On the 15 March, 1697, a band of about 20 Indians came unexpectedly upon Haverhill, in Massachusetts; and, as their numbers were small, they made their attack with the swiftness of the whirlwind, and as suddenly disappeared. The war, of which this interruption was a part, had continued nearly ten years, and soon afterwards it came to a close. The house which this party of Indians had singled out as their object of attack, belonged to one Mr. Thomas Duston or Dunstan, in the outskirts of the town. Mr. Duston was at work, at some distance from his house, at the time, and whether he was alarmed for the safety of his family by the shouts of the Indians, or other cause, we are not informed; but he seems to have arrived there time enough before the arrival of the Indians, to make some arrangements for the preservation of his children; but his wife, who, but about a week before, had been confined by a child, was unable to rise from her bed, to the distraction of her agonized husband. No time was to be lost; Mr. Duston had only time to direct his children’s flight, (seven in number,) the extremes of whose ages were two and seventeen, and the Indians were upon them. With his gun, the distressed father mounted his horse, and rode away in the direction of the children, whom he overtook but about 40 rods from the house. His first intention was to take up one, if possible, and escape with it. He had no sooner overtaken them, than this resolution was destroyed; for to rescue either to the exclusion of the rest, was worse than death itself to him. He therefore faced about and met the enemy, who had closely pursued him; each fired upon the other, and it is almost a miracle that none of the little retreating party were hurt. The Indians did not pursue long, from fear of raising the neighboring English before they could complete their object, and hence this part of the family escaped to a place of safety.
We are now to enter fully into the relation of this very tragedy. There was living in the house of Mr. Duston, as nurse, Mrs. Mary Neff, a widow, whose heroic conduct in sharing the fate of her mistress, when escape was in her power, will always be viewed with admiration. The Indians were now in the undisturbed possession of the house, and having driven the sick woman from her bed, compelled her to sit quietly in the corner of the fireplace, while they completed the pillage of the house. This business being finished, it was set on fire, and Mrs. Duston, who before considered herself unable to walk, was, at the approach of night, obliged to march into the wilderness, and take her bed upon the cold ground. Mrs. Neff too late attempted to escape with the infant child, but was intercepted, the child taken from her, and its brains beat out against a neighboring apple tree, while its nurse was compelled to accompany her new and frightful masters also. The captives amounted in all to 13, some of whom, as they became unable to travel, were murdered, and left exposed upon the way. Although it was near night when they quitted Haverhill, they travelled, as they judged, 12 miles before encamping; “and then,” says Dr. Cotton Mather, “kept up with their new masters in a long travel of an hundred and fifty miles, more or less, within a few days ensuing.”
After journeying a while, according to their custom, the Indians divided their prisoners. Mrs. Duston, Mrs. Neff, and a boy named Samuel Leonardson, who had been captivated at Worcester, about 18 months before, fell to the lot of an Indian family, consisting of twelve persons, two men, three women, and seven children. These, so far as our accounts go, were very kind to their prisoners, but told them there was one ceremony which they could not avoid, and to which they would be subjected when they should arrive at their place of destination, which was to run the gantlet. The place where this was to be performed, was at an Indian village, 250 miles from Haverhill, according to the reckoning of the Indians. In their meandering course, they at length arrived at an island in the mouth of Contookook River, about six miles above Concord, in New Hampshire. Here one of the Indian men resided. It had been determined by the captives, before their arrival here, that an effort should be made to free themselves from their wretched captivity; and not only to gain their liberty, but, as we shall presently see, something by way of remuneration from those who held them in bondage. The heroine, Duston, had resolved, upon the first opportunity that offered any chance of success, to kill her captors and scalp them, and to return home with such trophies as would clearly establish her reputation for heroism, as well as insure her a bounty from the public. She therefore communicated her design to Mrs. Neff and the English boy, who, it would seem, readily enough agreed to it. To the art of killing and scalping she was a stranger; and, that there should be no failure in the business, Mrs. Dutton instructed the boy, who, from his long residence with them, had become as one of the Indians, to inquire of one of the men how it was done. He did so, and the Indian showed him, without mistrusting the origin of the inquiry. It was now March the 31, and in the dead of the night following, this bloody tragedy was acted. When the Indians were in the most sound sleep, these three captives arose, and softly arming themselves with the tomahawks of their masters, allotted the number each should kill; and so truly did they direct their blows, that but one escaped that they designed to kill. This was a woman, whom they badly wounded, and one boy, for some reason they did not wish to harm, and accordingly he was allowed to escape unhurt. Mrs. Duston killed her master, and Leonardson killed the the man who had so freely told him, but one day before, where to deal a deadly blow, and how to take off a scalp.
All was over before the dawn of day, and all things were got ready for leaving this place of blood. All the boats but one were scuttled, to prevent being pursued, and, with what provisions and arms the Indian camp afforded, they embarked on board the other, and slowly and silently took the course of the Merrimack River for their homes, where they all soon after arrived without accident.
The whole country was astonished at the relation of the affair, the truth of which was never for a moment doubted. The ten scalps, and the arms of the Indians, were evidences not to be questioned; and the general court gave them fifty pounds as a reward, and numerous other gratuities were showered upon them. Colonel Nicholson, governor of Maryland, hearing of the transaction, sent them a generous present also. Eight other houses were attacked besides Duston’s, the owners of which, says the historian of that town, Mr. Myrick, in every case, were slain while defending them, and the blood of each stained his own door-sill.