I was sent a link to the story of Hannah Duston, a Massachusetts pioneer, and her adventures in 1697. I'd never heard of her before.
Hannah Duston was the first American woman to have a statue built in her honor, in 1874. Today, what she did to deserve it might be called, by some, a monument to an atrocity. What did Hannah do? Hannah scalped the ten Indians who had attacked her farm, dragged her from her bed, and burned her house down before taking her captive and killing her six-day-old infant.
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And what of the revulsion one might feel at handling a dead human in this way? Had Hannah’s life prepared her for that? She was certainly used to wringing chickens’ necks, helping with the slaughter of cows and pigs. Further, she must have been rather angry when she scalped the ten Abenaki Indians who had recently been her captors. They had, after all, attacked her farm, dragged her from her bed, and burned her house. They had taken her captive, and almost immediately killed her week-old infant by bashing the infant’s head against a tree because the baby was crying. Having taken her captive, the Abenaki Indians forced Hannah and her aunt Mary to walk many miles north in March while wearing only their nightclothes. And, for all she knew, the rest of her family was dead.
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Hannah and Mary were parceled out to a group whose eventual destination, Hannah was able to determine, was a place called St. Francis in Canada. This smaller group consisted of two warriors, three adult women, and seven children ... Before the band of Indians and captives set out on the next leg of their journey, it was apparently here that Hannah saw her only chance to escape. She observed that, while on the island. her captors had let down their guard and had grown careless. In Hannah’s words later, she reasoned that the Indians believed that the two women were too weak to attempt an escape, especially on an island with the river in flood. Guards were no longer posted at night. Hannah determined that, with Samuel and Mary, she might overwhelm the small band of Indians, particularly if there was added the element of surprise. She related later that she persuaded Samuel to ask Bampico, the only Indian of the party whose name is known, how he killed the English quickly. Bampico pointed to the temple of his head and stated how to strike quickly and kill the victim.
Hannah’s plan was simple, she related later. At night, when the Indians were asleep, she and Mary and Samuel, having hidden some hatchets earlier, would position themselves at the heads of two of the Indians. At the signal from Hannah, they would begin the attack. Only one Indian was to be spared, a young boy. Hannah decided to take him back to Haverhill with her if she could make it back to her home.
It was very late on the night of the 30th March 1697. With only the light from two fires and the Moon, Hannah, Mary, and Samuel stood ready to strike. The sound of the rushing river made for a good cover, and then, at Hannah’s signal, the three captives struck their opponents by sharply bringing the blades down into the temples on the sides of their heads. Suddenly, Hannah related later, all was confusion. After the first blows, Mary and Samuel did not continue to dispatch the Indians; it was Hannah who raised her hatchet again and again. When she was done, and all of the Indians were still, Hannah paused, out of breath, covered in blood.
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Hannah gathered up what food was at hand, and told Mary and Samuel to dress in Indian clothes. She took her bloody hatchet and her dead captor’s flintlock rifle and carried all this to the bank of the Merrimack River, where she packed one of the Indians’ canoes and scuttled the others. Hannah related that they were moving away from the island when she suddenly stopped rowing, turned the canoe around, and returned to the island, leaving Samuel and Mary at the edge of the river in the canoe. Thinking about what the Indians did to her six-day-old infant daughter, Martha, Hannah went back to the scene of the bloodbath, took a knife she found among the belongings of the camp and scalped all ten of the Indians, including six children. Then she found the large piece of cloth that had been taken from her loom in Haverhill and wrapped the ten scalps into the cloth. In the river, she washed her hands, the hatchet, and the knife, and got back into the canoe for the journey south; they traveled only at night to avoid detection and capture.
With Mary and Samuel, Hannah reached Haverhill several days later. Her husband and children were overjoyed to find her and Mary alive. Hannah related the story of Martha’s death, and of her journey with the Abenakis, and she displayed the contents of the bloody cloth. A few weeks later, Hannah, Mary, Samuel, and Thomas traveled to Boston, where they petitioned the General Court for money for the scalps.
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In the Haverhill Historical Society, one can find, in a glass case, the hatchet, the knife, the bloody loom cloth, and a teapot belonging to Hannah. On the walls behind glass are Hannah’s Confession of Faith, and Cotton Mather’s description of Hannah’s capture, escape, and the killing and scalping of the Indians.
There's more at the link. It's worth reading her story in full.
It was a savage time, and it produced some pretty savage people. I'm willing to bet that after she returned safely from her ordeal, there weren't many people who would have given her a hard time about anything, ever again, for fear of the potential consequences!