Joint Committee Takes Testimony on Haverhill’s Hannah Duston Statue, Reaches No Conclusion

Hannah Duston monument at GAR Park, Haverhill.

A joint meeting of the Haverhill City Council’s Natural Resources and Public Property Committee and Haverhill Historic Commission reached no conclusions last night on the future of the Hannah Duston statue.

Members asked questions, received testimony from all sides of the issue and plan another meeting to dig deeper. The statue, which has been in GAR Park since 1879, has been the subject of much debate and some vandalism over the past several months. Some say it is a monument to the indomitable spirit of man and womankind while others call it a racial slur to North America’s indigenous people. Haverhill resident William Taylor was one of the latter.

“I principally object to the public display of the statue’s plaque and, in particular, its usage of the word ‘savages.’ When the word is used to describe indigenous people, as it is on the plaque, it is a racist slur,” he said.

Others expressed the opinion that the statue itself is a disgrace to the community and should be taken down and possibly melted. Haverhill resident Benjamin Roy was solidly in that camp.

“It was erected as a symbol of white supremacy and of indigenous inferiority and, therefore, has no place in our diverse and multicultural community,” said Roy.

Not everyone agrees. Dee O’Neil said, in her opinion, Hannah Duston was in many ways a heroine.

“Nearly 200 years after the event, the statue was erected to commemorate her escape and, for me, it represents family and what lengths a mother would go through to protect her family. She represents strength and resiliency as a woman,” she said.

Still others expressed the need for some middle ground. Among them, Ralph T. Basiliere.

“That the statue remains in service at an alternate site. That educational stations that would tell the indigenous side of the story would be approximate to the statue. My feeling is that it will constitute a sound compromise.”

Basiliere, as chairman of the new Vietnam Veterans Memorial, employed a similar technique to put the story of the Vietnam War in context. The memorial features granite stanchions at Mill Brook Park to detail various elements of the conflict.

In the end, City Councilor Thomas J. Sullivan, who headed up the meeting, promised the groups would take all comments under advisement and members will set up another public meeting where the joint committee will discuss all the suggestions and formulate a plan.

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