Famous symbol of frontier heroism. A victim of an Indian raid in 1697, on Haverhill, Massachusetts, whence she had been taken to a camp site on the nearby island in the river. After killing and later scalping ten Indians, she and two other captives, Mary Neff and Samuel Lennardson, escaped down the river to safety.
This Marker is at the “Hannah Dustin” Park n’ Ride on Rt 4, a mile west of I93 off exit 17. It was erected in 1967.
The story of Hannah Dustin has been told many times in History books and through poetry and writings of many notable authors. The first appeared in Cotton Mathers history of the New England colonies.
Mather had personally interviewed Dustin after her escape from captivity, and many of the other re-tellings of the tale are based on his account.
Thomas and Hannah Dustin lived in the then small frontier town of Haverhill, MA. On Wednesday March 15th 1697 Thomas was about doing work while Hannah lay in bed recovering from the birth of her eighth child about a week earlier, with Mary Neff taking care of her.
The day was interrupted by the sudden war cries of an Indian raiding party. Thomas grabbed his musket and ran for the house as the raid began. In her weakened condition, Hannah was in no shape to run, and begged Thomas to save the children. The infant would have to stay with her and Mary.
Thomas gathered the children and told them to run for the Garrison house while he held off the Indians should they pursue. And they did. Accounts vary about the childrens escape and Thomas’ deeds, but all agree that Thomas held off the Indians with his rifle, killing at least one attacker and getting the children to safety. His deeds that day would eventually be immortalized in a poem by Sarah Hale (who has her own marker) called “The Father’s Choice” which begins:
Now fly as flies the rushing wind!
Urge, urge thy rushing steed!
The savage yell is fierce behind;
And Life is on thy speed.
Meanwhile, Hannah was forced from her bed and taken captive along with her nurse and infant. After gathering all their captives together the raiding party headed back to their canoes on the bank of the Merrimack. On the way there, Hannahs infant son was murdered by having his head smashed against an apple tree. On the trip to the river and up the Merrimack many that were too old, slow or sick would be killed and left behind as well.
It’s difficult to imagine what Hannah Dustin was feeling. Rage? Sorrow? Many have speculated in the various versions of her story, including Nathaniel Hawthorne;
The raiding party and their captives covered 15 miles the first day and all struggled to keep up or die. They travelled for 15 days all told, and as was the custom of the Indians at the time the captives were split between the participating Tribes.
Hannah and Mary Neff were given together to a band that made camp on what is today Dustin Island. Along the way the Indians made their plans clear. After resting a few days they would travel North to Canada where the captives would be run through a gauntlet of the tribe, suffering greatly. Afterward, if they survived, they would be sold in slavery to the French. Not a very promising future.
At the island on their arrival were the families of the raiders, and a young man named Samuel Lennardson that had been captive for over a year and spoke the Indian language well. Hannah would concoct her plan. She asked Samuel how the Indians killed with a single blow, and how they scalped people. Not knowing, Samuel asked one of the raiders. They viewed the women and boy as no threat so the Indian told him.
As the camp fire died away and the night deepened Hannah informed Mary and Samuel of her intentions. She planned to kill the Indians and escape.
It was time to make their escape. On reaching the canoes, they scuttled all but one. Mary and Samuel were anxious to leave, but Hannah had one more grisly task in mind. She asked them to wait and disappeared into the woods back toward the camp.
She returned a short time later with ten scalps. Again, it’s hard to determine her emotions but there is no doubt revenge for the murder of her child certainly played a part. They pushed off into the river and began the long trek back down the Merrimack to Haverhill.
Returning to Haverhill she learned that Thomas, for his brave deeds had been requested to build and run a new Garrison in town. It’s at 665 Hilldale Ave in Haverhill, and is open occasionally as a museum. (click the picture for a web page).
Today the Monument erected to Hannah Dustin on June 17, 1874 still stands on the Island that bears her name.
The complete proceedings of the unveiling of the monument is contained in the rear of the book “The Heroism of Hannah Dustin” By Col. Robert Caverly for those that may be interested. Caverly was instrumental in acquiring the land, raising the funds and having the statue sculpted. He delivered a historical address at the unveiling, part of which was;
To adorn and enliven such a history there are no better examples in all the events of the world, than are to be found in the lives and characters of the old New-England mothers. Try them; measure their faith, if you please, as in the days of dearth and disappointment. Measure them in the midst of conflagrations, war, and blood, or in the tranquil years of peace and plenty; or try them in the appalling perils of an Indian raid upon their houses, their little ones, and their lives. Stern in integrity, strong for endurance, firm in truth, and fervent in valor forever, they never faltered.
From the Parking area where the Marker is located, there’s a walking path down to the island and monument for those that may be in the area contemplating a visit.