Mary CORLISS - I2820
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The Story of Hannah (Emerson) Dustin and Mary (Corliss) Neff
Much has been written of the abduction of Hannah Dustin and her nurse-maid, Mary Neff by Indians in the year 1697 in the Massachusetts Colony. Note: Hannah's married name Dustan/Dustin/Duston are all used interchangeably in any story about the pair.
Haverhill massacre, we find Mrs. Mary Neff all alone except for her son Joseph. Mrs. Neff's husband 'went after ye Army and died in Feb. 1688/9, at Pemaquid, Me.' Perhaps killed by an Indian arrow. Her oldest son, William, had also been killed by Indians in 1691. Her three younger sons, who were all in their twenties by 1697, had left Haverhill for life adventures elsewhere. About 1690 or 91, Matthias and Mary (Neff) Button Jr. had migrated to Plainfield, Conn. so that Mrs. Neff's only daughter was too far away to see any more. It is easy to imagine that Hannah Dustan and her babies, who lived nearby, filled an empty corner in Mary's heart.
An early writer has pictured Mrs. Mary Neff as having a very cheerful disposition and as being always ready to help others. Thus we find her, on that fateful March 15th, 1697, at the Dustan home taking care of Hannah Dustan and her 6-day old baby, Martha. The Rev. Cotton Mather in his Magnalia, gives one of the most complete and reliable accounts of this entire affair. In it he refers to Mary Neff as nurse and she was certainly acting in that capacity at the moment. But the relationship between Mary Neff and Hannah Dustan was a lot more than that: they were neighbors and friends and Mary's daughter and Hannah were sisters-in-law.
On the morning of March 15th, Thomas Duston had taken the older children with him when he went to work in a nearby field. He had taken his gun with him, not that he was expecting Indian trouble because there had been no incidents since the previous August, when two neighbors had been killed and their sons carried into captivity. But for years, the men of Haverhill had always kept a gun with them wherever they went as they never knew when the Indians might attack.
At the Duston house, all was pandemonium and terror. Mrs. Neff picked up
Fearing pursuit, the Indians pushed on for about 12 miles that night. Several of the weaker captives who could not keep up the rapid pace, were killed and scalped and left beside the path. Hannah Duston must surely have met this same horrible fate, since she was sick and doubtless filled with shock and grief at the wanton killing of her baby, had she not been helped along by the strong arm and encouragement of her friend, Mary Neff. The party pushed, rapidly on for 150 miles or more, through dense forests and over rough, rocky ground. In March, it must have been a cold, terrible journey, with snow still on the ground and icy brooks to be crossed.
The group which claimed Mary and Hannah consisted of 12 men, women and children. One of the Indian men had lived in the family of Rev. Mr. Rowlandson of Lancaster, some years before; he had learned to speak English and had been taught to pray. Later he had been converted by French priests and, strangely enough, would not let the children eat or sleep without saying their prayers. But the Indians tried to prevent Mary and Hannah from praying! With this Indian family was a 14 year old boy, named Samuel Lennardson, who had been captured at Worcester about a year and a half before.
During the march northward, the Indians told the two women that when they reached th Indian Town, they would be stripped and made to run the gauntlet. They described in frightening detail how they would be forced to run between two lines of Indians, men, women and children, who would beat them with clubs, tomahawks, etc. Spurred on by these tales, the cruel treatment they were receiving and a desire to avenge the death of her baby, Hannah Duston is said to have planned a way of escape which she was able to tell Mary and Samuel about, secretly. Samuel, who also wanted to escape, got his master, Bampico to tell him how he killed and scalped the English. Bampico responded with full details, little suspecting the thought behind the question.
The band of 12 Indians and their captives parted from the other Indians and Haverhill captives parted from the other Indians and Haverhill captives, about March 30, 1697, when they reached the Indian’s home on an island at the junction of the Contoocook and Merimac Rivers. This is now Penacook, N.H., about 5 miles north of Concord, N.H. Now that they were ‘home’ and the island was surrounded by rivers full of spring flood waters, the Indians relaxed. Samuel Lennardson was considered one of the family and the two women were obviously too worn out to try to escape, so the Indians all went to sleep that night without setting a guard.
This was just the opportunity the captives had been hoping for. A little before midnight, when the Indians were all soundly asleep, Hannah, Mary and Samuel, each armed with a tomahawk or hatchet, stole silently to a position near the heads of the sleeping Indians. All three tomahawks fell as one, and so quickly and quietly did the three move along, 10 of the 12 Indians were killed, with only one severely wounded squaw, and a small boy they had intended to take home with time, escaping into the woods…
Hannah, Mary and Samuel quickly loaded one of the canoes with some food and weapons, including the gun of Hannah’s captor and the hatchet and scalping knife said to have been used by Hannah (now on view at the Duston Family Assoc. quarters in Haverhill). They hastily chopped holes in the other canoes so they could not be used for pursuit, and started out. Hannah is said to have insisted on a return to the island to secure the Indian’s scalps as a proof of their story. In any event, the 10 scalps were wrapped in linen stolen from Hannah’s house and taken back to Haverhill.
They traveled at night, taking turns guiding the canoe down the Merrimac river and sleeping. They hid during the day, in constant fear of pursuit and roving bands of Indians. They finally reached the home of John Lovell at what is now Nashua, N.H. A monument was erected there in 1902 commemorating the event. The next morning the weary travelers reached Bradley’s Cove, leaving the canoe there and going the rest of the way to Haverhill on foot. The two women had been given up for lost, so that one can imagine the joy and excitement their return and their story created.
Although the bounty of 50 pounds on Indian scalps had been revoked in 1696, Mr. Duston felt that the two women and the boy had done a tremendous thing in destroying some of the enemies who were killing innocent women and children. So after the three had a chance to rest and recover somewhat from their experiences, they all went to Boston with their trophies, arriving April 21, 1697.”
Mr. Duston filed a petition with the House of Representatives, June 8, 1697 (Mass. Archives Vol. 70, p. 350) whereby Hannah rec’d ₤25 and Mary and Samuel rec’d ₤12 each from the Massachusetts State Treasury.
The unusual and astonishing exploit of Mary Neff, Hannah Duston, and Samuel Leonardson created quite a stir throughout the Colonies and the two women received many gifts. The only one which seems to have been preserved is the silver tankard presented to them by Gov. Sir Francis Nicholson of Maryland, now in the possession of the Duston Family Association at Haverhill, Mass. There are three statues commemorating these three people and their tremendous adventure. The first one was erected in 1861 at Haverhill, a block of Italian marble five feet square and 24 feet high. The second statue was erected at Penacock, N.H. in 1874 and the third stands in G.A.R. Park, Haverhill (1879)”
Although Hannah Dustin is the focus for all the accolades, she had the help of our ancestor, Mary and young Samuel. There has been some "rumblings" because of the brutal nature of the act in this modern day, but the fact of the matter is, if my week old baby had had it's brains dashed out against a tree, I probably would have been brutal myself. In those times, scalping was done on BOTH sides of the conflict. For an interesting book on life in the early Massachusetts Colony, check out Nathaniel Philbrick's book, Mayflower. It is an eye-opener into how very desperate their fight to survive was in this new territory.