Nathaniel was a natural farmer. Rather than resist the childhood chores assigned around the farm, he volunteered to tend the animals and gather the crops. He also excelled at school. He came to the attention of Benjamin Wadsworth, the president of Harvard, in 1735 through a "calculating science" competition held for students in the Boston area. In spite of encouragement from Benjamin Wadsworth to pursue higher education he chose to stay on the farm.
John Hazeltine, a friend of the Nathaniel’s father from the Snowshoe Men, had a son Philip about the same age as Nathaniel the elder. Philip married a girl named Judith Webster and they settled near the Dustin farm where Nathaniel the younger grew up. Philip and Judith had a son Jerimiah (known as James) born in 1717 and daughter in 1722 named Tryphena after Judith’s mother Tryphena Locke. At the age of 38, Judith had a difficult delivery and died shortly after the birth of Tryphena.
James Hazeltine and the Dustin boys became best friends frequently visiting each others homes. Naturally Nathaniel became aware of James’ younger sister Tryphena but except for teasing her about her unusual name paid her little attention.
On Nathaniel’s eighteenth birthday Feb 25th 1737 his father sat him down for a serious talk.
“Nat you are a man now and you have been all your life on this farm. I am so pleased that you have taken an interest and would like nothing better than to see you make this place your life’s work. But I am concerned that you might be destined for greater things. You should see more of the world before you settle down. Our friend William Pepperell would be willing to let you spend some time with him over in Kittery exploring some of his many interests. Might you be interested?”
“If you think it would be best I wouldn’t mind, but I expect to come back here in any event. Can you get by all right if I am away for some months?”
“Oh, I expect so” Nathaniel Sr. said with a smile.
So it happened that Nathaniel and his father rode their horses to Newburyport where Nathaniel caught a boat to Portsmouth to be met by William Pepperell on March 10 1737.
William followed in the footsteps of his father James as a business man with many interests. James started out with a fishing business on the Isles of Shoals off the mouth of the Piscataqua river. The fishing was a success so he expanded into shipbuilding. William added trading in land to the enterprise and was well on his way to prominence in the community.
After a pleasant month in the Pepperell household, accompanying William on his various business activities, Nathaniel accepted the offer from William to join one of the company’s schooners on the spring fare to the Sable Banks. New England cod fishing schooners normally made 3 trips, called fares, per year – spring, summer and fall. The spring fare typically ran from mid April to mid June and fished the closer fishing grounds about four days sail from Portsmouth.
“That is about a far from farming as I can imagine”, said Nathaniel. “It is certain to broaden my horizons as much as may be done.”
So on April 11, 1737 Nathaniel sailed as supernumerary aboard the “Frances Eaton” with Captain Everett Walton in command and a crew of eight. A supernumerary had no assigned duties but to lend a hand where he could.
On the outbound sail the two lowest ranking men cut bait and rigged the lines. They also had the task of storing the split and salted the fish in the fish hold. The captain had to handle navigation, decide where to fish and keep the records of the voyage. The remaining crew worked on maintaining the vessel and keeping her shipshape while underway. On the Francis Eaton all hands worked the hand lines once on the fishing grounds.
The outbound four-day sail took six days in mostly icy rain and heaving seas. Nathaniel got over his sea sickness about day 3 and did his best to assist in navigation. On the last day before arriving on the Sable Bank he earned credit with the crew by helping cut bait.
On the morning of April 18th Captain Walton ordered soundings and found 54 fathoms. He took a sun sight to get the latitude (43 degrees, 19 minutes N). Satisfied with that information he ordered the ships anchor let go. Next over the side went sixteen lines with seven pound weights fixed at the end and two baited hooks hung from the lanyards attached to the lines above the weights. Each man handled two of the lines with the bait hanging about 300 feet below the surface.
Shortly one of the men gave a whoop, cleated off one of his lines and began winding the other on the frame to which it was attached. Soon everyone was hauling in codfish weighing from 5 to 100 pounds each except Nathaniel. His hooks came up without bait or with fish getting off part way to the surface. He found that there was some skill involved in hooking the fish. In the first hours of exhausting activity by the crew he landed no fish. The diary entry of another inexperienced fisherman expressed his feelings.
At one time we came among a large quantity of fish, and they were hauling of
them in, almost every one but myself, without any intermission, and I could not
get one. If I felt a bite, it was only to rob my hooks of their bait, and sometimes I
would hook one and get it near the top of the water and then it would break off.
After experiencing many of these trials, which I bore for some time with Christian
patience, I at last gave way and for the first time in all my life I uttered a profane
After some coaching from the crew Nathaniel got the knack of hooking the fish securely. At dusk the barrels set on deck to receive the fish were full. The next hours were spent gutting the fish, removing the spines, tallying the catch of each person, salting the split fish and storing them in the fish hold. So it went for about sixteen hours a day until the great shoal of fish moved on.
There was a blessed break of a day or so in the back breaking work while Captain Walton sailed to a new location to find the fish. This work continued in fair weather or foul until either the fish hold was full or the men were too exhausted to go on. On this trip Nathaniel considered it a toss up which would come first but on the first day of June the hold was topped off and they headed for home.
Nathaniel arrived at the Pepperell home on June 5th with calloused hands and hardened muscles and a deep conviction that there must be a better way to earn a living than fishing. In fact he returned to the farm on the first day of July to stay.
At the farm he found that James Hazeltine had been working for Nat Sr. in Nathaniel’s absence. Also helping out in the house he found an attractive young woman that looked disturbingly familiar. It seemed that Tryphena Hazeltine had grown up while Nat’s attention was elsewhere.
In 1738 Tryphena began teaching in the Haverhill Grammar School. By then Nathaniel was seriously in love with the girl he had known since she was born. In 1742 he and Tryphena were married and settled on the Dustin farm where Nathaniel had lived all his life.
In March of 1744 the simmering hostility between France and Britain resulted yet again in a declaration of war. The British colonies in North America might have had no compelling reason to get involved but on May 23, 1744 the troops from the French fortress at Luoisbourg in French Acadia (now Cape Breton Island) took the opportunity to attack the British fishing port of Canso in British Acadia (now mainland Nova Scotia). Even that might have been ignored but Canso was a replenishing station for the New England fishing fleet on the way to and from the Grand Banks.
William Pepperell was concerned that the British would interfere with the fishing fleet. They certainly had enough navy ships in the area to drive the fishing fleet away or at least to press fishermen into service on their vessels. William began to lobby the governor of Massachusetts to mount an expedition to capture Fort Louisbourg. He gathered volunteers, financed and trained the land forces in that campaign. Among the volunteers was Nathaniel Dustin.
Nathaniel spent the winter of 1744-1745 drilling with the roughly 4000 men raised from New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts including the region of Maine. In April 1745 Governor Shirley of Massachusetts sent the expedition that Pepperell organized against Fort Louisbourg with Pepperell in command.
Nathaniel found himself in command of a company of soldiers with orders to bring cannon from the place where they were landed from the British ships to the hills flanking the landward sides of the fort. This was a distance of about 5 miles as the crow flies but if the crow had to walk, dragging siege cannons on wooden sleds through swamps and over a series of hills it would seem a great deal farther.
There were many (about 200) cannons in the fort but fortunately they were all pointing toward the sea. By flanking the fort to the west the British encountered only limited resistance and succeeded in placing the cannon on the hills surrounding the fort on the west. Faced with overwhelming force, the fort surrendered about 6 weeks after the landing of the British troops.
Nathaniel was fortunate to return with the bulk of Pepperell’s men to Massachusetts. The small force left behind to occupy the conquered fort suffered seriously from malnutrition and disease during the winter of 1745-1746.
In retribution for the loss of Fort Louisbourg the native allies of the French together with some French forces attacked northern New England and New York, destroying Saratoga and forcing the abandonment of all settlement north of Albany. Governor Shirley of Massachusetts ordered a line of fortified buildings all across the province from east to west, north of the settled areas. All this activity became known in North America as King George’s War, the third of the four French and Indian wars.
In 1748 the British gave the fort back to the French in exchange for something or other, possibly in India. They recaptured it in 1758 as part of the fourth French and Indian war.
Tryphena taught school at the Haverhill Gramma School. Nathaniel abandoned his military career with the disbandment of Pepperell’s force returned to the farm and had many successful crops including seven children.
Timothy Dustin 4/8/1743, Haverhill, MA
Moses Dustin 11/21/1744, Haverhill, MA
Peter Dustin 6/7/1746, Haverhill, MA
Judith Dustin 2/20/1749, Haverhill, MA
Mary Dustin 7/14/1751, Haverhill, MA
Hannah Dustin 7/1/1754, Haverhill, MA
Nathaniel Dustin 9/12/1756, Haverhill, MA
In late 1756 Tryphena's health began to fail. She became an invalid and died in January of 1759 when her youngest child was less than three years old. On 11/22/1759 Nathaniel married Sarah Gage, a spinster of Bradford, MA. On 9/22/1762 Sarah gave birth to Ebenezer Dustin.
1764 was a busy year for the family. On January 6 Nathaniel wasn’t feeling too well so he executed his will, making his wife Sarah and his brother-in-law Jeremiah Hazeltine executors. On February 17 Nathaniel died.
On March 1 the will was read. It bequeathed;
“to my son Timothy 200 Spanish milled dollars”
“to my son Moses, 8 acres of land on the Westerly end on my homestead…, when he shall arrive at the age of 21.”
“to my son Peter,8 acres of land next to my son Moses at age of 21.”
“to my son Nathaniel, 8 acres of land next to my son Peter at age of 21.”
“to my son Ebenezer, 8 acres at the age of 21 next to my son Nathaniel.”
“To my wife Sarah the use and improvement of the remaining part of the home place, and one half of the buildings as long as she remains my widow.”
On March 15 Sarah married Daniel Jacques, a widower of about 2 years, of Bradford, Massachusetts with a 4 year old son. On March 22 Nathaniel’s will was probated. Since Sarah was no longer his widow, she did not inherit anything but as co-executor of the will it was her duty to oversee the homestead until Ebenezer could take title to his inheritance in September of 1783, a period of some 19 years.
Sarah and Daniel merged their families at the Dustin homestead and together added 5 children by the end of 1773. Daniel died in 1775 and Sarah lived on at the Dustin property surrounded by her stepchildren and children. No one ever asked her to leave. Only Timothy, who had received money instead of land in his father’s will had moved away to seek his fortune elsewhere.