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Explore Activities Related to Hawthorne's "The Duston Family"

"The Escape of the Duston Family," illustration from "The Duston Family" by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
"The Escape of the Duston Family," illustration from "The Duston Family" by Nathaniel Hawthorne. (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)


A.) The following texts reveal much about the Puritan imagination and view of history. Mather's account, in particular, is a good example of Puritan theology and methodology at work. As you read and analyze these selections, answer the following questions: How does Puritanism affect the presentation and interpretation of the events? How does it affect the style of the writing? What assumptions are evident? What purposes? (Look closely at the portrayal of the Abenaki Indians, the English, and Hannah Duston, especially.)

Text of Original Accounts From Various Diaries (1697-1700) and from Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana; or The Ecclesiastical History of New England (1702).

Petition of Hannah and Thomas Duston, Mary Neff and Samuel Leonardson to the General Court of Massachusetts.

Twenty-seven years after her escape from the Indians, Hannah Duston sought full membership in the Second Church in Haverhill. As required, she came before the elders of the congregation to relate her conversion experience and prove her regeneration. As you read her brief and moving statement, speculate upon the following: What seems to be Hannah Duston's interpretation of her captivity experience? What personal, psychological consequences did she experience? What general insights do we gain about the personal uses of Indian captivity experiences by Puritan survivors?

Text of Hannah Duston's Letter to the Elders of the Second Church in Haverhill, 1724.

B.) The following images of title pages from Puritan-era books provide visual evidence of the Puritan view of Indian conflicts and English captives. Look closely at the language and particular word choice. What words and phrases are recurring and/or emphasized? What tone is communicated through the language? What emotions? What viewpoints are stated or implied? Several of these works are described as histories. Do you see these texts as histories or as fictions? Explain.

Title Page, Cotton Mather's sermon, "Humiliations followed by Deliverences," published in 1697.

Title Page, Decennium Luctuosum by Cotton Mather, 1699.

Title Page, Cotton Mather's Magnalia Christi Americana, 1702.

Title Page, Increase Mather's A Brief History of the War with the Indians in New England, Boston, 1676.

Title Page, William Hubbard's Narrative of the Troubles with the Indians, Boston, 1677.

Title Page, Second Edition of Mary Rowlandson's The Soveraignty & Goodness of God, Together, With the Faithfulness of His Promises Displayed; Being a Narrative of the Captivity and Restoration of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson, 1682, Cambridge, 1682.

C.) The following websites provide additional information and visual resources related to Captivity Narratives and Puritan theology.

Colonial Fictions, Colonial Histories-Captives (An illustrated overview of several well-known Indian captivity narratives.)

Grace Online Library: "Adding to the Church: During the Early American Period" by Richard J. Bauckham. (An article on "the New England Way" and requirements for church membership.)

The Heath Anthology of American Literature, 4/e - Houghton Mifflin Co.: "Mary White Rowlandson (1637? -1711)" (Explains how one woman's trauma-ridden experience of captivity became an icon of a national ideology.)

Early American Captivity Narratives (Purposes, patterns, conventions, & themes):


A.) The following retellings of the Duston story span one hundred and fifty years of New England history. Read each version and describe the overall transformation that occurs in the presentation of Hannah Duston. Then, look more closely at each text and describe the author's point of view towards the Indians, the landscape, the English, and the Dustons, both Thomas and Hannah, where applicable. What does each author emphasize in his treatment of the story? What moral issues or questions does each raise? What overall changes in cultural values and assumptions are evident by comparing these texts?

Text of Magnalia Christi Americana; or The Ecclesiastical History of New England (1702) by Cotton Mather (1663-1728)

Text of The Thomas and Hannah Dustin Story from "Letter XXXIX" in Travels in New England and New York, 1821-22, by Timothy Dwight.

Text of "The Mother's Revenge" from Legends of New England (1831) by John Greenleaf Whittier.

Text of "The Duston Family" by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1836.

Text of H. D. Thoreau's Retelling of the Hannah Dustin Story, from A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, "Thursday" section, 1849.

B.) The following websites provide useful links to information and visual resources related to American literature and the specific cultural and historical contexts of the Duston stories.

Overview of Literary Movements (Donna M. Campbell, Gonzaga Univ)

Historical Eras in U.S. History and
Massachusetts Bay Colony

Social Contexts for Early American Literature 1620-1820: (See resources under "New England," especially)
Social Contexts for American Literature 1820-1865: (See resources under "The American Renaissance," especially)


A.) Images of Hannah Duston

Make some observations on the portrayal of Hannah Duston in the following art works and illustrations. What is emphasized in the work? What values and ideas are evident? What emotions does the work appeal to or communicate?

Hannah Duston Statue and Monument, Contoocook Island, Penacook, New Hampshire

Hannah Duston Statue and Monument, Contoocook Island, Penacook, New Hampshire

Hannah Duston Memorial, Haverhill, Massachusetts

The Capture of Hannah Duston and Mary Neff

Hannah Dustin's Escape from Contoocook Island, New Hampshire, 1697

Dustin, Neff, and Leonardson, from Heroism of Hannah Duston, 1874

B.) Images of American Indians

Make some observations on the portrayal of American Indians and the Indian-White relationship in these 19th century illustrations and art works. Categorize the ways Indians are presented during this period. As you view the images, it's important to remember that they present Indians through Euro-American imagination and ideology. Consider the following questions while analyzing individual illustrations or art works: What is emphasized in the work? What ideas and values are evident? What emotions does the work appeal to or communicate?

The Escape of the Duston Family

The Captive Maidens

The Death of Jane McCrea, by John Vanderlyn

Massacre of Settlers by the Indians

Encounter With Indians

Rescue Group, by Horatio Greenough

The War Dance, By The Ojibeway Indians, by George Catlin

A Sioux War Party, by George Catlin

Waapashaw, Sioux, by McKenney & Hall

Ash-E-Taa-Na-Quet, A Celebrated Chipppeway Chief, by James Otto Lewis

Wanata, Sioux Indian Chief, by McKenney & Hall

The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas, by George Catlin

Buffalo Bull's Back Fat--Head Chief, Blood Tribe, by George Catlin

Chief of the Blood Indians, War Chief of the Piekann Indians, Koutani Indian, by Karl Bodmer

The Trapper's Bride, by Alfred Jacob Miller

Indian Girl, by Hiram Powers

Indian Squaw Swinging from a Tree

The Indian Beauty, by Currier and Ives

The Last of the Wampanoags, by G. I. Brown

American Progress, by John Gast

Indian Chief Contemplating the Progress of Civilization, by Thomas G. Crawford

War and Pestilence, Indian Massacre

C.) The following websites provide additional American art images and articles on American art history.

American Art History-Selected Images (Choate American Studies Program): See "The Captivity Myth" and "Native Americans in Early American Art."

Smithsonian American Art Museum

American Art History Resources & Distinguished Artists Series

D.) Artwork by American Indians of the Northeast

In the oral cultures of American Indians, artwork serves as a visual language that expresses the lives and worldviews of the people. Through signs and symbols, function and form each work speaks or tells a story rich in history and belief. Study the following images and make observations on the form and design of each; consider the materials, as well. Describe what you find aesthetically pleasing or interesting. Explain how the object provides insight into the lifeways and culture, the beliefs and values of the creator. Make note of symbols or decorative motifs that you see as important or puzzling. In the 19th century, Euro-American ideas of "art" defined American Indian creations as "craft"-expressions of the primitive or na´ve-not as sophisticated as the "high" art of the Western world. Do you agree? Collectively, how might these works, tell a different story, and offer an alternative view to the "official" white explanations of Indians and early American history?

Black Stone Bear. Igneous Rock. Pawtucket

Deerskin Pouch with Fur, Porcupine Quills, and Metal Chimes. Pawtucket

Chief's Collar, Penobscot

Hunting Coat, Delaware or Shawnee

Moccasins with Blue and Red, Iroquois

Box, Montagnais

Oval Box, Micmac

Cradleboard, Ojibwa

Tray, Huron

Ball Head Club, Iroquois

Powder Horn, Penobscot

Burden Strap, Iroquois

Two-Tone Porcupine Weave Basket, Barbara D. Francis, Penobscot

An 18-Foot Reproduction Birch Bark Canoe

Old Style Penobscot Indian Birch Bark Canoe

E.) The following websites and links provide additional images of American Indian art and articles on American Indian traditions and artistic expression.

From "Reading the Signs" by David W. Penney

Native American Art (MSN Encarta Encyclopedia Article)

Native American Art: Overview (Saddleback College Seminar)

Native American Indian Art

The Indians of the Northeast (Culture Area)


The Indian cultures of early New England were oral cultures. Indian narrative traditions were rich, but they did not produce written texts. The written accounts of Euro-American colonists became the "official" story and record of early New England history. Native voices were marginalized or silenced. For this activity, consider the Indian point of view on the Haverhill Raid of 1697 and on Hannah Duston's captivity and escape. Write an Indian version of the Duston story from the point of view of the Abenaki Indians or, in particular, the Indian boy or woman who escaped alive from Contoocook Island. Consult Cotton Mather's account and some of the websites /links below for facts on the event and historic information on the Abenaki Indians and "King William's War."

Captive Hannah Bradley's Account

First Nations Histories

Abenaki and Pennacook Indians
Indian Wars: King William's War
King William's War

U.S. History.Com
Original Inhabitants of New Hampshire
Early History of New Hampshire and Maine
History & Culture of the Wabanaki People

From Joseph Dow's History Of Hampton King William's War, 1689-1698.

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