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Thomas Duston and Hannah Emerson

Thomas DUSTON. (Dustin).
Born about 1650; son of Thomas DUSTON and Elizabeth WHEELER.

He married Hannah EMERSON on 3 December 1677. (S3).

It is said that he died in 1698; however, on 8 June 1703, administration was granted to Thomas Duston of Haverhill on the estate of his father, Thomas Durston of Kittery. (S3).

Born on 23 December 1657 at Haverhill, Essex County, Massachusetts; daughter of Michael EMERSON and Hannah WEBSTER.

She married Thomas DUSTON on 3 December 1677. (S3).

She has been called the most famous woman in American History. The King William's War with the Indians, which broke out in 1689 and lasted until 1703, brought raiding parties from French Canada. On 15 March 1697 a war band of Penacook Indians from the north woods attacked Haverhill, Massachusetts. Nine houses were burned to the ground, 27 adults and children were killed, and 13 were taken prisoner. Among the captives were Hannah EMERSON, the 43 year old wife of Thomas DUSTIN, and her visiting neighbor, Mary Neff.

Hannah had just six days previously been delivered of her eleventh child and was recovering at home with her newborn child with Mary Neff as a nurse when the war party burst in upon them. Hannah was hustled out of bed so hastily she could find only one shoe. She and Mary were thrown outside and the cabin was put into flames. The newborn infant’s head was dashed against a tree.

Thomas DUSTON was at work in the fields with the older children, but was unable to warn the women of the danger. He did manage to get himself and the children safely to the nearest garrison by keeping them running and firing back at the pursing Indians.

The war party and their prisoners swiftly left the burning town and marched north towards the Canadian border, covering 12 miles that night alone. Eventually they arrived at the Penacook village, located at the junction of the Merrimack and Contoocook Rivers, the site of present day Concord, New Hampshire. Here Hannah and Mary Neff were separated from the other captives and assigned to their captor's family, and were expected to work in the daily gathering of firewood and ground nuts. The family consisted of two men, three women, seven children and a 14 year old English boy, Samuel Leonard (Lennerson), who had been captured in the fall of 1695. He had been with the Penacooks for a year and a half, had learned their language and way of living, and was considered one of their family.

After about two weeks the women were told they would soon be taken to another village, there to be stripped and made to run the gauntlet before being taken into Canada as prizes to be redeemed. Hannah decided to take matters into her own hands. She enlisted Samuel to her aid, convincing him that as an English born, he should not forget his English people. She demanded of him that he ask his master how one kills instantly with one strike and how one takes scalps. He was convinced and did so, and passed the information on to the women.

That night, on 30 March 1697, they waited until the Indians slept, then attacked, killing all except for one boy they wished to save, who fled terrified into the woods, and one wounded woman who escaped with him. Quickly they gathered provisions, a gun and tomahawk, scuttled all the canoes except one, which they boarded. Then, just before pushing off, Hannah ran back and took the ten scalps as trophies.

Hastily they paddled south down the Merrimack River toward Haverhill, seventy miles away. One was always on watch while the other rested or rowed. Within days the arrived at Haverhill, to the amazement of friends and family, who thought them captive in Canada.

The news of their escape reached Boston, where Judge Samuel Sewell recorded the event in his diary, and Cotton Mather, the Boston Congregational minister, recorded the tale in his Magnalia Christi Americana.

In April, Thomas Dustin, with his wife Hannah, Mary Neff and young Samuel Leonard traveled to Boston. They carried with them the gun and tomahawk and the ten scalps. On 26 May 1697, Thomas Dustin petitioned the General Assembly for reward as recompense for his wife’s slaughter of so many of the Barbarians and having lost his estate in the calamity, wherein his wife was carried into her captivity renders him fitter object for what consideration the public shall judge proper… It was voted on 8 June 1697 that Thomas Dustin be allowed 25 pounds, Mary Neff 12 pounds, 10 shillings, and the young man the like sum of Twelve pounds Ten Shillings. Her deed was said to be one of the chief means of checking the cruelties of the Indians.

It was said that she, at no other time in her life was found lacking in the gentleness and peaceful character of woman; this deed was the product of maddening experience.

Hannah died after 1709.

  1. Hannah DUSTON. Born 22 August 1678. She married Daniel CHYENEY of Newbury, Massachusetts.
  2. Elizabeth DUSTON. Born 7 May 1680. She married Stephen EMERSON on 27 December 1698.
  3. Mary DUSTON. Born 4 Novemer 1681. She died 18 October 1696.
  4. Thomas DUSTON. Born 5 January 1683. The Kittery records say that, 14 December 1733, there were laid out to Timothy Duston, John Watts and others, heirs of Thomas Duston, twenty acres granted to Thomas Duston, 19 June 1654. Meanwhile the land had been occupied by others. John Cutt transferred it to John Ameredeth. (S3).
  5. Nathaniel DUSTON. Born 16 May 1685.
  6. John DUSTON. Born 2 Feruary 1686-7. He died 28 January 1689-1690.
  7. Sarah DUSTON. Born 4 July 1688.
  8. Abigail DUSTON. Born in October 1690. She married Samuel WATTS.
  9. Jonathan DUSTIN. Born 15 January 1691-1692 at Haverhill, Essex County, Massachusetts. He married Elizabeth WATTS on 18 May 1714. He died in 1757 at Salem, New Hampshire.
  10. Timothy DUSTON. Born 14 September 1694, a twin to Mehitabel.
  11. Mehitabel DUSTON. Born 14 September 1694, at twin to Timothy.
  12. Martha DUSTON. Born 9 March 1697. She was slain by the Indians 6 days later.


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