Hannah Duston, wife of Thomas Duston and mother of eight children, was a resident of the small community of Haverhill, Massachusetts.
On March 15, 1697, a group of ten Indians attacked the settlement. Hannah had just given birth to her eighth child, a girl named Martha, and she had been confined to bed for the last six days. She, her nurse, Mary Neff, and her infant were captured by their attackers and driven out onto a cold journey as prisoners.
Thomas Duston was able to bring his seven oldest children to safety by running to the fort. He placed his horse and himself between them and their pursuers and fired at the Indians. He repositioned several times and their enemies finally gave up and allowed Thomas and the children to reach safety.
Thomas' tale is sometimes told with as much excitement as Hannah's.
Hannah and Mary Neff were brought with the Indians north into what is now New Hampshire. The baby, Martha, was taken by their captors who dashed her head against a tree.
After fifteen days of travel the group split and Hannah and Mary were put with a group of Natives and an English fourteen year old, Samuel Leornardson. The group was headed for Canada where the prisoners were told they would be forced to run the gauntlet. Hannah saw her chance for escape.
They were held captive by a group of twelve Indians, but only two of these were grown men. On March 30, the three captives executed their escape. While their masters were sleeping, Hannah, Samuel, and Mary stole some hatchets and attacked their attackers. Samuel killed one of the men, Mary wounded one of the women, and Hannah killed nine of the others. They had intended to spare a single boy, but he and the wounded woman managed to escape in the night.
The escapees then stole a canoe and traveled down the river to a settlement, but not before Hannah had scalped the ten dead.
Once home, Hannah Duston received a 25 pound reward for the scalps. Mary and Samuel received a lesser reward. Her story was recorded by Cotten Mather in Magnalia Christi Americana, and it has lived on in American history.
Hannah's story was originally renowned as the tale of the American colonizing spirit, the pioneering strength of the frontier woman. In later years her example was held up as justification for increasing hostility against the Native population.