Nathaniel, Hannah, Mary, Lydia 1705-1740

The work of a curious fellow
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Thomas and Hannah Dustin’s son Nathaniel who was 11 years old at the time of his mother's abduction was the only one of the Dustin sons with his father's aptitude for carpentry. He began to work with Thomas in 1699 and by 1705 was the most skilled builder in Haverhill. At the age of 20 Nathaniel Dustin, in accordance with the law that forbade single men to establish their own household as a bachelor, was living with his parents. Even so he had become an independent, hard working and already prosperous young man.

In Haverhill in those days was a woman named Hannah Williams. Hannah was born Hannah Ayer in 1671 and married in haste a Johnson Williams, aged 24, when she was 15. The Ayer family wrote her off as a bad investment and Williams abused her terribly. In 1687 Hannah gave birth to a daughter Mary. As may happen, Hannah’s parents found their hearts softened by the arrival of the child so there was some degree of reconciliation with Hannah. It did not extend to her husband though. He would have nothing to do with the child or her support so Hannah’s parents took the infant Mary in and raised her as their own so she became known as Mary Ayer.

In 1690 Johnson Williams sickened and died so Hannah found herself without any means of support. Eventually she found work in the tavern, called in those days an “ordinary”, owned by Henry Coffin. The ordinary lay on the south side of the Merrimac River in Newbury and had been in business about 50 years. There she lived a solitary sort of life, subsisting on her wages and gifts from the men she occasionally and discretely entertained in her chamber above the ordinary.


An ‘Ordinary’ of the Late 17th Century

One day in 1705 Nathaniel agreed to meet with Steven Dow at the Coffin’s ordinary to discuss a building project. “Greetings Goodman Dow,” Nathaniel said as he entered the taproom. “Who is that woman drawing the beer? I think she is wonderfully attractive.”

“For a shilling, if she favors you, you can learn everything there is to know about Hannah”, Steven told him.

“Really!”, said Nathaniel. “I have never met that sort of woman. Would you introduce me?”

“Hannah, a word if you please”, Steven called out to the barmaid. When she arrived at the table he said, “Nathaniel this is Hannah Williams. Hannah, this is Nathaniel Dustin. He finds you… ‘wonderfully attractive’, I think was his turn of phrase.” Nathaniel cast his eyes down and blushed.

“Well then, Mr. Dustin, I see that Mr. Dow’s direct manner of speaking has made you uncomfortable”, Hannah replied smiling. “There is no need for that. Steven is well known for his lack of subtlety. I take it as a great compliment to be thought ‘wonderfully attractive’ by a gentleman such as yourself, as any woman would. Perhaps after closing we could get better acquainted. I must be off now. Here are more customers.”

So Nathaniel and Hannah did become better acquainted and after a few weeks Nathaniel proposed marriage.

“Oh Nat”, Hannah said. “I wish it could be so but I cannot accept. We are too different. I am near old enough to be your mother and I have led a hard life that many consider to be shameful. I respect the feelings you have for me but you are inexperienced. You will find in time there are other feelings that will change your life. Give no more thought to marriage to me. I must stop seeing you now and send you out into the world to find your own true love.”

But Hannah could not forget Nathaniel and when her father wanted to build a house for Hannah’s brother Nathaniel on the occasion of his marriage to Esther Palmer in 1706, Hannah convinced him to hire Nathaniel Dustin. Then she arranged for her young sister (daughter now 19 years old) Mary to spend a lot of time in the company of the young carpenter.

Mary even at age 19 was a young woman of character and good sense. Over a four-year period she and Nathaniel courted discretely at first and ardently in time. They married in 1710.

It might not be obvious to us in the twenty-first century but in 1710, Haverhill, Massachusetts was the wild west. Inhabited New England extended from the Kennebec river in Maine to the Connecticut River and penetrated only a few miles inland from the navigable waterways. Northwest of the frontier and most of eastern Maine was wilderness inhabited by native clans loosely bound together by tribal politics and the common Algonquin language. Since 1675, at the beginning of King Philip’s War, there had been native raids on many English settlements and reprisals against the natives.

The colonial authorities established an ingenious defense made up of armed bands of frontiersmen rather than raising a standing army from the heavily populated areas. One advantage was that the men lived close to the action and only had to be paid for actual fighting. Another was that the men on the frontier were familiar with the wilderness and more skilled in tracking and fighting in the fashion that would be most effective against scattered native raiders.

The Haverhill militia was described in “The History of Haverhill, Massachusetts From Its First Settlement, in 1640, to the Year 1860” By George Wingate Chase.

Though the town had not been troubled by the natives for above two years yet they did not think it prudent to relax their vigilance at least so far as their means of defense were concerned. Their garrisons and houses of refuge were kept in complete order for occupation at a moment's notice and the parsonage house was repaired and fortified. A large company of soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Saltonstall were also kept constantly armed and equipped and exercised in the town and that these soldiers might be the better prepared for every emergency the General Court June 19 1710 ordered them to be supplied with snow shoes. Snow shoes were also supplied to the whole of the North Regiment of Essex. The names of the snow shoe men in Haverhill were:
John Eaton Joseph Emerson
Christopher Bartlett Jr Thomas Whittier
Joseph Bond Anthony Colby
Nathaniel Dustin Samuel Dow
Ephraim Davis Jonathan Eaton
Job Eaton John Ela
Peter Green Sen Ephraim Gile
Matthew Harriman Jr Josiah Heath Jr
John Hutchins Jr Andrew Michel
John Marsh John Page Jr
Nathan Simons John Webster
Daniel Lad Jr Jonathan Eastman
Samuel Robards James Ayer
Edward Ordway Eliehu Davis
William Davis Abraham Whittiker
Jonathan Simons Robert Hunkins
Joseph Bradley Ephraim Robards
John Heath Jr Benjamin Page Jr
John Shepard Nathaniel Smith
Stephen Emerson Stephen Johnson
Jonathan Hendrick Samuel Huckins
Adam Draper Richard Whittier
John Watts Stephen Davis
Robert Peasly Joshua Padington
Samuel Ayer William Whittaker
John Hazeline William Johnson
Abraham Bradley Samuel Davis
Thomas Johnson John Stevens
The History of Haverhill, Massachusetts From Its First Settlement, in 1640, to the Year 1860 By George Wingate Chase

The issuing of snowshoes was done with a purpose in mind. The English settlers found that operations against the natives in winter were more effective than in the warmer months. The natives, in the skirmishes they had against their traditional enemies among other tribes avoided bad weather. They pretty much left each other alone and hunkered down all winter. This tradition carried over to their conflict with the English. So it was decided to take the fight to the natives in the winter months. The snow made it easy to find the enemy by following their tracks.

In January of 1711 some men from the Haverhill company of Snowshoe Men were turned out to support an excursion by the North Regiment of Essex to see if there were any significant numbers of natives in the bowl of the Merrimac, the broad region encompassed on the south by the southward dip of the river between Haverhill and present day Hudson, NH. The plan was to march due west from Haverhill to the Merrimac and then downstream along the river back to Haverhill, a distance of about sixty miles.

Ninety men from the regiment set out from Haverhill on January 24, 1711. Included in the Essex Regiment was 17 year old William Pepperell who had been attached to the Essex Regiment at the request of his father James Pepperell in order to give the young man some military experience. John Hazeltine at 51 years of age was a tough old woodsman, experienced in fighting with the natives. He was assigned to mentor young William on the excursion.

They carried supplies for ten days. The main body of men traveled single file at a leisurely pace while groups of three men each ranged ahead and to the sides to protect against ambush and alert the main force if any native encampments were found. On the morning of the third day out of Haverhill it began to snow, adding to the foot or so already on the ground in the woods. With the snow came a powerful northeast wind.

Nathaniel, with John Hazeltine and William Pepperell was traveling some distance north of the main body in one of the scout groups. As they topped a rocky ridge shortly after mid-day a blast of wind tumbled the men from their feet and flattened trees all around them.

Nathaniel heard the crashing timber and suddenly a blow to the head knocked him out. Slowly Nathaniel floated back to consciousness and found himself pinned to the ground by the branches of a pine tree that before it fell on him had been standing sixty feet tall. Snow was flying before the howling wind and piling up among the tree branches at an alarming rate.

“Halloooo”, Nathaniel shouted. The only answer was the roar of the wind. He was lying on his back under the upper part of the tree. His legs and left shoulder were held tightly to the ground by branches bent under the weight of the tree. Except for the discomfort from the pressure of the branches he was not suffering much pain. His musket was nowhere to be found. His hatchet, carried on a belt outside his coat was pinned under his left side. In his right pants pocket under his coat he had a folding knife with a four-inch blade.

Not knowing how long he had been unconscious and concerned about nightfall which would halt any search and rescue activities, Nathaniel began the task of freeing his knife from the pocket. He paused every few minutes to shout for help but heard no reply. Once he had the knife in hand there was the problem of opening it. His left hand lay just out of reach of his right due to the branch holding his shoulder down. Finally using his right hand and his teeth he managed to open the knife. By this time his body except for his right arm and head was completely covered in snow.

If Nathaniel could clear the branch holding his left shoulder down he thought he could sit up enough to retrieve his hatchet and quickly free his legs, so he began whittling away at the that branch, reaching across his body at an uncomfortable angle to reach the outside of the bend in the branch. Pine is a soft wood but it took hours to weaken the branch enough that he could force it up and relieve the pressure on his left shoulder. Many more minutes were required before feeling was restored to the left arm and the hatchet could be recovered. By the time Nathaniel could partially sit up and take about a half swing with the hatchet it was completely dark.

Working carefully by feel Nathaniel trimmed the branches away from his legs and at last was free to crawl out from under the tree. It stopped snowing but the wind remained strong. The temperature had dropped to the point that Nathaniel could feel his nostrils freeze partially shut with each inhale and he knew that was killing cold, so he crawled in under the upturned roots of the tree for protection from the wind and buried himself in snow for protection from the worst of the cold. There he spent the night rolled up into a ball and completely covered by his great coat.

Nathaniel was shivering but otherwise unhurt when the rescue party, led by John Hazeltine and including the young Mr. Pepperell, arrived in the morning. They were expecting to find a corpse to carry back to Haverhill and couldn’t believe it when Nathaniel, hearing their approach began to complain loudly about how slow they were.

“Now Nat” said John, “We looked for you for over an hour with no trace. I decided to get young Pepperell back to the expedition before dark. I see now that it was the right choice. You are well enough to be your usual prickly self”.

The rest of mission was carried out without accident and without finding any natives. Nathaniel and William Pepperell became good friends and maintained contact over the years.

On the 8th of February in 1712 Nathaniel and Mary had their first child, a daughter named Mary. A son John was born 12/20/1714 and two years later to the day the twins Thomas and Timothy were born. In 1717 Nathaniel received a gift of 20 acres from his parents, doubling his land holdings and the baby Thomas died. On February 25, 1719 their son Nathaniel was born.

In 1721 Mary came down with a bad cold resulting is coughing up blood. She recovered but ever after complained of exhaustion and weakness. In the summer of 1722 she was attended by a Dr. Heath from Boston. His diagnosis was that Mary was hagridden. A condition in which during her sleep she was transformed into a horse by a witch who then rode her over the countryside to nightly meetings of witches. Dr. Heath could suggest no cure.

Mary continued to fail and on 4/17/1725 she died leaving Nathaniel with four children aged 6 through 13. Hannah, recently widowed from her second marriage, moved in with Nathaniel and her grandchildren to keep house after Mary’s death.

On 6/8/1726 Nathaniel married Lydia Bond. Lydia was a sweet natured woman who readily agreed to share her house with Hannah so to the end of her days “Aunt Hannah” was part of the Dustin household. She had seen all but the youngest of her grandchildren happily married before she died in 1740. Nathaniel and Lydia had one child, Lydia Bond Dustin, born 9/22/1728.

Nathaniel and Lydia prospered on the Dustin farm. It was their youngest son Nathaniel who took to farming and became his father’s partner in the operation of the property. Nathaniel Sr. remained active in the business until shortly before his death in 1762.

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