The Hannah Duston statue in GAR Park, Haverhill, Massachusetts.
The steely gaze. The hatchet. The high-necked dress. No, it's not Lizzie Borden - it's Hannah Duston, the heroine of Haverhill, Massachusetts. Her story is just as bloody as Lizzy's, so don't read any further if you're squeamish.
Hannah and her husband Thomas were early settlers in Haverhill, where they lived with their children, but her fame began on March 16, 1697. Hannah was recuperating at home after delivering the newest baby Duston. Thomas was out in the fields with the children, while Mrs. Neff, a neighbor, watched over Hannah.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, Hannah's post-partum repose was interrupted by raiding Abenaki Indians. Thomas and the children fled to a defended garrison. Hannah, Mrs. Neff and the baby were captured by the warriors, who canoed up the Merrimac River into New Hampshire after setting fire to Haverhill. During the journey, one of the warriors killed the newborn by smashing it against an apple tree. (Gruesome. And, again, why are apple trees so often associated with death?)
After a few days, Hannah and Mrs. Neff were given to an Abenaki family consisting of two men, three women, and seven children. The family already had one European captive, a boy from Worcester named Samuel Lennardson.
Indians often captured settlers to replace family members who had died, or to use as slaves. Hannah wasn't interested in either option. One night while the Indian family was asleep, she took a hatchet and killed ten of them - one woman and one child escaped.
Hannah also scalped the Indians, perhaps helped by Mrs.Neff and Samuel. When they returned to Haverhill, Hannah was proclaimed a heroine. The colonial government paid her 25 pounds as a reward for the scalps. She was praised by Cotton Mather, and written about by Henry David Thoreau. Her family built a new brick home, the Duston Garrison house, which can still be seen on Hilldale Avenue in Haverhill.
Hannah Duston was the first women in the US to have a statue erected in her honor. She has two, in fact: the one in Haverhill (1861), and one in Boscawen, New Hampshire (1874). Joseph Citro notes in Curious New England that the statue in Boscawen exhibits both decolletage and bloody scalps.
I don't know if Hannah would get a statue these days. I was taught Hannah's story as a child, and saw some Duston artifacts in the Haverhill Historical Society. She was definitely the heroine of the story. But people are more aware now that New England's past was complicated, which is a euphemism for "the Europeans came and took the Indian's land and massacred them." I can admire Hannah for being a tough woman who escaped her captors, but I certainly don't see the Indians as villains in this story. Also, as a kid, I wasn't told that Hannah slaughtered six children while they slept. The emphasis was always on her baby and that apple tree.
When I tell this story to people the first time now, they often ask "How could she kill all those Indians while they slept? Didn't someone scream?" It's a good question, and one that never crossed my mind in my youth. Just recently I found a strange supernatural story that explains it, but I'll save it for next week.
You can visit HannahDuston.com for more information about her life and adventures.