May 09, 2010

Hannah Duston Part II - Was She Helped by a Fairy?

OK, here's the follow up to my initial post about Hannah Duston.

One of the big mysteries surrounding Hannah is how she managed to murder and scalp 10 of her captors while they slept. Wouldn't someone have screamed and woken everyone else? A few years ago I found one possible answer to this question in Eva Speare's 1932 collection, New Hampshire Folk Tales.

According to one Mrs. J. G. MacMurphy of Derry, New Hampshire, a benevolent fairy queen named Tsienneto (Neto for short) lived in Derry's Beaver Lake. Neto took pity on Hannah when she and her captors stopped by the lake as they were heading away from Haverhill, and promised to "accompany her unseen by her captors and to supply all her needs." Neto followed Hannah and the Indians up the Merrimac river, and eventually cast a spell over the Indians so they would sleep soundly while Hannah killed them. Afterwards, Neto helped Hannah and her companions return safely to Haverhill.

Hmmmm. I don't know if I'm entirely satisfied by Mrs. MacMurphy's explanation.

The local Indians certainly believed in beings that are similar to European fairies. But why would a local native American fairy help a Puritan English settler against local Indians? The Puritans wanted to eradicate native supernatural beliefs. Would Neto really help someone who was probably anti-fairy?

I've never seen this story anyplace except Eva Speare's book, so it's possible Mrs. MacMurphy made Tsienneto up. However...

There is a Tsienneto Road in Derry (although there's no proof its named after a fairy) and the Hollow Hills ghost site mentions a different Tsienneto story from another Eva Speare book, Stories of New Hampshire. In that story, Tsienneto saves someone named John Stark from being shot. I'm assuming it's Revolutionary War hero John Stark, who is famous for coining the phrase "Live Free or Die."

Maybe there's something to this Tsienneto legend after all. I'll have to find Stories of New Hampshire. In the meantime, please let me know if you have any information about Tsienneto!


Heather Rojo said...

There is a 1907 book called "Tsiennetto: A legend of Beaver Lake" by Richardson, you might find it in the Derry Library. Locally, Tsiennetto is supposed to be the Indian name for Beaver Lake or Beaver Brook. Remember that Nutfield (now Derry and Londonderry) was settled by Scots Irish, who have a long tradition of believing in the "Wee Folk."

Peter M. said...

Hi Heather!

Thanks for the info about the book. Maybe Tsienneto really does have a long history! I'll try to track it down and see where else she may have been involved in early New England.

Anonymous said...

Could be Tsienneto was offended by Hannah's newborn baby being killed so off-handedly, and decided to help Hannah instead of the Indians...

Papa Joe Gaudet said...

Richardson's 1907 book called "Tsienneto: A legend of Beaver Lake" is fiction. He even uses a dream to frame the tale. The pictures however, are excellent. It is a great historical document capturing the area at the beginning of the 20th century, but adds nothing to the Neto myth. He makes the water nymph a male magician who curses the Pawtuckets with extinction and adds a couple of pourquoi tales for the geographical features. Aside from my copy, you can find the book at the Derry Library.

There are other legends about her though. She supposedly fell for John Stark in his teens as he walked the shores of the lake. She enchanted him with powerful protective medicine. If you read his military record, it might stand in evidence. He was crazy brave and faced fire many times without being hit. He died of old age at 93. Guess how common that was in 1822. Average life expectancy was around 62 to 75 years by most estimates.

BTW Hannah was the first white woman Tsienneto ever met and the whites were the 3rd group of humans. The stories of the Water sprite's relationships are with individuals. She didn't seem to belong to the Scots or the Pennacook tribe. There are no records from the Red Paint People to tell of a relationship with them. The MacMurphys who passed on the Hannah stories were the first whites to live on the shore of the lake. No telling what stories they learned from Tsienneto.

Some folks say she still speaks with the poets. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Henry David Thoreau wrote of her.

One more note on why Tsienneto would help Hannah over the 'Indians'. In addition to compassion for the grieving mother, the natives who captured her were from Quebec. By 1697, there were few Pennacook left in New Hampshire. That Hannah didn't kill all her captors is an indication that Tsienneto may have regretted give Hannah such advantage. There were survivors, but that is still another story.

Papa Joe Gaudet from the shores of Tsienneto