Unspeakable Times
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Hannah Duston: The Puritan Axe Murderer Who Found Revenge

Updated July 22, 2019 529.3k views10 items

Back in the 17th-century territory of what is now Massachusetts, many Puritan families struggled to survive in the wild, unpredictable conditions of the New World, and Puritan axe-murder Hannah Duston's crazy story has origins in this struggle. Aside from starvation, one of the Puritan settlers' greatest fears was to be attacked by the local Native Abenaki Indians who were known to wreak havoc on colonial homesteads, slaughtering anyone who fell in their path. Often referred to as the Puritan Axe Murderer, Duston lived through the nightmare of abduction when her family farm was attacked by the fearsome Abenaki, and she was forced to leave behind everything she loved in a matter of minutes.

For their part, however, the Abenaki Indians had few options for protecting their Native territory outside of attempting to forcefully frighten the settlers off of it, which was part of the motivation behind the Duston kidnapping. Taking Duston prisoner and venturing north, the Natives moved through many white settlements - massacring anyone they didn't capture. However, despite their violent skills and knowledge of the land, they were not even remotely prepared for the savagery of a mother's revenge. 

  • Photo: George Caleb Bingham / Wikimedia / Public Domain

    Hannah Duston Was Nursing Her Baby When Disaster Struck

    It was March 1697 when Hannah Duston's tiny farm in colonial Massachusetts was attacked by a band of raiding Abenaki Indians. There was still snow on the ground outside Hannah's window as she rested comfortably in her humble room, nursing her newborn baby girl, Martha, and talking with her midwife, Mary Neff. Instead of settling in a nearby garrison where other frontier families were protected by tall wooden walls and gates, the Duston family had chosen the freedom and independence of open land, despite its inherent dangers. It was this lack of protection as well as her recent childbirth that would get Hannah kidnapped by the Abenaki.

  • The Abenaki Appeared Out Of Nowhere

    In addition to the new baby, Hannah had given birth to eight children, ages three to 18 years old, all of whom were outside playing on that fateful day. Hannah's husband, Thomas, was in the field planting the spring harvest when he was startled by the appearance of 10 Abenaki Indians emerging from the nearby woods. Before Thomas could react, the Abenaki leveled their guns and began shooting. Miraculously, Thomas was not hit and was able to jump on his horse and gallop back towards the house, screaming for Hannah and Mary to run.

  • Photo: Karl Ferdinand Wimar / Wikimedia / Public Domain

    The Children Stopped Their Game And Ran

    When the Abenaki approached, the Duston children playing in the outer field dropped their sticks, the older ones scooping up the younger ones, and began running towards the nearby garrison. Thomas Duston – who was working in the fields at the time – stormed into the small house and shouted for the women to get out while they could. In her condition, Hannah was slow to move, but Mary quickly snatched baby Martha and ran outside. Knowing full well what was happening, Hannah yelled for her husband to save himself, save the children, and leave her. They could both hear Mary outside screaming in terror. Without time for a plan or even a goodbye, Thomas had no choice but to turn and run, jumping on his horse and riding out towards his children, leaving the helpless women behind.

  • Photo: Karl Ferdinand Wimar / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Abenaki Threw Her Baby Against A Tree

    Although the Abenaki initially tried to pursue Thomas Duston, he was a hard target, and they soon gave up and turned their attention back to the homestead. After removing anything of value and burning down the humble house, the Abenaki took Hannah, Mary, and baby Martha captive, forcing them to march through the deep snow. Early on in the journey, Hannah stumbled, and Martha began to cry. Before either of the women knew what was happening, an Abenaki wrested the baby from her arms, grabbed her by the feet, swung her through the air, and smashed her against a nearby apple tree. Too stunned and horrified to protest, the two women continued to stumble along behind their captors.