The only woman to be convicted of witchcraft in New Hampshire was Goodwife (Goody) Eunice Cole of Hampton. This unfortunate creature was found guilty, lashed with a whip, and thrown in jail. She was sixty-four at the time.
New Englanders in the seventeenth century feared the devil. They believed that all natural disasters were caused by a person who was possessed by "Old Nick." If their crops failed, if a cow went dry, or if an epidemic struck, they blamed someone in the community, usually an eccentric old person. In Salem, Massachusetts nineteen people were hanged for witchcraft, some on testimony given by excitable children.
Goody Cole was lucky to escape with her life. Townspeople were convinced of her guilt. Neighborhood children claimed they had seen her take the form of a dog, a cat, and an eagle. They said they had seen the devil, in the form of a black dwarf with a red cap, sitting at her table.
A man whose cattle had eaten grass on Goody's property charged that she had put a curse on them so that one of his calves died, and another disappeared. She was blamed, too, for the loss of a fishing boat with all aboard. Thc incident is described in Whittier'spoem, "Wreck at Rivermoth." The county judge, after hearing all this evidence, sentenced Goody Cole to life imprisonment. The Coles owned forty acres of valuable land near the salt marshes. When Goody's eighty-eight year-old husband, William, complained that he could not manage his affairs without his wife, the court sold his land and paid his debts from the receipts. Goody Cole petitioned several times for her release from jail to go home and care for her husband. Finally, after fifteen years, she was allowed to return to Hampton where she learned her husband had died. Goody's troubles were not over. The court billed the town for the cost of her board while she was in prison. When the town defaulted after two years of payment, Goody's former jailor arrested one of the selectmen. The town fathers demanded that each family in Hampton provide for Goody's care for a week. These actions surely turned people against Goody. No doubt the old complaints and accusations arose again.
Poor Goody Dies:
ln 1673, Goody Cole was arrested for a second time. The court found her guilty of having "familiarity with the devil." This wretched, impoverished old woman must have seemed helpless to exert an evil influence, and she was sent home after a few months. When she died at the age of eighty-eight it is said that a mob carried her body to a field and drove a stake through her heart, the only sure way, they believed, to exorcise the devil. Exactly where she was buried is unknown.
In 1908, a Hampton man reported that since building his house on the site of the Coles' hut he had had nothing but bad luck. He was sure the spirit of Goody Cole still cursed the place. Moreover, he said, the knowledge that she might be buried on his property made him very nervous. Through the years, Hampton residents have told stories of seeing a mysterious figure wearing a shawl and buckled shoes, appearing here and there without warning. Once a policeman, on encountering a shawl-covered old woman, warned her to be careful in walking on the heavily-traveled roads of Hampton. "I guess I'll get along all right," she replied. "I've been walking along these roads for hundreds of years." It was not until later that he realized that she was no ordinary wanderer.
When Hampton celebrated its tercentenary in 1938, Goody Cole's name was officially cleared of all charges of witchcraft. Replicas of her trial documents were burned as a form of apology. These ashes were mixed with soil from the old Cole farm, then stored in an urn in the Tuck Museum as a reminder of this tragic story. It was high time to lay to permanent rest that poor tortured soul of Goody Cole.