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Massacre on the Merrimack: Hannah…

Massacre on the Merrimack: Hannah Duston's Captivity and Revenge in…

by Jay Atkinson

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Here's a history familiar to many in Eastern Massachusetts: as Puritan families came over to the new world, many settled in isolated wilderness areas because land was cheaper than in the settlement towns. In 1697, the French and English were still fiercely competing for territory, and members of the Eastern Native American tribes in the area that had not been wiped out by epidemics were used as raiders by the French to terrify settlers and to discourage them from staying and growing their families and farms.

On the outskirts of present day Haverhill, MA, the Duston family was the victim of a such a raid, and the matriarch Hannah, mother to nine living children, was taken, with her nurse and her week old daughter, by an Abenaki band. Her captivity and her revenge make for a fascinating and almost unbelievable tale.

Atkinson has done his research; in fact, the 82 pages of endnotes almost equal a second recounting. Subjects covered range from the vivid descriptions of the harsh land and the powerful Merrimack River, to the bustling Boston of the era and some of its most renowned statesmen, such as Cotton Mather and Samuel Sewall, both primary figures in the upcoming Salem witch trials.

Many of the local Native American tribes are discussed in depth, as well as the fearsome neighboring Iroquois nation. So many locations - towns, mountains, rivers, lake, highways - surrender the origin of their names.

The lives of Puritans, seemingly the evangelical Christians of their day, are convincingly told, as is the career of Count Frontenac, commander of the French in Quebec. The essential nature of beavers to the colonial economy, including a detailed description of the making of beaver hats (using chemicals so toxic that the phrase "mad as a hatter" comes into general usage) is explored.

There is such a wealth of fascinating information here that the Hannah Duston story is almost subsumed by every other amazing topic. And - spoiler alert - there is yet another Hannah, also from Haverhill, who is captured TWICE, nearly three times, and lives to tell the tales.

Colonial history lovers, rejoice! ( )
  froxgirl | Nov 11, 2015 |
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