A woman's life in dangerous times. In 1697, Hannah Duston, a Haverhill, Massachusetts, wife and mother, was abducted by Abenaki Indians and forcibly marched north toward French-occupied Canada to be ransomed. Her week-old infant was brutally murdered during the march, other captives were beaten to death, and the survivors were starved and abused. Desperate, Duston managed to take revenge, slaying not only her captors, but squaws and children, as well, hacking off scalps for monetary reward. Journalist and fiction writer Atkinson (Writing/Boston Univ.; Memoirs of a Rugby-Playing Man, 2012, etc.) narrates Duston's story in gory detail, aiming to convey "the moral truth of what happened" and allow readers to judge whether Duston's act of savagery was justified. Her contemporaries had no doubt: Cotton Mather wrote a sympathetic account; Maryland's governor sent Duston an appreciative gift of three pewter chargers; in recognition of her valor and the scalps, the General Court of Massachusetts awarded her 50 pounds. Atkinson implies his own admiration, as well, in presenting Duston's experience "through the lens of the prejudices, preconceptions, and preoccupations of the seventeenth-century colonial settlers and the Indians." Although he acknowledges that Indians had suffered "decades of insult and abuse," were driven from their land, "preyed upon by corrupt traders and swindlers, [and] demeaned by colonial authorities," he still depicts them as terrorizing savages: marauding, whooping with "devilish noise," ruthlessly murdering with axes, clubs, hatchets, pikes, knives, and rifles given to them by the French. The French, greedy and bellicose, inflamed Indian hatred of the colonists and disrupted their traditional hunting and gathering by seducing them into the lucrative fur trade. The competition for animal hides, Atkinson maintains, pitted tribe against tribe. Drawing on archival documents and contemporary and recent histories, Atkinson has written a compelling narrative, but his reprisal of 17th-century prejudices makes for discomfiting reading.
"Jay Atkinson is one of my favorite writers, and Massacre on the Merrimack, detailing an important yet little-known episode of captivity and revenge in colonial-era Massachusetts, benefits from his accomplished writing and keen-eyed historical perspective." Chuck Hogan, author of The Town
“In this superb book, Massacre on the Merrimack, Jay Atkinson tells two stories: First, the dramatic tale of a young woman, Hannah Duston, who is abducted by Abenaki tribesmen and force-marched across a hundred miles of frozen wilderness, before fighting her way free. That alone is a dramatic tale of heroism, savagery, and survival against overwhelming odds. Simultaneously, Atkinson elucidates the bloody fight for the land we now inhabit, once known as the New World, now America. French and English imperialists, Jesuit missionaries, as well as rival Indian tribesthe Mohawk, the Abenaki and the Iroquois among themwere fighting, killing, scalping, and massacring for the right to call "New England" home. This is the rare book that succeeds in telling both as a useful and succinct history, and as an intimately narrated story of a young woman fighting, successfully for her life, and for the lives of her friends and family members. There is a statue of Hannah Duston in Massachusetts, and now there is this wonderful booka fitting memorial to an extraordinary woman, whose story is finally, and brilliantly, told here.” Alex Beam, Boston Globe columnist and author of American Crucifixion: The Murder of Joseph Smith and the Fate of the Mormon Church
“Massacre on the Merrimack is colonial history told as a thriller. The writer’s research and craftsmanship are stamped throughout the book. It's an engaging story, and you will want to savor every page. It also makes a terrific gift for young students of American history, as it depicts history the way it really happened.” –Lou Ureneck, author of The Great Fire
“Jay Atkinson has written a gripping account of the brutal struggles in seventeenth-century New England and Canada among British and French immigrants and various resident Native American tribes. He makes the shifting alliances comprehensible and conveys in vivid prose the desperate motives and aspirations of each group. This book portrays the sad and bloody shadow side of our perennial American Thanksgiving Day myth of happy camaraderie among European settlers and their native hosts. Anyone interested in the earliest origins of the United States will want to read this dreadful tale of greed, violenceand amazing courage on all sides.” Lisa Alther, author of Blood Feud
“Resurrecting one of the most fascinating and horrific stories of colonial America, Jay Atkinson delivers a riveting and thrilling narrative of savagery, murder, and revenge. His elegant prose animates the drama, allowing readers to experience not only the terror and visceral anger that Hannah Duston felt while being held captive, but also her sense of relief upon brutally killing her tormentors and returning home. Atkinson also provides a nuanced perspective on the deeply troubling relationship between whites and Indians during the early years of the American experience. This book is an excellent read.” Eric Jay Dolin, author of Leviathan and Fur, Fortune, and Empire