William Robert Thompson


Posted 29 Oct 2015 by Steven Cooper

Haverhill, Massachusetts was a dangerous place to live in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s.  It was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, inhabited by mostly Puritans, almost all of British descent.  It lay 22 miles up the Merrimack River from the bay, and was considered to be the community closest to the wilderness.  Consequently, it became the target of many Indian attacks.

The New Englanders had been fighting the Indians for many years.  One of the first official Indian Wars was known as “King Philips War” fought in 1675 and ’76.  Even as this “War” ended, Indian attacks continued in “wilderness communities,” Haverhill being one of them.  As the raids and attacks continued, many colonists were killed or captured and many buildings were burned.

Many of the captives were taken to Canada and sold to the French Canadians, to be held for ransom or to be sold as slaves.  Some Indian tribes tried to convert their captives to their culture and way of life, especially the children and some women.  The French occupied what is now Quebec.  This was approximattly 300 miles north of Haverhill.  They seemed to be able to incite the Indians to continue their attacks.  The New Englanders kept moving north and west and kept needing more land.  The French Canadians were buying furs and the Indians valued their existance and relationship. 

Our first “Hannah”,  Hannah Heath, was born May 3, 1673, the daughter of John Heath and Sarah Partridge in Haverhill.  A few months (December 1, 1672) before Hannah was born, John Heath’s brother Joseph Heath was killed by Indians, just before the birth of his only child.  Hannah went on to marry Joseph Bradley in Haverhill on April 14, 1691.  Joseph was the son of Daniel Bradley and Mary Williams, born February 17, 1665 in Bradford, Essex County, Massachusetts.  On August 13, 1689, Joseph’s father Daniel was killed by Indians near his home in Haverhill, just two weeks shy of his 76th birthday.  Six months after the attack, the town of Haverhill established six garrison houses (mainly built of brick) and four houses of refuge.  Joseph Bradley was placed in command of one of the garrison houses.

On March 15, 1697, when Joseph was 32 and Hannah was 24, the Indians attacked again.  At this time, Hannah had bore 3 children.  Their daughter Mehitable had died as an infant, son Joseph was 4 years old and daughter Martha was 2.  Hannah was taken captive by the Indians.  Joseph and Martha were killed in the attack.  Hannah was listed as one of the English captives being held in Norridgewock, Maine.  She was released to a group in Portland, Maine two years later.  She returned from Portland on the ship Providence Galley on January 24, 1699.  The Providence Galley often went to Maine and returned with captives released by the French Canadians, after negotiations with the British.

It was during this 1697 attack that Joseph’s brother Daniel Bradley and his family were destroyed.  Daniel and his wife Hannah Dow and daughters Mary, age 4 and Hannah, an infant, were killed.  Their son Daniel, age 6, was captured and taken to Canada.  Their 11 year old daughter Ruth survived the attack.  Altogether, 27 people were killed and 13 captured in this attack.  It was during this attack that Hannah Dustin was also taken captive.  This Hannah (our second Hannah) killed her captors and returned to Haverhill.

Joseph and Hannah Bradley were the parents of two more daughters, Martha, born on November 7, 1699 and Sarah, born on January 26, 1701.  On February 6, 1703, a party of six Indians attacked Joseph’s Garrison House in the afternoon.  Hannah was making soap and killed one of the attackers with a laddle full of boiling soap.  The Indians killed Sarah and took Hannah and a few others and fled for Canada.  Hannah was 7 1/2 months pregnant and after some days on the trail, she gave birth to a baby boy she named Isaac.  When Isaac was 2 months old, the Indians tortured and killed him in a grusome manner and “piked him on a pole.”  Ultimately, the Indians brought Hannah to Canada and sold her to a French family.  This family treated her kindly. 

Joseph learned of Hannahs survival and whereabouts and set off on foot taking a bag of snuff on a dog sled as a present from the Governor of Massachusetts for the Governor of Canada.  He ransomed Hannah from the French family and sailed back to Boston and returned to Haverhill, arriving home on May 30, 1706.

In July of 1707, a small party of Indians attacked Haverhill again.  The garrison they attacked contained daughter Martha, age 8 and a new baby named Joseph, born February 13, 1707, and a hired man.  Hannah told Joseph that she would rather be dead than be taken again.  As the Indians broke through the front door, Hannah shot the first man dead.  The rest of the Indian party retreated and fled. 

On August 29, 1708, Haverhill once again became the target of a major Indian attack, led by the French (DeRouville), that killed 40 and took about 35 people captive.  Captain Samuel Ayer and a party of men pursued the Indians, killing some and getting some of the hostages back.  Joseph and a small group of men captured their medicine box and other packs of gear.  As a result, many of the French surrendered.  In this attack, Ruth Bradley, the only remaining member of the Daniel Bradley family, was killed.

Peace finally came to the region in 1712.  When hosilities resumed in 1720, the frontier had moved west and north along the Merrimack River and Haverhill was spared further attacks.  Joseph died October 3, 1727 in Haverhill, at age 63, leaving Hannah a widow.  In 1738, Hannah received 250 acres of land on the western side of Haverhill for the hardships and sufferings that occurred during the Indian attacks.

Hannah Bradley lived to be 88 years old and died on November 2, 1761 in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

Our second “Hannah” is Hannah Webster Emerson Dustin, born December 27, 1657 in Haverhill, MA., the daughter of Michael Emerson and Hannah L. Webster.  Hannah married Thomas Dustin on December 3, 1677. 

Thomas and Hannah had a large family, 7 girls and 3 boys.  Hannah was a 40 year old Puritan mother of eight when she was captured by the Indians during the raid on March 15, 1697.  A group of Abenaki American Indians from Quebec attacked Haverhill and killed 27 colonists and took 13 captive to be either held for ransom or made into slaves by the French, Hannah being one of them. 

When their farm was attacked, Thomas fled with all the other children toward the garrison house for safety.  He was forced to leave Hannah, Martha, the six day old baby, and Mary Neff, Hannah’s nurse.  A small party of Indians pursued Thomas and the children, but he was able to hold off their attacks.

The Indians that entered the Dustin house found Hannah in bed, and Mary Neff trying to escape with Martha.  They were all captured and forced to march into the wilderness.  After leaving the house, an Indian took Martha from Mary Neff and smashed her against a tree, killing her.  They set the house on fire as they left, forcing the women to walk through harsh and cold conditions.  It is reported that conditions were poor, with a cold March wind and the ground  muddy or covered with snow.

They marched for days, finally arriving on a small island at the mouth of the Contoocook River, now called Dustin’s Island.  The family of Indians consisted of 2 men, 3 women and 7 children, plus an English boy, named Samuel Lennardson, taken prisioner about a year prior at Worcester, MA. 

Six weeks later, Hannah led a revolt.  She used a tomahawk/hatchet type weapon to attack the sleeping Indians, killing one of the men while Lennardson killed the second.  They also killed 2 adult women, and six of the children.  One severly injured woman and a young boy managed to escape.  As they left the Indian camp, Hannah returned and took the scalps of the 10 dead Indians for proof of what they had done.

They travelled at night, by canoe until they reached Haverhill.  The Massachusetts General Court later gave them a reward for killing the Indians.  Hannah lived nearly 40 more years, dying March 6, 1738 in Haverhill.

Hannah’s plight has been memorialized with the creation of a statue, depicting Hannah carrying an axe that was erected in the Haverhill town square in 1879.  Hannah is believed to be the 1st American woman honored with a statue.

There is a large statue of Hannah that was erected on Dustin Island near Renacook, N.H., the site of their escape.  In 1908, a third memorial was created.  An inscription on a large boulder placed on the site where Hannah’s son Jonathan’s home stood, where Hannah lived her final years.  Hannah died in this house in 1736.  The stone is said to mark the site of Hannah’s burial.  This rock is in a small park next to the Monument Street Nursing Home.

A side note about Hannah Emerson Dustins childhood family.  She was the oldest of 15 children born to Michael and Hannah Webster Emerson.  Seven of her siblings died in infancy.  Her father Michael was a well respected landowner and a shoemaker.  He was chosen as “sealer of leather,” with which office he had authority to see all sales of leather were made honesty, and to certify as to quality and quantity.  He was elected one of the “tithing men,” appointed to keep order in the church.  He was elected “constable” in 1659, an office that allowed him to set and collect taxes.  He was hired to help develop a road between Haverhill and Newbury.  So, it appears that he was respected by his peers as he was appointed and elected to these positions.

However, trouble seemed to follow the family at times.  Michael was brought to court “for cruel and excessive beating” of his daughter Elizabeth.  He apparently whipped and kicked Elizabeth when she was 9 years old, and was fined 5 shillings.  He felt he got off easy for the crime he committed. 

His daughter Mary married Hugh Matthews.  Both were brought to court and found guilty of fornication before marriage.  The sentence was “to be fined or severly whipped.”

His daughter Elizabeth also engaged in premariral sex.  In 1686 she gave birth to a daughter named Dorothy.  Michael accused a neighbor boy, Timothy Swan, of being the father.  Timothy’s father, Robert Swan, vehemently denied that accusation and said he prohibited his family from going into “that wicked house,” referring to the Emerson house.

Five years later, still living in her parents house, Elizabeth hid another pregnancy.  On May 7, 1691, she gave birth to twin boys in a trundle bed at the foot of her parents bed.  The twins were either stillborn or were killed by their mother.  She hid them in a trunk and buried them in their backyard.  The following Sunday, while her parents were in church, neighbors who suspected the pregnancy, came to the house with a warrent and found the bodies of the dead babies.  Michael denied he knew of Elizabeths condition and put the blame on Samuel Ladd, a 42 year old married man.  Elizabeth also named Ladd as the father and that he had been the father of the first baby, Dorothy.  Ladd denied the claims and was never questioned because he was the son of “an early settler” and her story was not believed.  She was found guilty of “whore-dom.”  Under English law, concealment of the death of a bastard child was punishable by execution.  She was taken to Boston and put in prison on May 13, 1691.  She was hanged to death in Boston on June 8, 1693, a violent end to a sad chapter in the Emerson family. 

Both these “Hannahs from Haverhill” lived during turbulant times in the early history of this country, both surviving unspeakable hardships, but both persevered, both true American heros, pursuing the American dream.  I am honored to be a descendant of these two pioneer women.

American Indians: Selling American Colonists to Canada


There was a period of time in colonial New Hampshire when colonists were regularly abducted by Indians & sold to the French in Canada. This is why they did it.


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Back in the late 1600s, tensions between New England colonists and Indians were growing due to expansion by the colonists into Indian territory, and their general bad treatment by the colonists. This was particularly true in New Hampshire, where people from Massachusetts were beginning to move in search of more open spaces. With tens of thousands of people immigrating from England beginning in 1620 and going strong through the 1660s, Massachusetts was becoming crowded.

The migration of people into New Hampshire displaced local Indians, and tensions between settlers and the indigenous population were high. This situation wasn’t helped by the attitudes of a few community leaders who took the view that the Indians were a nuisance and that it was the God-given right of the settlers to be there. A couple of supposed peace meetings that turned into massacres of the Indians by the settlers set the tone for Native/settler relations for a generation.

The local Indians began targeting people who were out in the open alone, and who seemed vulnerable. Sometimes, they killed women and children to prove a point to the men of the community. Other times, they kidnapped them (and even poorly armed men who were alone). When they kidnapped them, they took them to Canada, where they sold their captives to the French. The French had been trading in furs in the Americas since a generation before the Mayflower and were well acquainted with the Natives.

Unlike the English settlers, who tried to push out the Natives and/or convert them to their religion, the French enjoyed good relations with the Native American population. They took the time to learn their languages and treated them with respect, looking at them as the rightful owners of the land, and at themselves as merely guests there. The Natives appreciated this. Selling English captives as slaves to the French in Canada was a way for the Indians to thank the French for their friendship and benefit themselves economically at the same time.

In at least two incidences, however, it was not merely isolated cases of kidnapping that brought English captives to Canada. The town of Dover, New Hampshire saw a full-scale massacre of its citizens twice, both in the late 1600s. In the first and most memorable massacre, which took place in 1689, 23 people were killed and 29 taken captive. The captives were divided into two groups which followed different routes to Canada. One group was intercepted the next day by a search party led by a local settler who the Indians respected. He was able to negotiate the release and return of the captives (in fact, his house was the only one not targeted in the massacre).

The other group went to Canada and were sold to the French. Only one of them ever came back… a child who did not return until she was a grown woman, a widow with children she left behind in Canada. The rest stayed in Canada, changed their names, converted to Catholicism, and married into French families. This was the normal fate of those who were sold to the French in Canada.

The woman who returned enjoys some measure of local fame in Dover and in Salem, Massachusetts, where she later moved. She was born Margaret Otis but was re-christened Christine when her captive mother converted to Catholicism and married a Frenchman in Canada. After her husband died, she escaped back to Dover with Captain Thomas Baker, who she married and had several children with. She tried several times to get her first three children back from Canada but was never able to do so. She was also re-baptized back into the Puritan church when she returned to Dover.

While the Indian abductions of colonists in New Hampshire continued into the 1720s, there was never such a large-scale massacre and abduction as the one that took place in 1689. The French were not inclined to let their captives go back to the colonies, as they were in a rivalry with England over land in the Americas. However, a small number of captives were able to be ransomed back over the years.

The fate of most captives, though, was to accept their fate, assimilate into the culture of the French Canadians, and start new lives there. If they converted, they were granted freedom to move about Canada as citizens but were never permitted to cross the border back to the English colonies. The Indian abductions tore many families apart, but it also was the cause of the start of many new families. Millions of Canadians today, most of them in Quebec, have English roots in colonial New Hampshire, as descendants of these early Indian captives.

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