Dustin, Hannah (1657–c. 1736)

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Dustin, Hannah (1657–c. 1736)

Colonial American hero. Name variations: Hannah Duston or Dustan. Born Hannah Emerson in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on December 23, 1657 (some sources cite 1659); died in Ipswich, Massachusetts, probably in early 1736; married Thomas Dustin (or Duston or Dustan), in December 1677 (died 1732); children: nine.

Had Hannah Dustin not been carrying the scalps of ten Abnakis when she returned by canoe to Haverhill, Massachusetts, on April 21, 1697, the tale of her captivity and escape might not have been believed. At a time when the French incited Native Americans to raid English Settlements during King William's War (1689–1697), Dustin was one among many victims of a raid on Haverhill by a band of Abnakis on March 15, 1697. Dustin's husband Thomas and seven of their eight children escaped the raid, in which 27 women and children were killed. Less than a week from childbed, Hannah along with her infant daughter and her nurse Mary Neff were taken prisoner.

Dustin's house was put to flame and she watched her infant killed by an Indian who bashed the baby's head against a tree. Hannah was wearing only one shoe as she and Mary were marched some hundred miles to an island in the confluence of the Merrimack and Contoocook rivers (near present-day Concord, New Hampshire). They were put to work for one of their captor's family of 12 and told that they would soon be traveling to another village where they would be stripped, whipped, and forced to run the gauntlet. In desperation, Dustin wove her escape plan.

She prompted fellow captive Samuel Lennardson (or Leonardson), an English boy who had been kidnapped from Worcester more than a year earlier, to ask the chief how best to murder someone with a tomahawk. When the chief demonstrated, Dustin had the knowledge she required. During the morning of March 30, she and Lennardson came upon their sleeping captors and attacked them with proficiency. One Indian escaped with wounds, and a boy, whom they had befriended and intended to spare, ran off, while the remaining ten were murdered in their sleep, one by Lennardson and nine by Dustin.

Dustin, Lennardson, and Neff took off in one of the Abnakis' canoes and had not traveled far before Dustin realized that she needed proof of the event. She turned back and scalped the ten corpses before arriving safely in Haverhill on April 21. Dustin continued on to Boston, where she and her companions were lauded. A sum of £25 was awarded to "Thomas Dustan of Haverhill, on behalf of Hannah his wife," and £12½ were awarded to the others. A generous gift was also sent by Francis Nicholson, the royal governor of Maryland after he heard of Dustin's massacre.

The remainder of Dustin's life was lived quietly as a colonial farm wife. She had another child and moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, after the death of her husband in 1732. Dustin died, probably in 1736, in Ipswich. Late in the 19th century, monuments that portrayed Dustin with a raised tomahawk were placed in Haver-hill and at the site of the massacre, now called Dustin's Island.