Hannah Dustin's Capture
From "Historical Collections, Being a General Collection of Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, etc., Relating to the History and Antiquities of Every Town in Massachusetts, with Geographical Descriptions" by John Warner Barber, published 1839 by Dorr, Howland & Co.
On the 15th of March, 1697, a body of Indians made a descent on the westerly part of the town, and approached the house of Mr. Thomas Dustin. They came, as they were wont, arrayed with all the terrors of a savage war dress, with their muskets charged for the contest, their tomahawks drawn for the slaughter, and their scalping knives unsheathed and glittering in the sunbeams. Mr. Dustin at this time was engaged abroad in his daily labor. When the terrific shouts of the blood-hounds first fell on his ear, he seized his gun, mounted his horse, and hastened to his house, with the hope of escorting to a place of safety his family, which consisted of his wife, whom he tenderly and passionately loved, and who had been confined only seven days in childbed, her nurse, Mrs. Mary Neff, and eight young children. Immediately upon his arrival, he rushed into his house, and found it a scene of confusion - the women trembling for their safety, and the children weeping and calling on their mother for protection. He instantly ordered seven of his children to fly in an opposite direction from that in which the danger was approaching, and went himself to assist his wife. But he was too late - before she could arise from her bed, the enemy were upon them.
Mr. Dustin, seeing there was no hope of saving his wife from the clutches of the foe, flew from the house, mounted his horse, and rode full speed after his flying children. The agonized father supposed it impossible to save them all, and he determined to snatch from death the child which shared the most of his affections. He soon came up with the infant brood; he heard their glad voices and saw the cheerful looks that overspread their countenances, for they felt themselves safe while under his protection. He looked for the child of his love - where was it? He scanned the little group from the oldest to the youngest, but he could not find it. They all fondly loved him - they called him by the endearing title of father, were flesh of his flesh, and stretched out their little arms toward him for protection. He gazed upon them, and faltered in his resolution, for there was none whom he could leave behind; and, indeed, what parent could, in such a situation, select the child which shared the most of his affections? He could not do it, and therefore resolved to defend them from the murderers, or die at their side.
A small party of the Indians pursued Mr. Dustin as he fled from the house, and soon overtook him and his flying children. They did not, however, approach very near, for they saw his determination, and feared the vengeance of a father, but skulked behind the trees and fences, and fired upon him and his little company. Mr. Dustin dismounted from his horse, placed himself in the rear of his children, and returned the fire of the enemy often and with good suceess. In this manner he retreated for more than a mile, alternately encouraging his terrified charge, and loading and fireing his gun, until he lodged them safely in a forsaken house. The Indians, finding that they could not conquer him, returned to their companions, expecting, no doubt, that they should there find victims, on which they might exercise their savage cruelty.
The party which entered the house when Mr. Dustin left it, found Mrs. Dustin in bed, and the nurse attempting to fly with the infant in her arms. They ordered Mrs. Dustin to rise instantly, while one of them took the infant from the arms of the nurse, carried it out, and dashed out its brains against an apple-tree. After plundering the house they set it on fire, and commenced their retreat, though Mrs. Dustin had but partly dressed herself, and was without a shoe on one of her feet. Mercy was a stranger to the breasts of the conquerors, and the unhappy women expected to receive no kindnesses from their hands. The weather at the time was exceedingly cold, the the March-wind blew keen and piercing, and the earth was alternately covered with snow and deep mud.
They travelled twelve miles the first day, and continued their retreat, day by day, following a circuitous route, until they reached the home of the Indian who claimed them as his property, which was on a small island, now called Dustin's Island, at the mouth of the Contoocook river, about six miles above the state-house in Concord, New Hampshire. Notwithstanding their intense suffering for the death of the child - their anxiety for those whom they had left behind, and who they expected had been cruelly butchered - their sufferings from cold and hunger, and from sleeping on the damp earth, with nothing but an inclement sky for a covering - and their terror for themselves, lest the arm that, as they supposed, had slaughtered those whom they dearly loved, would soon be made red with their blood, - notwithstanding all this, they performed the journey without yielding, and arrived at their destination in comparative health.
The family of their Indian master consisted of two men, three women, and seven children; besides an English boy, named Samuel Lennardson, who was taken prisoner about a year previous, at Worcester. Their master, some years before, had lived in the family of Rev. Mr. Rowlandson, of Lancaster, and he told Mrs. Dustin that "when he prayed the English way he thought it was good, but now he found the French way better."
These unfortunate women had been but a few days with the Indians, when they were informed that they must soon start for a distant Indian settlement, and that, upon their arrival, they would be obliged to conform to the regulations always required of prisoners, whenever they entered the village, which was to be stripped, scourged, and run the gauntlet in a state of nudity. The gauntlet consisted of two files of Indians, of both sexes and of all ages, containing all that could be mustered in the village; and the unhappy prisoners were obliged to run between them, when they were scoffed at and beaten by each one as they passed, and were sometimes marks at which the younger Indians threw their hatchets. This cruel custom was often practised by many of the tribes, and not unfrequently the poor prisoner sunk beneath it. Soon as the two women were informed of this, they determined to escape as speedily as possible. They could not bear to be exposed to the scoffs and unrestrained gaze of their savage conquerors - death would be preferable. Mrs. Dustin soon planned a mode of escape, appointed the 31st inst. for its accomplishment, and prevailed upon her nurse and the boy to join her. The Indians kept no watch, for the boy had lived with them so long they considered him as one of their children, and they did not expect that the women, unadvised and unaided, would attempt to escape, when success, at the best, appeared so desperate.
On the day previous to the 31st, Mrs. Dustin wished to learn on what part of the body the Indians struck their victims when they would despatch them suddenly, and how they took off a scalp. With this view she instructed the boy to make inquiries of one of the men. Accordingly, at a convenient opportunity, he asked one of them where he would strike a man if he would kill him instantly, and how to take off a scalp. The man laid his finger on his temple - "Strike 'em there," said he; and then instructed him how to scalp. The boy then communicated his information to Mrs. Dustin.
The night at length arrived, and the whole family retired to rest, little suspecting that the most of them would never behold another sun. Long before the break of day, Mrs. Dustin arose, and, having ascertained that they were all in a deep sleep, awoke her nurse and the boy, when they armed themselves with tomahawks, and despatched ten of the twelve. A favorite boy they designedly left; and one of the squaws, whom they left for dead, jumped up, and ran with him into the woods. Mrs. Dustin killed her master, and Samuel Lennardson despatched the very Indian who told him where to strike, and how to take off a scalp. The deed was accomplished before the day bagan to break, and, after securing what little provision the wigwam of their dead master afforded, they scuttled all the boats but one, to prevent pursuit, and with that started for their homes. Mrs. Dustin took with her a gun that belonged to her master, and the tomahawk with which she committed the tragical deed. They had not proceeded far, however, when Mrs. Dustin perceived that they had neglected to take their scalps, and feared that her neighbors, if they ever arrived at their homes, would not credit their story, and would ask them for some token or proof. She told her fears to her companions, and they immediately returned to the silent wigwam, took off the scalps of the fallen, and put them into a bag. They then started on their journey anew, with the gun, tomahawk, and the bleeding trophies, - palpable witnesses of their heroic and unparalleled deed.
A long and weary journey was before them, but they commenced it with cheerful hearts, each alternately rowing and steering their little bark. Though they had escaped from the clutches of their unfeeling master, still they were surrounded with dangers. They were thinly clad, the sky was still inclement, and they were liable to be re-captured by strolling bands of Indians, or by those who would undoubtedly pursue them so soon as the squaw and the boy had reported their departure, and the terrible vengeance they had taken; and were they again made prisoners, they well knew that a speedy death would follow. This array of danger, however, did not appall them for home was their beacon-light, and the thoughts of their firesides nerved their hearts. They continued to drop silently down the river, keeping a good lookout for strolling Indians; and in the night two of them only slept, while the third managed the boat. In this manner they pursued their journey, until they arrived safely, with their trophies, at their homes, totally unexpected by their mourning friends, who supposed that they had been butchered by their ruthless conquerors. It must truly have been an affecting meeting for Mrs. Dustin, who likewise supposed that all she loved, - all she held dear on earth - was laid in the silent tomb.
After recovering from the fatigue of the journey, they started for Boston, where they arrived on the 21st of April. They carried with them the gun and tomahawk, and their ten scalps - those witnesses that would not lie; and while there, the general court gave them fifty pounds, as a reward for their heroism. The report of their daring deed soon spread into every part of the country, and when Colonel Nicholson, governor of Maryland, heard of it, he sent them a very valuable present, and many presents were also made to them by their neighbors.