house of Thomas and Hannah Duston, the first attacked. [The Treaty of Ryswick in 1697 ended the war between the two colonial powers, reverting the colonial borders to the status quo ante bellum. The peace did not last long, and within five years, the colonies were embroiled in the next phase of the French and Indian Wars, Queen Anne’s War.]

Early the next morning, Thomas, at work near the house, suddenly spied the approaching Indians. Instantly seizing his gun he mounted his horse and raced for the house, shouting a warning which started the children towards the garrison, while he dashed into the house hoping to save his wife and the baby. Quickly seeing that he was too late, and doubtless urged by Hannah, he rode after the children, resolving to escape with at least one. On overtaking them, finding it impossible to choose between them, he resolved, if possible, to save them all. A few of the Indians pursued the little band of fugitives, firing at them from behind trees and boulders, but Thomas, dismounting and guarding the rear, held back the savages from behind his horse by threatening to shoot whenever one of them exposed himself. Had he discharged his gun they would have closed in at once, for reloading took considerable time. He was successful in his attempt, and all reached the garrison safely, the older children hurrying the younger along, probably carrying them at times. This was probably the garrison of Onesiphorus March on Pecker’s Hill.

Escape of Thomas Dustin & children. Source: Some Indian Stories of Early New England, 1922

Meanwhile a fearful scene was being enacted in the home. Mrs. Neff, trying to escape with the baby, was easily captured. Invading the house, the Indians forced Hannah to rise and dress herself. Sitting despairingly in the chimney, she watched them rifle the house of all they could carry away, and was then dragged outside while they fired the house, in her haste forgetting one shoe. A few of the Indians then dragged Hannah and Mrs. Neff, who carried the baby, towards the woods, while the rest of the band, rejoined by those who had been pursing Thomas and the children, attacked other houses in the village, killing twenty-seven and capturing thirteen of the inhabitants.

Hannah Dustin Memorial Bas Relief 1.

Finding that carrying the baby was making it hard for Mrs. Neff to keep up, one of the Indians seized it from her, and before its mother’s horrified eyes dashed out its brains against an apple tree. The Indians, forcing the two women to their utmost pace, at last reached the woods and jointed the squaws and children who had been left behind the night before. Here they were soon after joined by the rest of the group with their plunder and other captives.

Fearing a prompt pursuit, the Indians immediately set out for Canada with their booty. Some of the weaker captives were  knocked on the head and scalped, but in spite of her condition, poorly clad and partly shod, Hannah, doubtless assisted by Mrs. Neff, managed to keep up, and by her own account marched that day “about a dozen miles”, a remarkable feat. During the next few days they traveled about a hundred miles through the unbroken wilderness, over rough trails, in places still covered with the winter’s snow, sometimes deep with mud, and across icy brooks, while rocks tore their half shod feet and their poorly clad bodies suffered from the cold – a terrible journey.

Near the junction of the Contoocook and Merrimack rivers, twelve of the Indians, two men, three women, and seven children, taking with them Hannah, Mrs. Neff and a boy of fourteen years, Samuel Lennardson (who had been taken prisoner near Worcester about eighteen months before), left the main party and proceeded toward what is now Dustin Island, situated where the two rivers unite, near the present town of Penacook, N.H. This island was the home of the Indian who claimed the women as his captives, and here it was planned to rest for a while before continuing on the long journey to Canada.

This Indian family had been converted by the French priests at some time in the past, and was accustomed to have prayers three times a day, – in the morning, at noon and at evening, – and ordinarily would not let their children eat or sleep without first saying their prayers. Hannah’s master, who had lived in the family of Rev. Mr. Rowlandson of Lancaster some years before told her that “when he prayed the English way he thought that it was good, but now he found the French way better.” They tried, however, to prevent the two women from praying, but without success, for as they were engaged on the tasks set by their master, they often found opportunities. Their Indian master would sometimes say to them when he saw them dejected, “What need you trouble yourself? If your God will have you delivered, you shall be so!”

[Mary (White) Rowlandson (c. 1637 – Jan 1711) was a colonial American woman who was captured by Indians during King Philip’s War and endured eleven weeks of captivity before being ransomed. After her release, she wrote a book about her experience, The Sovereignty and Goodness of God: Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, which is considered a seminal work in the American literary genre of captivity narratives.

During the long journey Hannah was secretly planning to escape at the first opportunity, spurred by the tales with which the Indians had entertained the captives on the march, picturing how they would be treated after arriving in Canada, stripped and made to “run the gauntlet”; jeered at and beaten and made targets for the young Indians’ tomahawks; how many of the English prisoners had fainted under these tortures; and how they were often sold as slaves to the French. These stories, added to her desire for revenging the death of her baby and the cruel treatment of their captors while on the march, made this desire stronger. When she learned where they were going, a plan took definite shape in her mind, and was secretly communicated to Mrs. Neff and Samuel Lennardson.

Samuel, who was growing tired of living with the Indians, and in whom a longing for home had been stirred by the presence of the two women, the next day casually asked his master, Bampico, how he had killed the English. “Strike ‘em dere,” said Bampico, touching his temple, and then proceeded to show the boy how to take a scalp. This information was communicated to the women, and they quickly agreed on the details of the plan. They arrived at the island some time before March 30, 1697.

After reaching the island, the Indians grew careless. The river was in flood. Samuel was considered one of the family, and the two women were considered too worn out to attempt escape, so not watch was set that night and the Indians slept soundly. Hannah decided that the time had come.

Hannah Dustin Memorial Bas Relief 2

Shortly after midnight she 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. 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. According to a deposition of Hannah Bradley 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.”

Hastily 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 scuttled the rest of the canoes and set out down the Merrimack River.

Original Gun taken by Hannah Dustin

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.  [this was Hannah’s explanation,  Is it credible to you?]

Hannah Dustin and Mary Neff make their escape

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. 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.

Hannah Dustin Detail

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.  The fear induced by the massacre caused Haverhill to at once establish several new garrison houses. One of these was the brick house which Thomas was building for his family at the time of the massacre. This was ordered completed, and though the clay pits were not far from the home, a guard of soldiers was placed over those who brought clay to the house. The order establishing Thomas Duston’s house as a garrison was dated April 5, 1697. He was appointed master of the garrison and assigned Josiah HEATH, Sen., Josiah Heath Jun., Joseph Bradley, John Heath, Joseph Kingsbury, and Thomas Kingsbury as a guard.

Dustin Garrison

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.

Hannah had risked precious time to gain those scalps. The explanation sometimes given later, that her story would not be believed without evidence, is patently false. If her credibility were the only issue at stake, sooner or later there would be corroborative accounts. Actually, Hannah Bradley, another Haverhill woman, was a captive in the camp where the wounded squaw sought refuge. But to collect a scalp bounty Hannah needed to produce the scalps.

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 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

To the Right Honorable the Lieut Governor & the Great & General assembly of the Province of Massachusetts Bay now convened in BostonThe Humble Petition of Thomas Durstan of Haverhill Sheweth That the wife of ye petitioner (with one Mary Neff) hath in her Late captivity among the Barbarous Indians, been disposed & assisted by heaven to do an extraordinary action, in the just slaughter of so many of the Barbarians, as would by the law of the Province which——–a few months ago, have entitled the actors unto considerable recompense from the Publick.

That tho the———-of that good Law————–no claims to any such consideration from the publick, yet your petitioner humbly—————-that the merit of the action still remains the same; & it seems a matter of universal desire thro the whole Province that it should not pass unrecompensed.

And that your petitioner having lost his estate in that calamity wherein his wife was carried into her captivity render him the fitter object for what consideration the public Bounty shall judge proper for what hath been herein done, of some consequence, not only unto the persons more immediately delivered, but also unto the Generall Interest

Wherefore humbly Requesting a favorable Regard on this occasion

Your Petitioner shall pray &c
Thomas Du(r)stun

Despite the missing words its purport is clear. Hannah has performed a service to the community and deserves an appropriate expression of gratitude. It also implies a justification for killing the squaws and children, if any justification were needed when the captives’ safety depended upon several hours head start.

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, 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 correct and corroborated by the evidence.

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.

This remarkable exploit of Hannah Duston, Mary Neff, and Samuel Lennardson was received with amazement throughout the colonies, and Governor Nicholson of Maryland sent her a suitably inscribed silver tankard.

Dustin Tankard, A gift from the Gov. of Maryland to Hannah Dustin in 1697. In possession of the Haverhill Historical Society, Hav. Mass. Source: Some Indian Stories of Early New England, 1922

Historian Kathryn Whitford notes that the Abenaki Indians themselves didn’t take revenge on Hannah, though they had the opportunity and there are a good many recorded instances of Indian vengeance upon men who had betrayed them.  She concludes “It almost seems as though the Indians recognized that they and Hannah approached border warfare in the same spirit and that they owed her no grudge.”


Hannah Dustin: The Judgement of History By Kathryn Whitford Associate Professor, Department of English, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.






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40 Responses to Hannah Dustin – Heroine or Cold Blooded Killer

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  6. Ken Hamilton says:

    Aside from “Us against them”……………what would ANY OF US DO IN THIS SITUATION?

    Although the “glorification” of the incident was morale boosting propoganda in war-torn Colonial New England, it definately needs to be put into perspective today, and merely looked at as an historical incident…unusual, excessive and bloody yes…but straight “history” nevertheless. Although it is clear that her husband Thomas made SURE they soon “cashed in” for the scalp bounties, can Hannah Dustin be blamed for the “propoganda storm” that followed?
    New born baby killed in front of us, made a POW with other community members, house burned, unkown about other family members, taken onto the unknown wilderness all winter and escaped while waiting for the fish to run on the Merrimack (perhaps NOT the small Island claimed in “legend”? Fearing “running the gauntlet” upon arrival to the main “village”, and Puritan fear of Jesuit priests, one might well do anything to escape. Scalps were taken on BOTH sides, and hers was a cash bounty and compensation for her burned house and property etc…but admittedly excessive (small children and women killed). Survivors would have (AND DID) notify OTHER nearby Native family camps. If found, Hannah D., Mary N. and Samuel L. would have been put to death by mourning family members. What would YOU do?
    An escaping Abanaki P.O.W. from a Mohawk war party might well do the same! Other famous accounts and stories exist concerning traditional Native enemies.

    By the way, the gun pictured is an 18th cent. French fusil, and not the “original” one Hannah took. A photo of the REAL one is a late 19th cent. sepiatone kept in the archives of the Havehil Public Library…current whereabouts of the gun is unkown but believed to be in the hands of a descendant who claimed it from the Library in the 1870’s!


    • markeminer says:


      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      Let’s switch the blame to Cotton Mather. In the words of literary historian Sacvan Bercovitch via Wikipedia:

      “Few puritans more loudly decried the bosom serpent of egotism than did Cotton Mather; none more clearly exemplified it.”

      Kind Regards, Mark

    • Barbara Foster says:

      Hannah is my seventh Great-Grandparent who through showed great strength and courage. She was taken from her bed by Native Americans who slaughtered twenty seven English Colonists in Haverhill, Ma and forced her to walk seventy to eighty miles in the wildness of Main. Here newborn Infant’s head had been dashed against a tree savagely and murdered. So yes I believe that Hannah is a hero and had every right in the world to defend her-self and the two others that were held with her as captives.

      • Suzan Atkinson-Haverty says:

        Barbara, You are so lucky to have Hannah Dustin/Duston as your great x7 grandmother. The first time I ever knew about her was in a Yankee Magazine story done on her in an issue about 1994. I was so riveted by her and her story of survival by these savages and her seeing her six day old new born murdered before her eyes. How many mothers on here could ever say they would remain calm after witnessing that? I dare anyone that was normal could say they would not be thinking about revenge as soon as they could inflict it upon them! Those were very different times, and survival was the name of the game 24/7! Hannah lived a unbelievable life, and she was a strong committed woman to getting back to her children and husband. HANNAH DUSTIN IS A HERO ABUSOLUTELY! BARBARA, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DEFEND HER TO THE BLEEDING HEARTS OF TODAY…THEY AREN’T EVEN NORMAL PEOPLE LIVING AMONG US TODAY. THEY ARE THE WEAKEST OF US AMERICANS, HANNAH WOULD HAVE BEEN A REPUBLICAN BIG TIME! SHE WAS STRONG AND LOYAL AND KNEW WHAT HAD TO BE DONE AND NOT AFRAID TO DO IT! Hannah was also a great strategist for she got herself and Mary Neff and Samuel Lenordson (a young boy who had been stolen in an Indian raid in Worcester, MA) home, to finish living their lives. I have been to Haverhill to see the statue in the center of town, and also traveled up to Boscowen NH to see where she killed these Indian savages. These Indians did not treat these captives like family. People who live in a dream world want to believe it was la la land. Well it was brutal and degrading what happened with these people who were stolen. Hannah Dustin was a hero then and a hero today and forever!

    • tnareau says:

      I cannot believe that in this day everyone has to make everything about racism or feminism! I am appalled that people can just view this as the HISTORY that it was! They kidnapped her, she killed them. I believe i would have done the same, plain and simple…nothing more to it!!!

      • tnareau says:

        i meant “that everyone CANT just view this as the HISTORY it was!

      • markeminer says:


        This is interesting history to me, in part because Hannah’s story was used for propaganda at the time. I agree with you that we should not judge her actions, but not everyone who hears this story thinks they would have done the same thing as her. I have never been tested by anything close to this, so I do not know what I myself would have done.

        this is history for us all,


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  9. Lew crump says:

    Ken; how could ” the real weapon” be a late 19th century sepia tone…? Even the 18th century gun is too new.

  10. SJReidhead says:

    As a direct descendant of Hannah Dustin, I find the way she is now viewed is disgusting and insulting. When woman’s infant was slaughtered. She was raped. Cotton Mather did a great job of writing about her, for his own glory, but you fail to mention, because she was raped she was not allowed inside a church, nor was she allowed to be part of much of anything in the community. She had been raped. According to our family history, she took out her rapist, then went back for the scalps to prove what had happened. She was ostracized from polite society the rest of her life. I have a copy of the letter she wrote, later in life, begging to be allowed to attend church. Frankly, I find the Abenaki version of the tale insulting. Funny how the world now views things.

    • markeminer says:


      When titled the article with a question, I meant not to judge Hannah. I stories of the past, different versions of the same thing make it more interesting. In those times, being barred from church was one of the worst punishments imaginable. I did not know that happened to Hannah; our Puritan ancestors were often harsh. Could you point me to a transcript of her letter? I would be very interested to see.

      Kind Regards,


      • SJReidhead says:

        I think you did a great job on presentation, fantastic. One of the reason so many ‘famous’ writers from New England have memorialized her is because they are direct descendants. Her progeny include a who’s who of American writers, not necessarily via the Dustin side of things but via the Emersons and Websters, as the names imply. Writing appears to be the family occupation, generation after generation. It explains the florid presentations of her story.

        I think the letter is in a booklet distributed via the Dustin family in the early 1960s. There is also a book on the family history, somewhere. I have everything in a file, and like all files, It could be in a half-dozen different places. I keep aiming to do an article on the family, and never get around to it.

        You might want to look into the Dustin Massacre in Wright County, Minnesota, in 1863. That’s my branch of the family. There were some tentative attempts to connect the two stories, but it is ludicrous, at best. In many ways, what happened to my great-grandmother and her family was far more horrific. I’ve tried writing about it, but am finding that, when something is directly from the family, within living memory, it is difficult.

        My father remembered seeing a portion of Hannah’s scalp cloth, when he was a child. One of the Ladd’s had it. Another relative ended up with the scalp cloth, we ended up with this magnificent chest that came over on the Mary and John in the 1630. We have an old family with a fascinating heritage, and are a bunch of pack-rats. If you could rattle the cages of Hannah’s descendants, it would be shocking as to the number of artifacts we would have, somewhere. I’ll keep a copy of your URL and will send links when I find them.

      • SJReidhead says:

        P. S. I’m a genealogy freak, so I have been going through your genealogy. I have the Perkins line on two sides of the family. It looks like we have some additional ancestors in common.

  11. Pingback: PART II: The New Censorship | The Pink Flamingo

  12. KRISTEN says:

    I find the comment regarding the Indians being Christians “.though Catholic” to be as racist and wrong as the whole story. It’s not okay to kill.anyone

    • Suzan Atkinson-Haverty says:

      Yes it is OK to kill someone if they are going to kill you! Or if they have just killed your child or any family member of yours! Where do you live, under a rock? Please come out of LA LA Land! There are many reasons in life that are OK to kill. You may not like it, but it is OK! More than OK! You mean to tell all of us out here, that if you had a five day old new born baby, and it was bashed against a tree and killed, you would not want to kill that person or persons who did this in retaliation for the loss of your beloved baby? If you said no….something is very wrong with you. I am glad you were never my mother!

  13. Pingback: Cold War (2012) | Home Art

  14. Normandie S. Kent says:

    Feel as insulted as you want. Your ancestress was a disgusting savage, not the Native Americans. They were taken advantage by your ancestors and others since first contact. They were always on the recieving end of the invaders deceit and theft of their ancestral homelands since first contact. And you blame them for fighting back? The colonists were nothing but invaders, who enslaved the NAs and subjected sovereign Nations to English laws. They had no right to subject them to foriegn law! If your ancestress would have commited those heinous act now, she would probably be on death row as a serial killer, especially if her victims were white. The fact is that family had nothing to do with her kidnapping and the death of her child, they were innocent of all crimes. She murdered them in their sleep like a coward, murdered elderly and children and went back and scalped them for profit. That is especially disgusting and depraved.. I dont care if she is your ancestor, shes probably burning in hell. Also there is no proof in any of the accounts that she was raped. Indian men were not rapists, that was a European activity.

    • SJ Reidhead says:

      I gather bashing her infant against a tree and murdering it was politically correct. You might want to brush up on a little history. http://www.counter-currents.com/2013/02/a-fate-worse-than-death/

    • Suzan Atkinson-Haverty says:

      WOAH boy oh boy! You are so wrong about the Great Hannah Duston! She did what a normal healthy mother would do if you were a woman, and your new born baby was brutally murdered before your eyes! She had many children to also get back to in Haverhill to take care of for many years to come. This is a very hard working practical woman who thinks with her survival instincts and she is good at it! You have so many facts wrong about Indians, I could not stop laughing! Indians raped women just like white men did. The point is, European white man did come here, and we did prosper and that is how this country called American became the greatest nation on earth. Not because of the indigenous American Indian. BUT because of the European white man and woman. So the fact that your last name is Kent…lol…you have been enjoying a good life in America I presume…or you live in the UK, or one of the Celtic countries. Yes the Indians did fight back, and they had a right too! But the whites were also trying to survive at the same time. SO it comes down to this….are you white? or are you Indian? Which side are you going to choose? I choose white! I am glad we are the nation we are today, and we have people like the DUSTONS to thank for all that they went through and all their suffering for all the great living and Freedoms we have today! Do you get it yet? You must have something wrong with your thinking process. We are talking about a timeframe in our history that goes back over 300 years ago, and life was far different than it is today! So you cannot put our rules and laws of today on their lives of yesterday! These were War party Indians looking for white slaves to sell up in Canada for goods for barter. That is the bottom line of why she was taken with Mary Neff. You must not like to hear truth about life! The Indians came and took what they wanted, just like we did. These women would have been raped all the way up to Canada. They would have been forced to carry all the Indians goods like pack animals also. Pretty horrible state to be in, especially in horrible bug infested woods. Hannah Duston killed who ever she had too, to make it back to her family in Haverill MA. These Indians were not children, they were of teenage years, and they can be brutal, like they were, when they killed her baby. We see today how pre teens and teenagers today home invade and rape and kill in homes throughout America. Teenagers are very dangerous! Especially when in a gang mentality. GET THIS IN YOUR HEAD, IF YOU DO NOT GET ANYTHING ELSE FROM THIS ALL MEN RAPE FROM EVERY ETHNIC BACKGROUND ON THIS EARTH! Two women against three adult men, and the rest teenage males. Which in all were fourteen. MR.KENT…HOW BAD WOULD YOU WANT TO LIVE, TO SEE YOUR SPOUSE AND CHILDREN EVER AGAIN, AND LIVE YOUR LIFE ONCE AGAIN? HANNAH DUSTON DID WHATEVER IT TOOK TO DO JUST THAT! SHE ALSO HAD GREAT PRESENCE OF MIND TO REALIZE IN A WORLD CONTROLLED BY MEN, THAT MAYBE HER WORD WAS NOT ENOUGH TO BELIVE…SO SHE BACK TRACKED, AND YOU BET, SHE TOOK ALL THOSE SCALPS TO PROVE WHAT SHE, AND MARY NEFF, AND SAMUEL LENORDSON HAD JUST ENDURED! First of all, you need to get the story and history of Hannah Duston accurate and correct! Then you need to walk in her shoes! Or is that you a jealous for you know that you are that type of male that could never defend yourself on this earth, and a woman like Hannah Duston could do what you could never do!!! WHICH ONE IS IT MR KENT?

    • Suzan Atkinson-Haverty says:

      Kent, my long response is to you whether you are a man or woman. You need to deal with the reality of life what ever timeframe it is we live in! Hannah Duston did just that! She is a Hero beyond heros! I wish they would do a great epic movie in her honor!

  15. Well and simply said, SJR!

  16. Pingback: Hannah Dustin (1697) – Live Free and Draw

  17. markeminer says:

    I believe in free speech and exchange of ideas, but i rejected a hate speech comment on this post today

  18. TImster says:

    I was glad to see other perspectives on this historical incident, including that of the Abenakis. During wartime human beings can be at both their best and at their worst. That’s what I see here.

    As a war captive, Hannah and her friends were expected to do what they could to try to escape. But her scalping was more than personal vengeance. She had no doubt believed the colonial propaganda and racism against Native Americans of the time and I feel this highly contributed to her grisly war crime of returning to scalp the Abenakis they had killed.

    This story should not be forgotten. There are lessons to be learned here. We need to continue to discuss it and listen to all sides of the conflict of King William’s War. Hannah may be a heroine, but we should consider that she may also be a villain, as she was as human as we all are.

    • markeminer says:

      Thank you for your insightful comment

    • SJ Reidhead says:

      Why was it “colonial propaganda”? That is a modern sentiment. As a historian, one of my major complaints is the application of modern sentiment to an event that happened when there was no modern sentiment. You can’t apply modern political correctness to something that happened years ago. It doesn’t work. Oh, you can, but it distorts history and helps no one. The woman was fighting for survival. Her infant was murdered. Her home was burned. She did not even know if her family had survived. She was raped, and brutally tortured. Please – explain how “colonial propaganda” turns her into a villain? Seems to me the people who slaughtered her infant and raped her were the monsters. The problem is, modern day political correctness does not allow us to honestly castigate savage behavior for what it was – savage behavior.

      Fearing no one would believer her story, she did what she did. She fought to save her own life. Was that wrong? Was she a monster for refusing to enter into a life of brutality and slavery? Isn’t it rather fascinating that our politically correct society allows for certain classes of individuals to do what was necessary to escape slavery, but others are not afforded the same sympathy?

      She knew when she returned home she would be ostracized because she had been raped. She also did not know if she had become pregnant by rape. As it was, she was forced to live the existence of someone who had done something terribly wrong – allowed herself to be raped. She was not allowed to attend church. She was not allowed to even socialize with the women of her community. She had been used by savages. The letter she wrote, toward the end of her life, begging for a church home is heart-breaking.

      I do find it rather fascinating that society today requires someone like Hannah Dustin to be transferred into a monster, so that the real monsters can be seen as the oppressed. Ironic isn’t it? Women today who are subjected to the same treatment by ISIS are shown sympathy. But, because Hannah Dustin dared fight back, and dared survive against barbarous atrocity, she is now a monster and the monsters who attacked her are shown the sympathy?

      “Colonial Propaganda”?
      War Crime?

      The time frame is part of King William’s War, which superseded King Phillip’s War, where hundreds of settlers were brutally slaughtered by native peoples. During King William’s War, those lovely, gentle, Abenakie were slavers. They would attack settlements to capture women and children who would then be sold into French Canada as slaves.

      Please, explain how escaping brutal slavers is a war crime?

      SJ Reidhead
      AP Reidhead
      Ruby Perkins Reidhead
      Alma Dustin Perkins
      Amos Dustin
      Moses Dustin
      Timothy Dustin
      Paul Dustin
      Timothy Dustin
      Hannah Emerson Dustin

      • TImster says:

        I don’t think any professional historian who would say that propaganda is a recent invention, especially during times of war. The rhetoric against Native Americans heated up after the bloody King Phillip’s war which came before King William’s war. Anti-Indian propaganda came from various sources, but mostly from American pulpits. Increase Mather called the Indians uncivilized “heathens” saying that they did not deserve the land as they did not work, and claimed that “God” was giving it to the Colonists. Cotton Mather said that King William’s war was caused by Indian witchcraft, saying Indians were “horrid sorcerers, and hellish conjurers… [who] conversed with demons”. Also, authors of that time period reflected the clergy’s characterizations, calling the Indians “infidels, hell-hounds, and savages”. With this kind of de-humanizing characterization of Native Americans, even a God-fearing woman Hannah Dustin could permit herself to return and mutilate the bodies of the people she had killed by scalping them?

        As I stated in my initial post, Hannah Dustin had the right to escape her captivity. But AFTER she escaped, she returned to scalp her captors, allegedly for “proof” of her kidnapping? Was there any other way she could have proved her ordeal? Sure there was. She could have taken her captor’s clothing or weapons. Plus, she had the testimony of the two people who were with her. No, her scalping wasn’t about proof, those scalps were “war trophies” that came from mutilating her enemy’s bodies, which she did because she saw them as subhuman.

        I admire Hannah’s bravery of escaping captivity and her will to survive. I cannot praise her, nor should she be glorified, because of her returning to scalp her captors. I hope you can see that.

  19. SJ Reidhead says:

    They were brutal savages. Don’t you understand the fact that they were wiping out villages and slaughtering people? Why is is acceptable to say the settlers were ‘savages’ but we must wax poetic on how lovely the slavers were? I don’t quite get it other than we’re dealing with a double standard. They were basically at a state of war, made possible by French mischief. Massachusetts Bay Colony had a bounty of 20pounds/scalp. According to tradition, Hannah and the two who were with her received a bounty of 200 pounds, which would be like $100,000 today.

    I fail to see why that makes her worse than the savages who were going to sell her as a slave. I know you consider slavery brutal, so why not admit what they were planning to do to her, complete with the rape and beatings was just as evil as what was being done in the South?

    You say she considered them subhuman, yet they were planning on selling her as a SLAVE. Isn’t that treating someone subhuman, or because she was an upperclass white woman, she did not count? Just asking.

  20. TImster says:

    There was no indication of rape or of the type of enslavement you are portraying here. None of the Hannah Emerson Dustin stories detail that she was raped, especially the Mather story which is the most credible. To project rape and beatings with lashes here isn’t based on anything except for what comes out of the Colonial anti-Indian rhetoric, such as that of the author Mary White Rowlandson (“Sovereignty and Goodness of God”) of that period.

    In the article at the top, Bruchak explains away such Colonial embellishments: “The whole point of taking a captive was to then transport that person safely. For the whole of that journey they were treated like family… When captives were taken, they were almost immediately handed off from the warriors to individuals who would then look after them. Hannah, we know for a fact, was handed over to an extended family group of two adult men, three women, seven children and one white child.”

    This fits the picture of Hannah on the island very well, and it explains how Hannah, a women who had just given birth and walked 16 miles, was able to subdue her captors, as they were simply a family of caregivers taking care of prisoners of war. It was very likely Hannah would have been returned for a ransom, as other recent women captives had.

    Many women, once they had escaped the tyranny of Puritan oppression in their husband’s houses and the religiously-run villages, found being a woman in Native American culture quite liberating and did not return to the Colonial life but chose instead to live with the Indians. This may be one of the reasons that statues of Hannah Emerson Dustin were raised up– she became a symbol of what Colonial men believed that a woman was “supposed” to do: leave the “savages” and come back home.

    Also, the bounty on scalps had been suspended before Hannah did this and her husband had to convince the magistrates to reinstate this horrible initiative so that Hannah could claim any money for her war prizes. So, when she scalped the Abenaki, she couldn’t expect any bounty– she returned to do it just to do it. This is not someone I want our daughters and sons to admire.

  21. Robert Vincelette says:

    My descent from her is her daughter Sarah, some generations of Courrier, my grandfather, Frank Milhening, and me. I will not take a side that smugly judges her, but rather remind that everyone has a breaking point which turns them into killers. If someone murdered your infant would you be docile? I can never replace my house which is very special to me and if someone burned it down so I would be a street person or have to live in an ugly trailer park or noisy apartment where the culture shoved down my throat violated my definition of myself I would try not to kill them, because I would rather destroy their sex organs and let them live. They burned down her house. What would you do and should you be judged for it?
    I would be interested in a registry of all of her descendants if one is organized.

  22. Pingback: The Amazing Story of Hannah Duston, March 14, 1697 – Historic Ipswich

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