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Monday, December 4, 2023

History is sometimes unpleasant – Lowell Sun

I drive by a historical marker on a busy street in Nashua almost daily. The stone plaque is small and unnoticeable by perhaps 95% of the drivers who pass through the Allds and Fifield Streets intersection. The marker is located several blocks away from where I grew up and closer to where I reside now.

I’m certain that I and my young classmates visited the commemorative plaque during a mini field trip so long ago. My older brother Andy tells me he also remembers our late father showing us the headstone type of marker.

Either way, the John Lovewell/Hannah Duston landmark has been a part of Nashua’s (formerly, old Dunstable) history since 1902, when the local Matthew Thornton Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution had the plaque erected. According to the MatthewThorntonNHDAR.org website, there are another dozen historical sites throughout the Gate City that have been marked by the chapter.

The marker’s inscription reads: “On this point of land dwelt John Lovewell, one of the earliest settlers of Dunstable at whose house Hannah Duston spent the night after her escape from the Indians at Penacook Island March 30, 1697.”

It was a violent tale as the story goes. In brief, Hannah Duston was living with her family in Haverhill, Massachusetts when the town was attacked, and she was abducted with her neighbor Mary Neff by Native Americans. She had recently given birth to another child, which her captors later reportedly killed. The Smithsonian Magazine recounted the story, saying that “One night when the Indian family was sleeping, Duston, Neff, and Leonardson — who were not guarded or locked up — armed themselves with tomahawks and killed and scalped 10 of the Indians, including six children…”

The account goes on to say that “Duston and her fellow captives then left in a canoe, taking themselves and the scalps down the Merrimack River to Massachusetts, where they presented them to the General Assembly of Massachusetts and received a reward of 50 pounds.”

The tale has been spun multiple times over the decades, and Hannah Duston was eventually seen as an American heroine who was “saving her people from ‘savage’ outsiders, fighting a justified war.”  Other stories have since removed the references to scalping and the murdering of the six children. And so on.

I’m not sure where the truth lies 300-plus years later, but colonist Hannah Duston remains a part of New Hampshire and Massachusetts history, and I don’t believe that these events need to be covered up or blotted out from the eyes of future generations. History contains the good, the bad and the ugly, and we need to see the full picture, learn from it, and hopefully, move ahead.

A recent editorial by the Lowell Sun aptly discussed this point when referring to the Concord, Massachusetts Select Board voting to cover up three, nearly 100-year-old historical markers, deeming them offensive to Indigenous people.

In part, the editorial stated: “However, town officials say the markers don’t accurately represent the history nor the people who live and visit Concord today.

But in fact, they do exactly depict life at that time, which has no bearing on those who inhabit the town four centuries removed from its founding…”

The editorial goes on to add that, “We shouldn’t base decisions of historic import without weighing the long-term consequences.

That envisions a dispassionate debate – not one based on emotional assumptions…”

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