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March 22, 2013

Indians, Emersons and shifting mores

Family histories, whether gleaned from archival pages or spoken-word recollections from one’s grandparent, jump to the forefront of the imagination when there’s a personal connection. History comes alive.

Forty or so years ago and before the commonality of the Internet search, my husband’s father became interested in the family’s genealogy.

He gathered information slowly and steadily, first accessing records of birth, marriage, and death. Later, he established correspondences with contacts he’d made in England.

His secretary typed up his findings, and we all got copies whether we wanted them or not. He encouraged us to add our own new information. And as the pages of the 1980s’ calendars flipped over, and months, then years, brought new entries, even his grandchildren recognized their lives in the text.

In addition to birth, marriage, and death came snippets of stories. His favorite to recount to his grandchildren was the wild escapade of Hannah Emerson Dustin (born 1657), the first of Michael and Hannah Webster Emerson’s 15 children. (Our own line of Emersons are descendents of Joshua, a younger brother of Michael).

Hannah’s claim to fame (our details at that time were sketchy) was that she and her newborn baby were pulled from their bed and taken captive by Indians in the town of Haverhill, in what was then Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Forced to march through the woods for two weeks with several other captives, she saw her baby smashed to death against a tree, and retaliated by murdering 10 Indians while they slept. She scalped them, forged stealthily home down the Merrimack River, and later went to Boston to collect the allotted bounties for their scalps.

Hearing this colorful and gruesome snippet, a friend sent us details of others of Hannah’s family that she found online in a 1994 paper written by Peg Goggin Kearney at the University of Southern Maine.

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