Skip to main content

1697 Three Hundred Years Ago

March 2023
1min read

Hannah Dustin’s War

On April 21 Hannah Dustin, of Haverhill, Massachusetts, who had recently been kidnapped by Indians, turned up in Boston. She brought along two fellow captives, ten scalps, and a harrowing tale of her abduction. The Abnakis had struck Haverhill on March 15, when Dustin, age thirty-nine, was recovering from the birth of her eighth child. Her husband and the rest of their children managed to escape, but Hannah and her nurse, Mary Neff, were taken prisoner. After watching her house get set on fire and her infant’s brains dashed out against a tree, Dustin (wearing only one shoe) and Neff were marched about 150 miles and set to work as slaves for an Indian family of twelve on an island near what is now Concord, New Hampshire.

Not long afterward the Indians prepared to set out for (in the words of Cotton Mather) “a rendezvouz of salvages, which they call a town.” With them they planned to bring the two women and a boy named Samuel Lennardson, kidnapped from Worcester a year and a half earlier. One of the Indians told them, possibly in jest, that on their arrival in the town, the captives would be stripped, whipped, and made to run the gantlet. Not relishing this prospect, Dustin devised a plan of escape.

At her instigation Lennardson innocently asked the unsuspecting chief about the best method of killing someone with a tomahawk. The chief obligingly demonstrated, and a little before dawn on the morning of March 30, Lennardson and Dustin applied their newly acquired knowledge. As Mather, with the punster’s eternal penchant to poke an elbow in the ribs, explains: “The whole crew was in a dead sleep , (reader, see if it prove not so!).” They silently approached their dozing captors and began swiftly and efficiently dispatching them. One woman escaped badly wounded, and a boy whom they had befriended and meant to spare suddenly awoke and ran off. The other ten died before they could raise a murmur: nine killed by Dustin and one by Lennardson.

Dustin and her comrades immediately departed in one of the Indians’ canoes. Before going very far, however, she realized that people back home might be skeptical of her story without proof. The party turned back, scalped the corpses, and set off again. After stopping at Haverhill, they arrived in Boston, whose residents invited the celebrities to their homes and showered them with presents. The Massachusetts General Assembly gave twenty-five pounds “unto Thomas Dustan of Haverhill, on behalf of Hannah his wife,” and twelve and a half pounds apiece to the others. Francis Nicholson, the royal governor of Maryland, got wind of the massacre and sent a generous gift as well.

Following her season of fame, Dustin returned to the routine of a colonial farm wife. She had one more child and lived until 1736, surviving her husband by four years. Late in the nineteenth century, when Indian raids were a distant memory, monuments depicting her with tomahawk raised were erected in Haverhill and on the site of the massacre, an islet at the confluence of the Merrimack and Contoocook Rivers now known as Dustin’s Island.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this 72-year tradition of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.


Stories published from "April 1997"

Authored by: Frederic D. Schwarz

“Why Harvard Does Not Win”

Authored by: Frederic D. Schwarz

The Teapot Starts to Boil

Authored by: Frederic D. Schwarz

End of the Road

Authored by: J. M. Fenster

All across America there are restaurants that serve up the spirit and conviviality of eras long past

Authored by: Dan Baum

POISONED, RUINED, AND self-cannibalized, this city is still the grandest of all boomtowns

Authored by: Jane Colihan

Amid a hundred mountains and a thousand lakes, a fascinating institution tells the story of America’s engagement with its Eastern wilderness

Authored by: Lisa Blumberg

A LIFELONG FASCINATION with the stories of a famous pioneering family finally drove the writer to South Dakota in hopes of better understanding the prairie life Laura Ingalls Wilder lived there and later gave to the world.

Authored by: Frederic D. Schwarz

Hannah Dustin’s War

Featured Articles

Famous writers including Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and the Alcotts turned Sleepy Hollow Cemetery into our country’s first conservation project.

Native American peoples and the lands they possessed loomed large for Washington, from his first trips westward as a surveyor to his years as President.

In his Second Inaugural Address, Abraham Lincoln embodied leading in a time of polarization, political disagreement, and differing understandings of reality.

A hundred years ago, America was rocked by riots, repression, and racial violence.

During Pres. Washington’s first term, an epidemic killed one tenth of all the inhabitants of Philadelphia, then the capital of the young United States.

Now a popular state park, the unassuming geological feature along the Illinois River has served as the site of centuries of human habitation and discovery.  

The recent discovery of the hull of the battleship Nevada recalls her dramatic action at Pearl Harbor and ultimate revenge on D-Day as the first ship to fire on the Nazis.

Our research reveals that 19 artworks in the U.S. Capitol honor men who were Confederate officers or officials. What many of them said, and did, is truly despicable.

Here is probably the most wide-ranging look at Presidential misbehavior ever published in a magazine.

When Germany unleashed its blitzkreig in 1939, the U.S. Army was only the 17th largest in the world. FDR and Marshall had to build a fighting force able to take on the Nazis, against the wishes of many in Congress.

Roast pig, boiled rockfish, and apple pie were among the dishes George and Martha enjoyed during the holiday in 1797. Here are some actual recipes.

Born during Jim Crow, Belle da Costa Greene perfected the art of "passing" while working for one of the most powerful men in America.