Hannah was born on December 23, 1657, in Haverhill, a community of colonists in the Province of Massachusetts Bay. One of the original first 13 territories to create The United States. The region itself took its name from the indigenous peoples of the time- the Massachusetts Indians, who were of Algonquian heritage. It is here where one of the most controversial female colonial figures create her place in history.
With the indigenous population decimated by conflict, and by European diseases to which they had no cure or immune system for, the Native Americans fought to defend their land, their way of life, and their people. It’s estimated an astonishing 90 percent of the Native American population was wiped out during the 1600s. For their part, of course, the colonists were fighting for a new way of life that they had traveled the unknown waters of the Atlantic to find.
After the War
Towards the end of Europe’s Nine Years’ War, many of Haverhill’s residents had taken refuge inside one of the main compounds. However, Hannah, who by that point had married Thomas Duston and had a family of her own, remained outside the walls of the compounds. The new and growing family trusted the lord to watch over them in their new life in the colony and seemed at first to have nothing to worry about. Until one day that all changed.
On March 15, 1697. Thomas was working outside the compound tending to the wheat fields and other crops. Hannah, who had just given birth to her eighth child, a beautiful baby girl, was recovering in bed. Her sister Mary was caring for mother and baby, and the other seven Duston children enjoying their time outside with their father.
Little did the colony know that a tribe of Abenaki warriors was planning an attack. What happened next would change the course of Hannah’s life forever.
The Failed Escape
All of a sudden ten Abenaki emerged from the trees and opened fire on Thomas who panicked as he rushed to gather up the children and get them to safety inside the compound, and then he ran towards Hannah to warn her that they were under attack. Hannah was still not at her full strength from recently giving birth to their eighth daughter, so she was too slow to run from the attackers, she told her husband to take the children and run and that she would try hiding from the attackers. Unfortunately, Hannah’s loved ones escaped but didn’t make it very far.
In the aftermath of the attack, 27 residents of Haverhill were killed. Hannah, Martha, and Mary were the only survivors among the 13 captives. The Abenaki took the three hostages and forced them to travel with the rest of the tribe north back to where the tribe had come from. Although Hannah had lost everyone she loved, the worst was yet to come.
One of the Abenaki, became tired of listening to baby Martha cry so he took the infant by the neck and smashed in its skull on a nearby tree. Hannah who was still bleeding from the childbirth was broken by what she had witnessed happen right before her very eyes. She was then forced to walk alongside the killer of her newborn baby for the rest of their journey north. Hannah would not let this act of violence go, she would have her revenge on the man who stole her daughter’s life.
After weeks of traveling, a small group of Abenaki made up of two male warriors, seven children, and three women, took custody of Hannah, Mary, and the rest of the group. The group was now headed to a settlement located somewhere in Canada. It was here that Hannah would meet a vital character in her story.
In this smaller group, Hannah and Mary met a fellow captive who would come to be known as Samuel Leonardson. Samuel was a boy from Massachusetts who was taken hostage by the Abenaki some 18 months prior to when Mary and Hannah were taken. He had been living among the tribe and began to speak some of their language fluently so he was regarded as someone they could trust. With the arrival of the two women, however, Samuel began to think of how much he missed his life at home and maybe he realized he might have a possible chance to break free.
Planning The Attack
With the three of them, all realized their intense desire to escape and attempt to make it back to life back home the three of them decided that they must come up with a plan to overthrow their captors. After much thought, they realized they might have the ability to overpower the Abenaki. On March 30, 1697, The three captives decided to carry out their violent plan and quest for freedom. Under the cover of darkness, the trio stole the tribe’s hatchets and made their way to the sleeping quarters.
The Brutal Killings
Out of nowhere, the three launched a violent and gruesome brutal attack. Hannah and Samuel swung their hatchets at the heads of the two men, while Mary tackled a sleeping tribe member. Once Mary and Samuel had realized what they had done to the now dead tribe members they did not want to continue with the violent plan. But Hannah was far from finished.
Hannah took it upon herself to slaughter all of the remaining Abenaki – including six of the seven children. One of the tribeswomen escaped with her child but Hannah decided she would spare the women, and continue killing the rest of the tribe until there was nobody left. In the end, Samuel and Mary were horrified at what they had witnessed, and Hannah had gotten her revenge on her baby’s killer. But that is not where Hannah drew the line.
Before the trio departed for their long journey back to the colony, Hannah decided to take some gruesome souvenirs. She had watched how the Abenaki scalp their victims in the past and Hannah performed the same grisly act on the dead bodies of the tribe members before storing the scalps in a fabric bag for later as trophies.
Upon arriving to the beloved colony of theirs, Hannah decided to visit the General Court in Boston, where she was given £25 as a reward for her scalps. Her family turned out to be alive and she got to live with them until the old age of 90 before passing away. There is a place to this day that commemorates the memory of Hannah but many are unsure what she is remembered for.
Remembered For What
There have been many memorials built in honor of Hannah, including the first ever erected in honor of an American woman which is located in Massachusets. But since the time of the colony has past and we as a society reflect on our history, many are torn about what Hannah is truly remembered for. Is she remembered as the women for fought for what was hers and the new world? Or is she just another colonial figurehead guilty of committing bloody crimes against the indigenous people who had been systematically wiped out by uninvited colonialists from overseas. Its hard to say because there is history on all sides, but her memory is nonetheless not forgotten.