Sunday, August 10, 2008

A Bobblehead Brouhaha

As I wrote in an earlier post, I am the proud owner of a Franklin Pierce bobblehead purchased from the New Hampshite Historical Society.

Young Hickory of the Granite Hills, as Pierce was known, was New Hampshire's only favorite son to attain the office of President of the United States (1853-1857). Last month, the NHHS added two politically incorrect bobbleheads of 17th century historical characters to its museum store inventory. An assistant administrator of the society has resigned, and another employee refuses to work in the store as a consequence of these new offerings. Either of the new bobbleheads individually would be found objectionable by certain segments of the population, but the simultaneous release of the two seems particularly ill-advised.

The first new bobblehead is Hannah Duston. Here is a brief synopsis of her claim to fame from the blog of Fiona Broome:
One of the most horrific attacks occurred on March 15, 1697, when Indians burned six homes and killed or captured at least 39 people. Many of the victims were buried in Pentucket Burial Ground on Water Street, almost across the street from Buttonwoods. . . . (The Pentucket cemetery was established in 1668, and has many old and unmarked graves.) That was the same attack in which Hannah Dustin (or Duston) was captured, along with her newborn daughter, Martha, and Mary Neff, Hannah’s midwife. For 15 days, they were marched in freezing March weather. After Hannah’s six-day-old baby was brutally killed by Abenaki Indians, Hannah Dustin and Mary Neff were joined by another captive, 14-year-old Samuel Lennardson. Hannah avenged her daughter’s murder by organizing a revolt one night. With a hatchet, Hannah killed and scalped nine of the 10 or 12 Indians they ambushed. Among Hannah’s Native captors, only one woman and a young man escaped the attack. Hannah, Mary and Samuel seized a canoe and reached the nearest colonial settlement where they presented the scalps to the British authorities, for a reward of 50 pounds. Hannah’s story has been the subject of controversy. Some describe her as a hero while others are less flattering. Nevertheless, a Haverhill statue commemorates her history, and —though the story is disputed — she may be buried in an unmarked grave in the Pentucket Burial Ground.
The statue above, upon which the bobblehead is based, stands in Haverhill, Massachusetts,and is said to be the first statue in America memorializing a woman. Hannah holds a hatchet in her right hand.

Fortunately, the NHHS did not choose as a model an even more graphic statue which stands at the site of Hannah's grisly escape at Penacook, NH. Here she holds not just the hatchet in her right hand, but bloody scalps in her left.

The other new bobblehead is Chief Passaconaway, of the Penacook Tribe, a peaceful and powerful leader of his tribe in the 17th century. Some people have pointed out that the style and color of his hat are reminiscent of a smurf.

In defense of the NHHS, the hat looks a lot like the one worn by chief in this engraving.
The choice of color could be debated, but the director of the NHHS has stated he thinks Indians of that time period may have worn a similar color. Besides, Smurfs' hats are white; their skin is blue.

Although the appearance of the bobblehead is objectionable to some people, even more disturbing is its release at the same time as the bobblehead of a crazed Indian scalper.

One of the interesting things I discovered while researching Passaconaway is that fact that William James Sidis, one of the most intelligent Americans ever, wrote a book about the chief under the pseudonym of Charles Edward Beals, Jr. I hope to devote a separate post to Sidis (1898-1944) in the near future.


Sara said...

I am writing to request to use the photograph of the Hannah Duston Penacook statue in a scholarly article. If you agree, I will send you a more formal email concerning this matter.

my name is Dr.Sara Humphreys, and I am a professor at Trent University in Canada.

David C. said...


The image is not mine. It is available under Creative Commons license for noncommercial use:


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