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Goody Cole Accused as NH Witch

Just an elderly lady

She will forever be the only New Hampshire woman ever convicted and jailed for witchcraft. The Hampton, NH story of Goody Cole is one we tell often, but not well. She was an elderly lady hounded out of her property by her fellow townspeople during New England’s shameful era of persecution. And when she died, legend says, the locals put a stake through her heart.



READ: First women executed in NH

SEE ALSO Witchcraft in NH  


Poor Goody Cole! Year after year we exhume her rotting legend just to sell a few more newspapers. It's not a pretty sight. We blood-sucking zombie journalists still stalk the grave of the only New Hampshire citizen convicted of witchcraft. Feeble, bent, starving and elderly - she was an easy victim in the late 1600s, and she remains an easy victim today.

ARtist conception of Eunice Goody Cole from 1938 Hampton, NH booklet / SeacoastNH.comWe pick at her ancient bones symbolically, of course. That's because no one knows where Eunice "Goodwife" Cole is buried, or if she was buried at all. After being tried and condemned as the "witch of Hampton" in 1656, Goody Cole was confined in a bleak, cold Boston jail cell for much of her last twenty years. Her elderly husband William, just ten years older than William Shakespeare, died while she was in jail. Finally she returned to the colony of New Hampshire, then governed by the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay.

She died alone in a small hut off Rand's Hill in the ancient center of Hampton. In her final days, the town government ordered that the "bewitched" woman be supported by the citizens who hated and feared her. Each week a different family was required to bring her food and fuel, or to pay the value of four shillings. One day, according to Joseph Dow's "History of Hampton," the smoke stopped coming from her chimney. The food stayed unclaimed at the door. In her 80s or 90s, disgraced and despised, Eunice Cole was dead, but her punishment was far from over.

One theory has it that the local citizens tossed her body in a nearby ditch. Another says they threw her off a cliff into the sea. A third says she was buried on the land that had once been her own 40-acre farm, the same property the town of Hampton took from Goody to pay the cost of confining her in that lonely Boston cell.

In all versions of the legend the fair citizens of colonial Hampton discovered the body of the "witch" and drove a wooden stake into her heart. Then, to protect themselves from her ghostly retribution, the impalers hung a horseshoe on the stake. It's all speculation, of course, ideas pieced together from European folklore and copycat tales of witchery in nearby Salem, Massachusetts.

So what are we to make of such wonderfully lurid stuff? It's all speculation, but the more we tell it -- the more we believe something wicked was afoot. The story of Goody Cole hunkers in the breakdown lane of Seacoast history like a gruesome traffic accident. We cannot look away.

No history of the region fails to mention Goodwife Cole, but as always it was John Greenleaf Whittier who took her story to the bestseller charts in 1864 with his poems "The Changeling" and "Wreck of the Rivermouth." Here Goody is linked to the demonic transformation of a baby and to an actual shipwreck of eight Hampton residents in 1657. Victorian folklorists like Samuel Adams Drake picked up on the story. Eva Speare included the Hampton witch in her popular 20th century books of New Hampshire lore, and the hex-ploitation continues. A few years back Channel 11 Public Television re-enacted the legend, right down to the colorful stake-pounding scene and replete with spooky music and sound effects. Indeed, it has become impossible to talk about Goody Cole in any other context.

There have been attempts to stop the Goody-bashing. In 1938 a Hampton group formed for the sole purpose of redressing the wrongs done to her. The group was called "The Society in Hampton for the Apprehension of Those Falsely Accusing Eunice 'Goody' Cole of Having Had Familiarity With the Devil." The long name was a publicity stunt. It worked.


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