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Published: 07/28/2006    print this story   email this story  

Haverhill's oft-sung her

By Harlyn Aizley

Not all towns boast an icon responsible for the slaughter of 10 people. But Hannah Dustin is no ordinary icon and her legacy, including in 1868 being the first American woman to have a statue erected in her honor, makes Haverhill no ordinary town.

In the late 17th century Merrimack Valley settler Hannah Dustin lost a newborn to and was captured by members of the Pennacook tribe. Months after being held captive, Dustin with the help of two other captives killed 10 of her captors and returned home via a harrowing canoe ride down the Merrimack River. Though perhaps unforgivable from a modern perspective, Hannah's story remains fascinating not only for having once served as the emblem of pioneering heroism and valor, but for its role in women's and American history. Herself illiterate, Hannah's story has been told and retold by countless others.

Thanks to an extended loan by the Dustin family, today the Buttonwoods Museum (part of the Haverhill Historical Society) is home to the largest collection of Dustin family artifacts in the country. Among the museum's many visitors are scores of Hannah's descendants who come to (or continue to reside in) Haverhill to learn more about their ancestor's harrowing tale. Three separate buildings house the cultural history of Haverhill from the days of Hannah Dustin through the town's emergence in the shoe industry up through the present.

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