Some of Haverhill’s hometown heroes seem to have a little badass in them. It can’t be denied that Andre Dubus III and Rob Zombie come with an edge. And Hannah Duston (sometimes spelled Dustin) certainly had one many years ago. In Duston’s case, the edge was a sharpened hatchet blade that she wielded in the late 1600s.
Duston is said to be the first American woman honored with a statue, erected in Boscawen, N.H., in 1874 near the spot where she killed her captors. A commemorative boulder stands on Monument Street in Haverhill, near where her home was located. But the most sizable remaining bit of Duston’s history is the Duston-Dustin Garrison House at 665 Hilldale Ave. in Haverhill.
Duston’s husband, Thomas, was a farmer and brick-maker. He was commissioned to build a garrison for community use, and appointed constable for the west end of the town. Before the building was completed, King William’s War broke out. The French governor of Canada wooed several local Native American tribes to fight for the French king’s cause, and set bounties for “English” scalps.
Duston had just given birth when she and an attending nurse were abducted from her home by Abenaki Indians in March 1697. The infant, Martha, her ninth child, was killed during the forced march into New Hampshire. Cotton Mather’s “Magnalia Christi Americana” reported the story in blistering, incendiary language. The tradition passed down through Duston-Dustin Family Association documents provides a more in-depth view of the individuals and events.
The story goes that after six weeks, the two women banded together with a lad from Worcester to kill 10 of the 12 Abenaki while they slept, and then escaped by canoe. Before they got very far, however, they decided to return and gather the scalps of the dead as proof of their story. They returned home to the shock and amazement of the whole community.
The Duston-Dustin Garrison House is one of the few brick buildings to have survived from that era. It is filled with period furniture, clothing, cooking paraphernalia, quilts and many other objects that help provide insights into the daily life of Duston’s family.
Diane Dustin Itasaka is an eighth-generation direct descendant who opens the building to visitors periodically. Call (978) 430-4506 for more information.