It was about midnight when my eighth great-grandmother, Hannah, and the other two kidnap victims, Mary and Samuel, armed themselves with tomahawks.

Hanna had been waiting for the camp to be sound asleep. On her signal, she and the young boy Samuel first killed the two men who had been watching them, and then, with Mary emboldened, they incapacitated the rest of the group.

Hannah Dustin and the younger Mary Neff had been kidnapped by Abenaki Indians in March of 1697. They were forced to travel north 75 miles without shoes, and in Hannah’s case, in sleep clothes. Shortly into the journey, Hannah’s newborn daughter was killed by their captors.

Hannah and Mary were held captive alongside of 14-year-old Samuel Lennardson, who had been kidnapped more than a year earlier.

At least 15 days had passed as this group went to an island at the junction of Contoocook and Merrimac rivers to rest before continuing north to meet up with the main camp.

Hannah and Mary, who had been paid to assist in a house of eight children, had been taken from Haverhill, Mass., in a conflict that concluded with 27 colonists dieing. Hannah’s husband had been making bricks in a foundry some distance from the home, and her children had escaped in the confusion.

Though the situation appeared hopeless and she did not know whether or not there was a family waiting for her behind, Hannah had no plans to continue with her kidnappers.

By paying attention, Hannah had learned her captors spoke French and had been taught by Christian missionaries. Christian or no, she was afraid that their treatment would worsen when this smaller group joined up with the remaining tribe.

She quietly spoke with Mary and Samuel throughout the day and instructed them to stay alert, that she would lead them to freedom at first opportunity.

They made their way to the river, but not before gathering some supplies, including a rifle, which belonged to one of the tribe, and a tomahawk. The three fugitives broke holes into several of the canoes to prevent anyone from following them.

It suddenly occurred to Hannah that her story would never stand up. A woman and two children against a small tribe? She had the children wait at the only floating canoe by the side of the Merrimac River and returned to their former prison.

She pulled out her tomahawk and scalped the dead, wrapping the scalps in cloth for safe keeping.

Hannah, Mary and Samuel were cautious, hiding their stolen canoes in the brush by day and paddling silently in the cover of night. After several nights of travel, they abandoned the canoe at Bradley’s Cove. The three of them made way back to Haverhill, where Hannah’s husband had already begun constructing a more secure home.

My eighth great grandmother assured her own future from an impossibly harsh circumstance — empowering her eighth great-grandchildren to do the same.

Cheney writes at