Hannah Duston

Hannah Duston

(c. 1657-c. 1736)

Hannah Emerson was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts. She was the daughter of a shoemaker who had emigrated from England, and the oldest of 1,5 children.

In 1677, Hannah married Thomas Duston, a bricklayer and farmer. The couple had 12 children, the last of whom was born in March 1697; three of the children died in early childhood.

On March 15, 1697 a group of Native Americans attacked Haverhill. Thomas Duston spotted the warriors, ran to his house and managed to shepherd his seven oldest children to safety. He had to leave behind his wife Hannah, their one-week old infant, and Mary Neff, a local woman who was working as a nurse for the family.

The attackers seized the two women and baby and took them prisoner. They then began the long trek north toward French Canada where Indians usually held their captives for ransom. On the first day, Hannah was forced to watch while an Indian warrior killed her baby. The Indians then threatened the two women with enslavement.

About 1 00 miles north of Haverhill, the raiding party stopped at a small island just north of what is now Concord, New Hampshire. During a brief pause, Duston and Neff met another captive, Samuel Lennardson, a boy who had been taken from Worcester some time earlier. On the island, there were two native men, three native women, and seven children, as well as the three captives.

At this time, Hannah Duston devised a bold plan. Lennardson had learned from his Indian captor the way to kill and scalp a foe. Hannah decided to put that knowledge to good use.

In the early morning hours of March 30, 1697, Duston and Lennardson used hatchets to kill their foes in their sleep. Duston killed nine and Lennardson killed one. One woman and one child escaped from the carnage.Duston, Lennardson, and Neff scalped their fallen foes; otherwise, no one would believe their story. Taking a canoe, the three colonists escaped from the island and reached Haverhillsafely a few days later.

The entire Massachusetts Bay Colonyhailed the news. Duston was awarded 25 pounds sterling by the Massachusetts legislature for the scalps; her two companions split another 25. Duston returned to her everyday life in Haverhill and gave birth to a 13th child in 1698.

Two monuments were later built to honor Hannah Duston. One was erected on Penacook (or Duston) Island in 1874; the second was erected in Haverhill. Both statues show Duston standing with a hatchet in her hand to commemorate the boldness and strength of this captive who fought back.