My Ancestor and Heroine Hannah Duston
My 8th great grandmother was a brave heroine from the 1600s. She was born and named Hannah Webster Emerson in Haverill, Massachusetts. She married an industrious, thrifty, courageous and respected citizen named Thomas Duston. Together they had twelve children, eight of which lived to adulthood. Thomas provided well for his large family.
During this time there were several raids by the Indians, who would destroy homes. Garrisons and forts were built with soldiers securing them for the townspeople. The Canadian Colonial Governor bribed the Indians against the English immigrants to the United States, hoping to win the New World for his French King.
The Indians were more than happy to scalp the English and take some as prisoners in exchange for food and gifts. There was a lightning Indian raid on Haverill one morning, where Thomas and Hannah and their children lived. Thomas was out doing his chores and spied the incoming Indians. He grabbed his gun, mounted his horse and shouted warnings for his children to run to the garrison.
Hannah had just given birth to Martha six days earlier. Indians chased after the little children, but Thomas was able to hold back the Indians with gunfire. All of the children luckily made it to the garrison on Pecker’s Hill. Hannah and the baby were not so fortunate. The savages took all they could carry from the house waiting for her to dress and with her helper, Mrs. Neff, get the baby. Then Hannah was dragged outside and the house was torched. A total of twenty-seven souls were killed and thirteen people were kidnapped from Haverill.
One of the Indians grabbed the baby from Mrs. Neff and as Hannah watched, the newborn baby’s head was bashed against an apple tree and her brains fell out. The two women were forced at a quick pace into the woods where they were joined by others taken from the town.
The next few days, the group were marched towards Canada, traveling about a dozen miles. Those that could not keep up were scalped. Over a hundred miles through the snowy and rocky wilderness, the captives suffered greatly. Hannah and Mrs. Neff were taken to an island to rest before continuing on to Canada.
Hannah secretly planned her escape, knowing her fate would become even worse in Canada. She had heard rumors of torture, being targets for tomahawks or sold as slaves to the French. She wanted to avenge the death of her baby girl and her ill treatment. She shared her plans with some of the captives. She learned the easiest way to scalp someone and decided that is what she would do.
At the islands, the Indians became careless as they slept soundly and did not set up a watch for the ladies that night. She woke Mrs. Neff and Samuel, another captive, and armed with hatchets they scalped ten of the twelve Indians. There was a squaw and her son who were wounded but let go.
They piled food and weapons including a gun into a canoe and traveled down the Merrimack River. Realizing her adventure may sound incredible, she went back to the island to get the knife of the head Indians, and took all the scalps. They hid by day and traveled at night until they reached Dunstable in New Hampshire. There is a monument erected for Hannah’s bravery in 1902. They eventually reached Haverill and were reunited with their family members.
Hannah had become a baptized Christian and claimed that it was His word that helped her through her affliction. Word of Hannah’s bravery spread widely. Her fame grew by leaps and bounds. Thomas filed a petition to the Governor for the suffering of his wife and child. They were awarded monetarily, but nothing could bring her baby back.
Hannah's heroic actions kept the Indians at bay in the area. I admire the faith and bravery of this remarkable ancestor of mine. I hope I would be as courageous as she was in a difficult circumstance.I also admire Thomas for caring for the children without knowing the outcome or plight of his dear wife, Hannah.
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© 2015 Elayne
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