A Closer Look at Hannah Dustan’s Affair
Throughout literature, there have been many tales told about strong, brave heroes and mighty, wily savages and beasts. However, one story that still speaks to students today is that of a heroine by the name of Hannah Dustan, who killed ten Indians with the assistance of her two fellow captives. Together, they escaped capture, and Hannah Dustan told her tale again and again to individuals she encountered. Because she did not write her story down, others did it for her. In particular, John Greenleaf Whittier and Jonathan Carver both wrote compelling tales of Hannah Dustan’s capture, but it is only by looking at the differences between the essays, the reader gleans a more complete picture of Dustan’s experiences and societal issues that were occurring during the time period. For instance, gender roles, and savagery versus civility, and revenge are three themes running throughout both essays; all of these themes are still echoing throughout society today.
Hannah Dustan was a married mother of fourteen children who survived a vicious Indian attack in her village. The invading Indian tribe killed her newborn, threatened her husband and family, and took Dustan and her nanny as prisoners. The two were then given over to a smaller tribe, along with a previous captive named Samuel Lennardson, and forced to move with them to north Central New Hampshire. During their captivity, there were threatened with running through a gauntlet naked. Instead of running through the gauntlet, Hannah asked her fellow captive, Samuel Lennardson, to help her steal the Indians’ tomahawks while they were sleeping. They then killed most of the Indians in the camp, scalped them, and sold the scalps for a bounty.
Jonathan Carver, who wrote Travels through the Interior Parts of North America (1778), gives a brief account of Hannah Dustan’s captivity. In it, he describes Dustan’s attack, capture, and revenge. Straightforward, the only social or political commentary can be found in the author’s juxtaposition of words in the first and last paragraphs: “weaker sex” and “Amazonian intrepidity.” Both of these phrases have different connotations and provide the reader with two pictures; one picture is that of a frail creature, the other of muscular, weapon wielding warrior. Using these phrases at the beginning and end of the piece forces the reader to look at where Hannah Dustan started and the events that unfolded to create the person she became at the end of her capture.
John Greenleaf Whittier, author of Legends of New England (1831), also has a piece in his book regarding Hannah Dustan. Written 53 years after Carver’s account, it varies greatly. The facts remain the same; Dustan was attacked, and she defeated her captors. Whittier’s version is full of different imagery, details, and more aggressive language. Although written years later, the tale grows in detail. When speaking about the character of a woman, “Her sphere of action is...