Hannah Duston and the Fairy
New Hampshire Folk-Tales and Beyond
So what are we to think about Hannah Duston in the “enlightened” year of 2018. On the one hand she treated indigenous people very terribly (murdering them), and should be loathed for it, but…those indigenous people were alpha males, so they should have been killed anyway, and since it is a tale of woman’s power and strength in the face of calamity, I probably am still allowed to publicly write about her without sending people scurrying to their safe places. On the other hand, people may not like this old folk tale, because it takes the glory from a stoic, powerful, woman and gives the glory to a wood sprite or fairy, whose magical powers save the day.
First, lets recap the story of Hannah Duston. Stories of New Hampshire under The Indomitable Hannah Dustin says that, “At the beginning of the history of New Hampshire women were important, yet few acquired fame. The first heroine of the state was Hannah Duston (The early spelling of her name), famous throughout the nation because she possessed the courage to kill ten Indians to save her life. Hannah was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on December 23, 1657, the daughter of Michael and Hannah (Webster) Emerson. Hannah Webster Emerson distinguished these names long before Daniel Webster and Ralph Waldo Emerson were born.”
“Haverhill was a forested area in 1635, when only a few families were scattered in the south section of the present city…she married Thomas Duston, December 3, 1677, at the time King Philip (an Indian) was killing the English because they were destroying his hunting grounds and food supply.”
“The couple had seven children and Hannah was recovering seven days after baby Martha was born when on the morning of March 15, 1697, Indians were approaching the home. Hannah urged Thomas to save the children. He told the seven to run into the woods toward the garrison house of Onesiphorus Marsh near the bank of the Merrimack River while he mounted his horse and fought the Indians.”
“Meanwhile the Indians killed the baby and captured Mrs. Duston and her nurse, Mrs. Mary Neff, and compelled them to leave the house that was pillaged immediately. (For you Windham folks, Mary Neff was a Corliss, and related to the Corliss family of Windham who occupied one of the earliest homesteads in town.) The March wind must have been cold and the river at flood, yet it is believed that the Indians, with their captives, paddled up the stream to an island at Penacook, New Hampshire. The story is related that while in camp, Hannah cooked a soup that the Indians ate heartily, then they fell soundly asleep. It is believed that Hannah added the roots of a plant possessing soporific (induces sleep) power.”
While the Indians slept soundly, Hannah and a captive boy killed ten Indians with tomahawks, took their scalps, and then the three captives fled down the river in a canoe, safely to Haverhill.” Quite the heroine, but did Hannah have a little magical help?
In The Legend of Tsienneto, The Fairy we learn the following: “Fairy tales also claim their share of mystery among former settlers. Beaver Lake in Nutfield, now Derry, was supposed by the Indians to be the abode of a Fairy Queen named “Tsienneto, abbreviated to Neto in the legend of Hannah Dustin. Seen or unseen by mortals, Neto was able to perform deeds of friendly service to those in distress.”
“When the Indians brought Mrs. Dustin and their other captives from Haverhill, their first-night encampment was on the shore of Beaver Lake where Queen Neto saw and befriended Mrs. Dustin, promising to accompany her unseen by her captors and to supply all her needs.”
“After the party arrived on the island in the Merrimack River near Penacook, Neto cast a spell over the Indians so that they soundly slept while Mrs. Dustin and her boy companion moved about with the Indians tomahawks, killing all their enemies and escaping down river. It was Neto who guided them in safety to their home and family as this good fairy always was known to do, and thus the Scotch-Irish of Derry explain the miraculous escape of Hannah Dustin.”
How this legend arose is a mystery to historians in both Derry and Londonderry, since it was not written down previously to its being published in New Hampshire Folk Tales in 1932. There was a source for another legend of Tsienneto in a small guidebook published by R.N. Richardson in 1907. However, there is no confirmation in this publication as to the Hannah Duston legend. It instead tells the rather poetic tale of Tsienneto, an Indian prophet, who predicted the demise of the red man as related by a local fairy. “Tsienneto was seized and taken before a council of Chiefs and great men. There he prophesized that a great misfortune would come to the tribes in the region of the Beaver. ‘A peculiar people,’ he said, ‘with pale-hued faces, shall come from beyond the big water. They will devastate the forests, and dwell unmolested in the places thus desolated. The deer shall leave the near country, the beaver cease their craft in the waters of that region, and your campfires shall be forever out. Yonder isle shall disappear, and fishes prowl where now stands my lodge. In the days of the third forest the deer shall return, but the beaver—never.’ ‘And all the great men assembled were afraid, for they had heard the power of Tsienneto. A sign! A sign! Prove thy power they cried. On the eastern end of the island stood a great pine, large enough for what was called in the latter days a King’s tree. In the time of Tsienneto it was called the Guardian of the Isle of Great Enchantment.” To prove his power, and the truth of his prophecy, Tsienneto hurled a huge boulder a half mile across the lake and destroyed the tree. With its destruction, the island sank, and the spiritual protection of the tree to the Indians was lost.
So was Tsienneto a wise Native American prophet or a small Native American fairy that protected Hannah Duston? I’ll let you decide for yourselves.