Finding the Hannah Duston Memorial State Historic Site
The most controversial statue in the Concord Region is the hardest to find. The Hannah Duston Memorial State Historic Site is next to an old railroad track, and no longer listed on the State Parks’ website. The 35-foot tall state was put up in 1874, and paid for by public subscription – It sits on an island between Route 3 and 93, where the Contoocook meets the Merrimack.
While mostly forgotten, the tale of Duston is steeped in controversy and darkness. The tale goes that in 1697, during King William’s War, a party of Abenaki who had raided her town of Haverhill, MA took Duston hostage. Many died, including her newborn daughter. Not far from the statue site, she and another woman led a revolt, killing several Native Americans. She scalped them and fled down the river. The wartime legend is full of grim details we will omit here, but Duston was haled, seen a hero, a strong woman who escaped. Yet the brutality of the whole story has made it a topic of debate and ongoing controversy.
But, our tale is of the statue. Accounts say it was the 1st to be paid for by public subscription in the Granite State. Hannah Duston may have been the first American woman to have a statue put up in her honor.
Oddly, while so much has been written about her life, little is available on the site. This was, after Haverhill, the second statue to her. It was dedicated on June 17th, the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, 1874. Today the seemingly forlorn statue sits on a grassy riverbank, vandals have broken her nose. And the simple statue becomes less enchanting as one looks at it and sees that in her right hand she holds a tomahawk, in her left, the scalps of Native Americans. Herdum gesta fides justitia reads the inscription.
The short hike is well worth the trip. The gruesome monument is well worth reflecting on– as war is a thing that has no winners. But, as a Smithsonian article suggests, the statue and its theme may have been more propaganda from a period of conflict, a recasting of history to accommodate uncomfortable truths.
The thing about history is it is always best to read the difficult chapters of the past – not ignore or forget them. The Hannah Duston statue raises many uncomfortable questions, and set on a lovely riverside, it obliges us to remember that the past is complex, and far from one sided.