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Judging Hannah Duston | Woman Scalped Captors

Judging Hannah Duston | Woman Scalped Captors
1 vote, 5.00 avg. rating (89% score)

Many are quite handsome, with brown, lean, muscled bodies and good teeth. They are often tall and graceful. Their black eyes are alight with various passions.They have adapted superbly to the land in which they live. They grow corn, squash, and beans. Their arts and crafts are clever and intricate. They have a loving family structure and a complex oral history.

In the excitement of battle they kill with ease; once on the trail most are not particularly cruel. Much of what the captives suffer is what the natives themselves suffer in a harsh climate, on foot, with catch-as-catch-can provisions. It is probable that when her Indian master became aware of Hannah’s having only one shoe, he gave her a pair. He may have taken her lone leather shoe, torn the buckle from it for his own use, and then given it to his wife, thinking she could find a way to use the leather.

Of course, the danger to captives increased when the Indians encountered other war parties, when they danced at night and drank pilfered rum. But they often contented themselves with knocking someone down or pulling their hair. If some member of the tribe got carried away and looked as if he were going to kill a prisoner, women or other men might intervene. They often “bought” the prisoner’s life with a handful of wampum or cornmeal.

One entertainment was to make the captives sing. Not hymns, of course, but Indian songs. They would gather around a group of trembling prisoners, shouting, jeering, prodding, laughing. They would repeat the sinewy syllables carefully until the white people could repeat them. The captives, mouths dry with terror, clothes torn and stained, faces stricken, would shuffle round and round, their voices cracking. They looked so pathetic, so ludicrous, that the gathered crowd was satisfied and soon let them be. Sometimes, years later, ransomed prisoners could still remember the song.

The Indians Hannah and Mary are with pray three times a day, in Latin, having been converted by the French to Catholicism. Hannah’s captor tells her he had lived with the Reverend Rowlandson of Lancaster (whose wife was the famous captive Mary Rowlandson) for some years and been taught to pray in the English way, but that now he found the French way better. He does not allow Mary and Hannah to pray openly; they do it in secret while gathering wood or water. And, when he sees them looking dejected, he sometimes mocks them with this: What need you trouble yourself? If your Lord will have you delivered, it shall be so. Years later Hannah would say, in her belated protestation of faith: I am Thankful for my Captivity, ’twas the Comfortablest time that ever I had; In my Affliction God made his Word Comfortable to me.

After 15 days the Indians split up. Hannah and Mary are parceled out to a group whose eventual destination was to be St. Francis, Canada. This smaller group consists of two warriors, three adult women, and seven children. Also among them is an adolescent boy named Samuel Leonardson, taken from Worcester, Massachusetts, 18 months before. He has been with the Indians so long he speaks their language, is considered a member of the tribe. But, by one account, Samuel was moved by the plight of these new captives, and “a longing for home had been stirred in him by the presence of the two women.”

Hannah and Mary are told that when they reach St. Francis they will be stripped of their clothes and forced to run the gauntlet, as was the custom. But before the band sets out on the next leg of their journey, they stop to rest awhile on an island at the conjunction of the Merrimack and Contoocook rivers. It is here that Hannah sees her only chance.

Her captors have grown careless. They probably reason that the two women are too weak to attempt an escape, especially on an island, with the river in flood. Guards are no longer posted at night. It seems to Hannah that with Samuel and Mary on her side, she might overwhelm the small band of Indians, particularly if one added the element of surprise. She persuades Samuel to ask Bampico, the only Indian in this drama whose name we know, how he kills the English quickly. Bampico points to his temple and says, “Strike ‘em dere.” Samuel relays this to Hannah.

Her plan is rather simple. At night, when the Indians are sound asleep, she and Samuel, having filched some hatchets, will position themselves at the head of the two men. Mary’s victim will be the stronger squaw. At the signal from Hannah they will begin the attack. Only one Indian is to be spared, a young boy. Hannah has decided to take him back to Haverhill with her. There must have been something engaging about him, something that reminded Hannah of one of her own children.

Please Note: This article was accurate at the time of publication. When planning a trip, please confirm details by directly contacting any company or establishment you intend to visit.

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3 Responses to Judging Hannah Duston | Woman Scalped Captors

  1. Christian Whitton April 9, 2014 at 7:59 pm #

    I am a volunteer at the Buttonwoods Museum (Haverhill Historical Society). I’m currently renovating the Hannah Duston exhibit. I’ve done a lot of extensive research on the saga of Hannah Duston, and your story is the best I’ve read. It paints such a detailed and rich picture in my mind, that no other narrative has been able to do. Hopefully you’ll come back to our once great city and see that there is a small group of us that still care about her story, and the plight of our ancestors. Thank you.

  2. Andrea Neahusan June 12, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    I am so thrilled to find your poignant account of Hannah Duston! Thank you!

    Hannah was my maternal great, great, great, . . . great grandmother. I’ve always admired her courage, her strength, and her fortitude to overcome the odds. My brother was named Dustin because of that family line. I have four daughters of my own. One of them we gave the middle name of Hannah, after our ancestor, and it fits. Over the years I have occasionally told my girls the story of Hannah. I’ve always wanted my daughters to grow-up knowing they can BE anything and DO anything they want in life. They can surpass any and all barriers and obstacles that life may throw at them. With the Lord’s help, and with their own inner strength, they can overcome and thrive no matter what. Just like Hannah.

    I hope I too can visit Haverhill someday and have my own cathartic moment of nostalgia.

  3. Linda Carpenter July 26, 2014 at 10:12 pm #

    What a wonderful telling of the story of Hannah Duston. I, too, am descended from her, but the specifics of the genealogy remain with my mother who died in 1993.

    I visited the town of Haverhill in 1987, & the Historical Society & the statue. I don’t recall the area being as run down as described by the author. I walked through the little museum at the Society, but I don’t recall a guide being there, although there must’ve been someone there to keep it open & looked after. I remember visiting a nearby farm that was owned & operated by a cousin in my father’s father’s generation (born around the turn of the 19th-20th century – 1895 or thereabouts). He was elderly at the time, but he & his wife were keeping up with the work & the farm appeared well-run. There was a cemetery I also visited with tombstones of other ancestors of mine who had lived in the area.

    I ran across this magazine story on a lark. I was cleaning out a drawer & found a notebook I had stashed away around 2002. In the notebook was a list of accounts of Hannah Duston’s story which I had intended to find & read. Sybil Smith’s account is on that list, along with Notable American Women, A Weekend on the Concord & Merrimack Rivers, & Cotton Mather’s account. That’s as far as I had gotten. Glad I reconnected with this, & that Smith’s account has been posted online to read.

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