Mrs. Dustin

The French and Indians penetrated New England further than they had ever done before, destroying villages, and dispersing settlements, and carrying away people into captivity. Among the places that felt the severest blasts of the storm was Haverhill, within thirty miles of Boston, which was attacked by Indians in March, 1697, when forty persons were killed or made captives. Among the latter was a part of the family of Thomas Dustin, who was in his field when the Indians suddenly appeared with horrid yells and gleaming knives and tomahawks. Seizing his gun and mounting his horse, he hastened to his house to bear away his wife, eight young children and a nurse to a place of safety. His youngest child was only a week old. He ordered the other seven to fly in a direction opposite to the approach of the Indians, and was lifting his wife from the bed when the Indians attacked his house. "Leave me," cried the mother, "and fly to the protection of the other children." Seeing no chance to save his wife, Dustin again mounted his horse and soon overtook his precious flock, who were filled with joy when they saw their father. The Indians had pursued. Placing himself between the Indians and his precious charge, he defended his children so valiantly as the foe pressed him back, that the Indians gave up the pursuit, and the children were saved in an unoccupied house.

Meanwhile the scenes at Mr. Dustin's house were most distressing. The Indians found Mrs. Dustin in bed, and the nurse attempting to fly with the infant. They ordered the feeble mother to rise instantly, while one of the Indians, taking the infant cut of doors, dashed out its brains against an apple-tree. Then they plundered and set fire to the house; and before the terrified mother was dressed, they compelled her to follow them in a hasty retreat. She was forced to walk twelve miles the first day, in the March slush of snow and mud, without shoes, encounter the chilling winds half-clad, and lie upon the ground, when resting, with no covering but the cold gray sky. This was repeated day after day until, by a circuitous route, they reached the island in the Merrimac River, at the mouth of the Contotook Creek, six miles above Concord, New Hampshire, now known as Dustin's Island. There was the home of the chief, who claimed Mrs. Dustin and her nurse as his captives. They were lodged with his family, which consisted of two men, three women, seven children and a captive English lad, who had been with them more than a year. The Indian pretended to be a Christian. "When I prayed the English way," he said, "I thought it was good; but I think the French way better."

A few days after their arrival at the island, the prisoners were told that they were soon to start for a distant Indian village, when they would be compelled to "run the gauntlet"--that is, to be stripped naked and run for their lives between two files of Indian men, women and children, who would have the privilege of scoffing at them, beating them, and wounding them with sharp hatchets. The two women resolved not to endure the indignity and danger, preferring death. Mrs. Dustin planned a means for escape, and her nurse and the lad leagued with her in the execution of it. The Indians believed the lad to be faithful to them, and did not suppose the women would have courage to attempt to escape. So they did not keep watch.

On the day before the plan was to be carried out, Mrs. Dustin ascertained, through inquiries made by the lad, how to kill a man instantly, and how to take off his scalp. "Strike him here," said the Indian inquired of, placing his finger on his temple, "and take off his scalp so," showing the lad how. With this information, the plot was ripe. Before daylight the next morning, when the whole family were in deep slumber, Mrs. Dustin arose, awakened her nurse and the lad, and with their assistance instantly killed ten of the twelve sleepers, she slaying her captor and the lad killing the man who told him how to do it. A squaw and a child fled to the woods; and the prisoners, after scuttling all the boats there but one, to prevent pursuit, started in that one down the river, with provisions from the wigwam. They had not proceeded far when Mrs. Dustin, reflecting that they had not scalped their victims, and that her friends might demand ocular proof of the truth of her thrilling story, went back with her companions, took off the scalps, and carried them away in a bag.

With strong hearts the three voyaged down the Merrimac to their homes, every moment in peril from Indians or the elements, and were received as persons risen from the dead. Mrs. Dustin found her husband and children saved. Soon afterward she went to Boston, carrying with her a gun and tomahawk which she had brought from the wigwam, and her ten trophies; and the General Court of Massachusetts gave these brave sufferers fifty pounds as a reward for their heroism. Ex-Governor Nicholson, of Maryland, sent a metal tankard to Mrs. Dustin and Mrs. Neff, as a token of his admiration. That tankard is now (1875) in the possession of Mr. Emery Coffin, of Newburyport, Massachusetts. During the summer of 1874, one hundred and seventy-seven years after the event, citizens of Massachusetts and New Hampshire erected on the highest point of Dustin's Island an elegant monument commemorative of the heroic deed. It displays a figure of Mrs. Dustin, holding in her right hand, raised in the attitude of striking, a tomahawk, and a bunch of scalps in the other. On it are inscribed the names of HANNAH DUSTIN, MARY NEFF, and SAMUEL LEONARDSON, the English lad.

Return to Our Country, Vol. I