To some she's a symbol of bravery, a colonial heroine. To others she's the hatchet lady who murdered 10 Indians.
Now 300 years after her bloody escapade, officials in this small town north of Boston are thinking about honoring Hannah Duston by naming an elementary school after her."She's part of Haverhill's history that's very interesting and certainly controversial," said Mayor James A. Rurak, who proposed the name for the school.
In March 1697, Abenaki Indians from Quebec raided the outskirts of Haverhill and killed 27 people. They took 15 captives, including Duston and her 5-day-old son.
During a forced 15-day trek north, the captors killed the crying infant by bashing his head against a tree.
From there the story gets muddled.
In the traditional tale, Duston, late one night, courageously killed and scalped her captors while they slept, freeing herself, her nurse and a child. She returned to Haverhill with 10 scalps.
But many historians argue that Duston was bloodthirsty. Of the 10 Indians she killed, most were women and children, and she collected a bounty for the scalps she brought back.
Duston was the first woman ever to be honored with a monument in the United States. Today Haverhill has several sites commemorating her, including a statue, a large rock and a nursing home.
A school in town once bore Duston's name, but it closed in the 1980s. The new school is scheduled to open next fall. The school board ultimately will decide whether to name it after her. A meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.
John Matthews, who has lived in Haverhill for 14 years, said Duston was a bad choice for a school. Matthews did not at first recognize Duston's name but upon hearing part of her story immediately knew "the hatchet lady."