Saturday, April 4, 2020

52 Ancestors 2020 #14 Waters: The Merrimack and Contoocook Rivers and the Trials of Hannah Emerson Duston

My husband's 8th great grandmother, Hannah Emerson was born 37 years after the Mayflower’s passengers came ashore, on December 23, 1657, in Haverhill, Massachusetts. 
When she was born, her father, Michael Emerson was 30 and her mother, Hannah (Webster), was 22. Hannah Emerson married Thomas Duston (also spelled Dustin, Dustan, or Durstan). 
They were living in Haverhill, Massachusetts on the Merrimack River, when a horrible event occurred.
She was taken captive by Abenaki people from Qu├ębec during King William's War, with her newborn daughter, during the Raid on Haverhill in 1697, in which 27 colonists were killed.
While detained on an island in the Merrimack River in present-day Boscawen, New Hampshire, she killed and scalped ten of the Native Americans, with the assistance of two other captives.

She is believed to be the first American woman honored with a statue [Western Hemisphere?]. Here is the popular account of her trials--and the outcome:

On the 15 of March, 1697, an Indian party descended on the western part of the town of Haverhill, Massachusetts, and approached the house of Thomas Dustin. They came in war dress with their muskets charged for the contest, their tomahawks drawn for the slaughter, and their scalping knives unsheathed. Thomas Dustin was engaged in his daily labor. When the terrific shouts first fell on his ear, he seized his gun, mounted his horse, and hastened to his house, with the hope of escorting to a place of safety his family, which consisted of his wife Hannah, who had been confined only seven days in child bed [her 12th of 13], her nurse, Mrs. Mary Neff (and relative), and 8 young children. Upon his arrival, he rushed towards his house, but found it a scene of confusion. He ordered seven of his children to fly in an opposite direction from that in which the danger was approaching. Indians were already in the house. Seeing there was no hope of saving his wife from the Indians, Thomas flew from the house, mounted his horse, and rode full speed after his children. A small party of the Indians pursued him, and soon overtook him and his children. But they did not come very near, but fired upon him. Thomas retreated for more than a mile, until he lodged the children safely in a forsaken house. This group of Indians returned to their companions.                                The Indian party which entered the house when Thomas Dustin left it, found Hannah (Emerson) Dustin in bed as she had just had a baby. The woman tending her, a relative attempted to flee, but she was stopped. They ordered Hannah to rise. They marched the women out of the house, and one of captors took the infant. As they were marched across the field, the captor with the baby dashed out its brains against an apple tree. The house was plundered and then set on fire. 
The Indian party and their two captors began their retreat to Canada. Hannah was not fully dressed, and was lost one of her shoes. The weather was very cold, the wind of March was keen and piercing, and the earth was alternately covered with snow and deep mud. 
On the Trail North 
The group, with the two women, traveled 12 miles the 1st day, and continued on every day, following a circuitous route. Eventually they reached the home of the Indian who claimed them as his property, which was on a small island, now called Dustin's Island, at the mouth of the Contoocook River, about 6 miles above the statehouse in Concord, New Hampshire. Despite her anguish over the killing of her child, her anxiety over those left behind (sure they had been killed), the suffering from cold and hunger, as well as from sleeping on the damp earth, with nothing but a sky as a covering. They were in terror for themselves, that they too would soon be killed.  
A Temporary? Stop 
Once arriving, they found a group of 12 more Indians as well as a young colonial boy, Samuel, who had been taken captive the previous year. The group moved on and they were left with the 12 Indians. The women were were informed that this was not the final destination, but a stopping point, on the way to a more distant Indian settlement. At the eventual destination they would be treated as all prisoners were customarily treated: they would be stripped, scourged, and made to run the gauntlet nude. (The gauntlet was two lines of their captors, of both sexes and of all ages. The prisoner was made to run between them, as they did, they were beaten, and sometimes became the target for hatchets.) When the women learned of this, they decided to escape as soon as possible. 
Hannah planned the escape, and persuaded her companion as well as the captive boy Samuel to join her. 
By now the Indians had relaxed their watch, because Samuel had lived with them so long, he had become as one of their own children. And, they certainly did not expect that the women, would or could attempt escape unaided, especially when the odds of success were so slim. 
The Plan 
The day before the attempt, Hannah asked Samuel to find out for her how the Indians were able to so quickly kill their victims when hit, and also how to scalp them. She asked Samuel to ask the Indians for instructions on both of those, which he did. Samuel asked one of them where he would strike a man if he would kill him right away. He also asked how to take a scalp. The man laid his finger on his temple "Strike them there." and then instructed him how to scalp. Samuel conveyed the information to the other two. They could not escape unless they killed their captors, they were sure. 
The Event 
That night, once the Indians were asleep, Hannah arose, woke the other two captors. They armed themselves with tomahawks and killed 10 of them. One boy they spared (a favorite). One of the squaws, presumed dead, jumped up, and ran with the spared child into the woods. 
But the captors were anxious to leave before dawn. They retrieved some provisions, then made sure to scuttle all the canoes but one (so as not to be followed). 
Hannah carried with her a gun and a tomahawk from the camp. But, before they’d gotten very far, Hannah recalled they had forgotten the Indian scalps. She insisted on turning back. (If you return from captivity such as theirs without scalps, you might not be believed). They returned to the camp, and scalped the Indians, and placed them in a bag to carry back as proof. 
Hannah (Emerson) Duston Statue

They started back, still they were surrounded with dangers. They were thinly clad, the March sky was threatening, and they were liable to be re-captured by roving bands of Indians, or by those who would undoubtedly pursue them so soon as the squaw and the boy had reported their escape. They continued to drop silently down the river. At night only two of them slept, while the third managed the canoe. They eventually arrived safely at their homes, completely unexpected by their mourning friends and relatives. Hannah, too, had believed that those she loved were dead, so it was a joyful reunion.
Why Scalps? 
On April 21st, Thomas Duston brought Hannah, Samuel and Mary to Boston, along with the scalps, the hatchet and the musket that they had taken from the Indians. 
And although New Hampshire had become a colony in its own right in 1680, the Merrimack River and its adjacent territories were considered part of Massachusetts, therefore Hannah and the other former captives applied to the Massachusetts Government for the scalp bounty. 
 The state of Massachusetts had posted a bounty of 50 pounds per scalp in September 1694, which was reduced to 25 pounds in June 1695, and then entirely repealed in December 1696. 
 As wives had no legal status in those days, so her husband petitioned the Legislature on behalf of Hannah Duston, requesting that the bounties for the scalps be paid, even though the law providing for them had been repealed: 
“The 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 [only] a few months ago, have entitled the actors unto considerable recompense from the Publick. That tho the [want] of that good Law [warrants] no claims to any such consideration from the publick, yet your petitioner humbly [asserts] 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... Your Petitioner, Thomas Durstun” 

On June 16, 1697 the Massachusetts General Court voted to give them a reward for killing their captors; Hannah (Emerson) Duston received 25 pounds, and the nurse and the boy (Neff and Samuel) split another 25 pounds. 
A grandson at her statue 

After returning from Boston, Hannah gave birth to a daughter, Lydia, in October, 1698. Hannah (Emerson) Duston is believed to have died in Haverhill between 1736 and 1738. 

2 The Story Of Hannah Emerson Dustin [or Duston, born Haverhill, Massachusetts, 23 December 1657] From "Historical Collections, Being a General Collection of Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, &c., Relating to the History and Antiquities of Every Town in Massachusetts, with Geographical Descriptions" by John Warner Barber, published 1839 by Dorr, Howland & Co.
3 Wikipedia Hannah Duston 
5 Article, written 1940

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