Wow, this is some story. HT to philosopher Quee Nelson, one of Duston’s descendants.
The Badass of the Week
Despite what Riverdale Elementary School’s annual First-Grade Thanksgiving Day Class Play might have you believe, early Colonial America wasn’t all one giant super happy mecha fun time made out of maize, delicious roasted turkey breast, and Pocahontas teaching John Smith the meaning of friendship and cooperation by baking pumpkin pies and putting out on the Sabbath ? it was a sick, murderous hellhole of suck where freezing temperatures and near-constant warfare meant death was an omnipresent threat every time you stepped foot outside your crappy, poorly-insulated, makeshift shelter. On the one hand you had the Puritans ? crazy, whacked-out European religious zealots intent on exerting their inflexible will over the New World one Smallpox-infected blanket at a time. Standing opposed to them were the Native Americans, who voiced their displeasure at this tactic by winging tomahawks into peoples’ faces, murdering their families, and torching their settlements to cinders. Living in a frontier town in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a young woman named Mrs. Hannah Duston was caught in the middle of this raging death-sanity, and when she was swept up in the tide of senseless violence that ravaged the Northeast in the seventeenth-century, she made a name for herself as a completely insane-o-bot madwoman who was absolutely not to be fucked with for any reason.
In March of 1697, Hannah Duston’s tiny farm was attacked by a marauding band of Abenaki Indians (alternate sources say they were Mohawks, who are widely believed to be among the most badass and ruthless of all the North American Indian tribes). The battle-raging warrior braves attacked Hannah’s husband Thomas while he was out working in the field, but he managed to run back to the farmhouse and warn his wife of the impending raid. Unfortunately, Hannah was unable to escape ? she had just given birth to a child a couple days prior, and wasn’t in any condition to be moved at this time. Hannah, her nursemaid, and her newborn stayed behind, and she encouraged her husband to get the fuck out of there and flee with their eight other children while they still could.
Now, the fact that this woman gave birth to nine fucking kids back in a time when anesthesia involved little more than taking a swig of whiskey and biting down on a stick really hard should give you some indication of how tough Hannah Duston was. Despite the fact that she could usually headbutt an antelope unconscious with one swing of her head, on this day she wasn’t in any position to fight off a swarming horde of pissed-off warriors, and was quickly captured and forced out of her home. Her house was plundered and torched to the ground, and a subsequent raid on the village of Haverhill resulted in forty additional settlers being killed or captured by the Abenaki.
But Hannah’s adventure in getting worked over by the natives was just beginning. Along with the other captives, she was forced at gunpoint to walk north towards Canada. For several days they walked through ankle-deep snow and bitter, nut-freezing cold, traveling nearly fifty miles from Haverhill to present-day Concord, New Hampshire. Anybody who couldn’t keep up was brained in the face with a hatchet, and when Hannah’s child wouldn’t stop crying, her captors gave the kid a post-partum abortion by smacking it against a tree (they weren’t screwing around). By the time the party left Concord and started traveling by canoe up the Merrimack River, all that remained of the captives were Hannah, her nursemaid, and some fourteen-year old kid they’d picked up along the way.
Sure, she’d been beat to shit by this super-long crazy death march, but Hannah Duston was a tough New England broad, and she wasn’t going to let anybody fuck with her like that and get away with it. Knowing that all she really had to look forward to at the end of her journey was being killed and/or sold into slavery to French Canadians (the worst kind of Canadian), and realizing that she wouldn’t be able to keep up this grueling travel pace for too much longer, she resolved to teach her captors what it felt like to be on the receiving end of a Puritanical boot up the ass.
The next night, while all of the warrior braves were sleeping, Hannah sought her vengeance. She somehow broke free from her restraints and slowly tiptoed her way across the campsite. Using extreme caution, she held her breath, quietly reached into the pack of one of a nearby warrior, closed her fingers around the wooden handle of a razor-sharp tomahawk, and silently pulled it out into the night air.
The weapon in her hand, Hannah Duston completely fucking flipped out, Hulked up (Hogan or Banner, your call), and went Lizzy Borden on her captors like Anakin Skywalker venting his irrepressible teen angst by butchering the Sand People all over the desert landscape of Tatooine. Before anybody knew what the fucking shit was going on, Hannah Motherfucking Duston was in the midst of their campfire whirling and slashing at everything she could reach. In the span of just a few seconds, she had killed ten people with a tomahawk and sent two other warriors sprinting off into the woods screaming their heads off.
That?s right, bitches. This crazy Puritan axe-murderer violently took out an entire raiding party by herself without even blinking. I told you they shouldn’t have screwed with her.
Well, moking out a bunch of people with a hatchet and rescuing your captured friends is great and all, but now the small party was completely stranded on an island in the middle of the Merrimack River, and the two men who ran off were sure to be returning in the relatively near future, presumably with a large party of their incredibly distraught (and heavily-armed) colleagues. It probably made sense for the Puritans to not be sitting around a giant pile of corpses when they returned. Luckily for Hannah, she was well-equipped to deal with the situation. She assembled her friends, grabbed a rifle and some food from the campsite, carjacked a canoe Grand Theft Auto-style, and headed back towards Haverhill as quickly as possible. Oh, just in case you didn’t pick up on the fact that this chick was a stone-cold badass, I should mention that she went back and scalped the dead before heading out. In the canoe, the small group of fugitives paddled their asses of, desperately trying to get down river before they were caught, recaptured, and harshly executed. They traveled at night, hiding the canoe and sleeping in the bushes during the day, constantly surrounded by uncharted territory and unforgiving wilderness. Finally, after a couple days of this nocturnal adventuring, they reached the New Hampshire town of Bradley Cove, where they convinced a local farmer to provide them with food and shelter for the night. From there, they headed out for home, walking the remaining 30+ miles to Haverhill. The group was received as heroes by the populace, none of whom ever expected to see Mrs. Duston alive again.
Hannah Duston was a crazy hardass who really didn’t take kindly to being captured, force-marched, and having her kid brutally murdered right in front of her. This tough lady traveled over a hundred miles on foot just days after giving birth, pushed her body to the limit, and didn’t even flinch when it came to single-handedly rescuing her friends by slaughtering an entire raiding party of battle-hardened warrior braves with a fucking hatchet. To commemorate the adventures of this face-smashing, take-no-bullshit frontierswoman, in 1879 an appropriately-grim-looking statue of Mrs. Duston was erected (huh huh) in downtown Haverhill. She is believed to be the first American woman to have a public monument built in her honor.
Cook, Bernard. Women and War. ABC-CLIO, 2006.
James, Edward T., et al. Notable American Women. Harvard Univ. Press, 1971.