b.23 Dec 1657 Haverhill, Essex, Massachusetts, United States
d.bef Mar 6 1737/38 Haverhill, Essex, Massachusetts, United States (probably)
m. 1 Apr 1657
m. 3 Dec 1677
Facts and Events
Hannah Duston (Dustin, Dustan, and Durstan) (born Hannah Emerson, December 23, 1657 – c. 1737) was a colonial Massachusetts Puritan mother of nine who was taken captive by Abenaki Native Americans during King William's War with her newborn daughter during the Raid on Haverhill (1697), in which 27 colonists were killed. While detained on an island in the Merrimack River in present-day Boscawen, New Hampshire, she killed and scalped ten of the Native American family members holding them hostage, with the assistance of two other captives.
Duston's captivity narrative became famous more than 100 years after she died. Duston is believed to be the first American woman honored with a statue. During the 19th century, she was referred to as "a folk hero" and the "mother of the American tradition of scalp hunting". Some scholars assert Duston's story only became legend in the 19th century because America used her story to define its violence against Native Americans as innocent, defensive and virtuous.
Hannah Emerson was the oldest of the 15 children born to her parents. At age 20, she married Thomas Duston, a farmer and brick-maker. The Emerson family had previously been the subject of attention when Elizabeth Emerson, Hannah's younger sister, was hanged for infanticide.
During King William's War, Hannah, her husband Thomas and their nine children were residents of Haverhill, Massachusetts in March 1697 when the town was attacked by a group of Abenaki Native American from Quebec. (In this attack, 27 colonists were killed and 13 were taken captive to be either adopted or held as hostages for the French.) When their farm was attacked, Thomas fled with eight children, but Hannah, her newborn daughter Martha, and her nurse Mary Neff (nee Corliss) were captured and forced to march into the wilderness. According to the account of Cotton Mather (who interviewed Hannah), along the way the Native Americans killed the six-day-old Martha by smashing her against a tree.
Hannah and Mary were assigned to a Native American family group of 13 persons and taken north. The group included Samuel Lennardson, a 14-year-old captured in Worcester, Massachusetts the year before.
Six weeks later, at an island in the Merrimack River at the mouth of the Contoocook River near what is now Penacook, New Hampshire, Hannah led Mary and Samuel in a revolt. She used a tomahawk to attack the sleeping Native Americans, killing one of the two grown men (Lennardson killed the second), two adult women, and six children. One severely wounded Native American woman and a young boy managed to escape the attack.
The former captives immediately left in a canoe, but not before taking scalps from the dead as proof of the incident and to collect a bounty. They traveled down the river only during the night and after several days reached Haverhill. The Massachusetts General Court later gave them a reward for killing Native Americans; Hannah Duston received 25 pounds, and Neff and Lennardson split another 25 pounds (various accounts say 50 or 25 pounds, and some accounts mention only Duston's receiving an award).
Hannah lived for nearly 40 more years.