Samuel Leonard: Taken by Indians!May 22nd, 2009 | By Leonard Legends & Legacies | Category: Legends & Legacies, Real People, Real Stories
Some of you are no doubt familiar with the legend of Samuel Leonard, and some of you are not. No surprise, really, since his story was essentially hijacked (no offense) by the family of Hannah Duston/Dustin, pictured at left wielding a tomahawk. But I digress.The following story is actually true. In the fall of 1695, a band of Indians passing between the towns of Hassanamisco and Lancaster, Massachusetts, spotted a twelve-year-old boy playing, unattended, near Samuel Leonard Sr.’s cabin.
Considering the boy a potential prize, either as a slave or potential brave, they snatched him away without witnesses. Thus began the adventure of Samuel Leonard, grandson of Solomon Leonard and Sarah Chandler. (Son of Samuel Leonard, thus the frequent use of “Leonardson.”)
Samuel spent a year-and-a-half with the Indians and was described as “a domesticated captive” in The Border Wars of New England by Samuel Adams Drake. Samuel had been with the tribe long enough to learn their language, customs, and way of life. The Indians treated him, says Drake, “as one of themselves.”
When, on March 15, 1697, Samuel’s new “family” decided to raid the town of Haverhill, Mass., the then 14-year-old Samuel was left, along with the squaws and younger males, to guard the camp. I’m leaving out a ton of detail for the sake of brevity, but the end result of the raid was this… twenty-seven dead, six houses burned, thirteen captives taken. Among them, Hannah Duston/Dustin and her “nanny” Mary Neff.
The large band broke into smaller groups as they made their retreat, with Samuel and the two women traveling with a group of two men, three women and seven children. Marching northward through snow-covered fields, the two women began to see Samuel as their only hope of escape.
They asked Samuel to ask his master where he would strike a man to kill him. The master answered at length, including a description of how to scalp a man. The stage was set.
The next morning, shortly after midnight, Mrs. Duston/Dustin woke Samuel and Mrs. Neff and together, the three of them used tomahawks to slaughter ten of the twelve sleeping Indians. One woman and a boy escaped into the woods. Again, I spare you the details of the scalpings.
Samuel and the two women found their way to the river, scuttled all but one of the canoes and used that canoe to float downriver to Haverhill and safety.
Mrs. Dustin/Duston and Mrs. Neff, being the older of the trio, told their story at great length, displaying purloined scalps as evidence. Samuel, being younger and having lived with the Indians, held his tongue. As a result, or perhaps because the newspaper-reading public loved a good yarn… the whole episode became “The Kidnapping of Hannah Duston” in story and song.
Hannah Duston became the first American woman to have a statue erected in her honor… in a park that bares her name… on the island where escape was made. And the ultimate slight? The painting above and to the left? Pictures two women and a girl as the heroes.
And now you know. There’s a ton of additional reading, if you’re interested, I can add links in the comments.