HAVERHILL — The statue of Hannah Duston in GAR Park has been vandalized for the third time since last year.
City DPW Director Michael Stankovich said he was informed by police on Thanksgiving morning that someone had spray-painted portions of the statue in red.
To prevent further damage, workers draped the statue in a tarp, he said.
“As best I can tell there were splashes of red paint about halfway up the statue,” he said.
Like a lighting rod, the imposing image of Duston holding a hatchet in her right hand and pointing with her left hand has drawn criticism in recent years from a number of residents as well as Native Americans who consider the story it depicts an offense to Indigenous peoples while it also glorifies violence.
Some historians say the statue was erected to celebrate the strength of Colonial women and simply reflects historical events.
Mayor James Fiorentini said he has long had concerns about the appropriateness of the statue and especially has concerns with calling Native American forebearers “savages,” which is a term used on one of four plaques surrounding the base of the statue.
“This is not appropriate in this day and age but it is never appropriate to vandalize those things we disagree with,” he said. “Native Americans had their own culture and way of living. The Native American Commission I established will find a way to commemorate that. That is the proper way to tell ‘the rest of the story.’”
The commission is looking at ways to honor the people who lived on the land now known as Haverhill and make certain their story is told as well.
Fiorentini said the highway department will remove the paint and that police will review surveillance videos in an effort to identify the vandals.
This wasn’t the first time the statue was vandalized. In July of 2020, police discovered the words “Haverhill’s own monument to genocide’’ had been written on the statue in pink chalk.
Then in August of 2020, vandals struck again when they splashed red paint onto the statue, police said at the time.
Erected in 1879, the statue shows a Colonial woman gripping an ax or a hatchet. It has caused great controversy recently as the region and nation deal with the debate over violence and racism.
The controversy grew to the point where city councilors were receiving so much public pressure they considered moving the statue out of GAR Park.
In April, and after several public meetings to discuss the possibility of moving the Duston statue to a less conspicuous location, the City Council voted unanimously to leave it where it is and also voted to provide space for a memorial honoring Indigenous peoples.
Representatives of the Buttonwoods Museum and the Duston-Dustin Garrison house, two locations that were being eyed for moving the statute to, indicated they didn’t want the statue, fearing it would attract even more vandalism.
In 1697, Duston — or Dustin — and her nursemaid, Mary Neff, were captured in a raid on Haverhill near the end of King William’s War, a conflict among English colonists, French colonists and their Native American allies.
Duston was taken north to an encampment on an island in the Merrimack River in present-day Boscawen, New Hampshire. Along the way, the captors killed Duston’s 6-day-old daughter, according to historians, by dashing the baby’s head against a tree.
According to some contested accounts, after being told that she and her other captives would be “stripped, scourged and made to run a gauntlet while naked” once they arrived at another camp, Duston led an early morning revolt against her captors as they slept.
Using a small ax, or possibly a club, Duston, Neff and an English boy killed their captors, taking their scalps as proof of their ordeal. They scuttled the natives’ canoes, except for one, then traveled down the Merrimack River, landing in Haverhill where Merrimack River Park is today along Route 110. A stone marker designates the place of her landing.