Search billions of records on

Neff Notes Page 2

Notes for Mary (Corliss) Neff

The following information was found in "The Descendants of William Neff Who Married Mary Corliss January 23, 1665 Haverhill, Massachusetts" Compiled by Dorothy Neff Curry

By order of the County Court Sitting in Boston
4th february 1665. Edw: Rawson Secrety"

"This warent was served upon each perticular person Acording to the tennor of it arest sara butten and ( ) liues not in Haverhill

by me George Browne Constable of Haverhill."

I have no evidence that these people ever testified in a witch trial of John Godfrey, but the summons must have caused considerable excitement in town.

By 1697, the year of the Haverhill massacre, we find Mrs. Mary Neff all alone except for her son Joseph. Mrs. Neff's husband "went after ye Army and died in Feb. 1688/89, at Pemaquid, Me.", perhaps killed by an Indian arrow. Her oldest son, William, had also been killedby Indians in 1691. Her three younger sons, who were all in their twenties by 1697, had left Haverhill for life adventures elsewhere. About 1690/91, Matthias and Mary (Neff) Button Jr. had migrated to Plainfield, CT so that Mrs. Neff's only daughter was too far away to see any more. It is easy to imagine that Hannah Duston and her babies, who lived nearby, filled an empty corner in Mary's heart.

An early writer has pictured Mrs. Mary Neff as "having a very cheerful disposition and as being always ready to help others." Thus we find her, on that fatefull March 15, 1697, at the Duston home taking care of Hannah Duston and her 6-day old baby, Martha. The Rev. Cotton Mather in his MAGNALIA, gives one of the most complete and reliable accounts of this entire affair. In it he refers to Mary Neff as Hannah's nurse and she was certainly acting in that capacity at the moment. But the relationship between Mary Neff and Hannah Duston was a lot more than that: they were neighbors and friends and Mary's daughter and Hannah were sisters-in-law.

On the morning of March 15th, Thomas Duston had taken the older children with him when he went to work in a nearby field. He had taken his gun with him, not that he was expecting Indian trouble because there had been no incidents since the previous August, when two neighbors had been killed and their sons carried into captivity. But for years, the men of Haverhill had always kept a gun with them wherever they went as they never knew when the Indians might attack.

The English had tried to maintain friendly relations with the Indains but the French in Canada never ceased their efforts to win the New World from the English and did all they could to incite the Indians against the English. They even offerend the Indians bounties for English scalps and for live English captives who were then sold into slavery to the French in Canada. The result was that every time roving bands of Indians came near an English town they were looking for scalps and captives. Just such a band was in forest near Haverhill on the night of March 14th. The first warning came when Thomas Duston suddenly saw a number of Indains approaching the field where he was at work. Telling his children to hurry to the nearest garrison house, he grabbed his gun and jumped on his horse to ride home and try to save his wife and baby. But the Indians were so close he saw he could do nothing for her and returned to join his children. By meanss of walking behind the children while pointing his gun at the Indians, he managed to get them to the garrison house, probably that of Onesiphorus Marsh. No one will ever know why the Indians did not shoot them all.

At the Duston house, all was pandemonium and terror. Mrs. Neff picked up the baby and tried to run with her to safety. However, she was 50 years old and could not out-run the Indian warrior who soon caught her and brought her back. Meanwhile, Hannah was ordered out of bed and told to dress herself, while the Indians ransacked her house and grabbed up everything they could carry off. Then they dragged her out , minus one shoe (so it is said), and set fire to the house. A few of the Indians hustled Hannah and Mary with the baby toward the woods. Stories vary as to the cause, but suddenly an Indian snatched little Martha out of Mary Neff's arms and swung it against an apple tree, dashing out its brains. One can imagine the feelings which filled Hannah Duston's heart at this point. The Indians rushed the two women along until they reached the spot in the woods where the squaws and children had been left. Here they were joined by other warriors who had killed twenty-seven and captured thirteen inhabitants of Haverhill.

The group which claimed Mary and Hannah consisted of 12 men, women, and children. One of the Indian men had lived n the family of Rev. Mr. Rowlandson of Lancaster, some years before; he had learned to speak English and had been taught to pray. Later he had been converted by French priests and, strangely enough, would not let the children eat or sleep without saying their prayers. But the Indians tried to prevent Mary and Hannah from praying! With this Indian family was a 14 year old boy, named Samuel Lennardson, who had been captured at Worcester about a year and a half before.

For more on the Neff or Corliss Family Genealogy see...

Other Neff Notes Pages