Hampton, New Hampshire’s Witch
by Rod Watterson, University of New Hampshire, History 854, Prof. Golinski, May 9, 2002
“Fie on the witch!” cried a merry girl
As they rounded the point where goody Cole
Sat by her door with her wheel atwirl,
A bent and blear-eyed poor old soul.
”Oho!” she muttered, “ye’re brave today!
But I hear the little waves laugh and say.
“The broth will be cold that waits at home;
For its one to go, but another to come!”
The boat that went out at morning never
Sailed back again into Hampton River.
From “The Wreck of Rivermouth”
The Rivermouth and its crew of eight never returned from that fatal trip to the Isle of Shoals in 1657 after Goody Cole’s curse. The curse of the Rivermouth was just one of the many curses of which Goody Cole was accused. Goody was hated and despised in the town of Hampton, New Hampshire. When she died (c.a.1680) a revengeful mob drove a stake through her grave and hung a horseshoe from the stake to prevent her from ever returning.
Goody was first arraigned before the County Court of Norfolk, charged with witchcraft, in 1656 – thirty-six years before the Salem witch trials in 1692. The trial in 1656 and two later trials are well documented in local court records that show Goody was frequently accused of witch-like activities. She was accused of curses that caused sickness or death, keeping familiars, taking various animal forms, and having witch marks on her body. Her punishments included incarcerations, whippings, and shunning late in her life.
At first glance, it appears that Goody Cole possessed many of the attributes assigned to witches by the Keith Thomas and other scholars. This is not unexpected in that Keith Thomas’ research is centered on seventeenth century Old England and Goody Cole is reported to have emigrated from Old England, along with her husband William, about 1637 as indentured servants to a London merchant. One might suspect that many of the English witchcraft traditions crossed the Atlantic Ocean with Goody Cole and her Hampton neighbors. In fact, George Lyman Kittredge states unequivocally, “The witch beliefs in New England were brought over from the mother country by the first settlers.”
This paper will investigate Goody Cole’s life with a view towards measuring it against the scholarship of witchcraft as presented by Kittredge, Thomas and others. In the process, comparisons will be made between English seventeenth century witchcraft and its counterpart in the colonies.
New England versus England Witchcraft
Kittredge notes that the seventeenth learned who believed in witchcraft included Francis Bacon, the inspiration for The Royal Society of London, who “has left his belief in sorcery recorded in a dozen places” and Robert Boyle, the inventor of the air pump, who believed that “some witch stories are true.” It is interesting that Kittredge cites Thomas Hobbes as an exception to the rule because Hobbes “was altogether incredulous on the subject of witchcraft.” Consistent with his philosophical views that centered on society’s needs for order and minimal social upheaval, Hobbes believed that “they [witches] are justly punished, for the false belief that they have that they can do such mischief.” Hobbes was definitely in the minority as, according to Kittredge, “The position of seventeenth-century believers in witchcraft was logically and theologically stronger than that of the few persons who rejected the current belief.”
Kittredge says, “The total number of persons executed for witchcraft in New England . . . is inconsiderable, especially in few of what was going on in Europe.” Kittredge is correct with regard to total numbers; however, an analysis of annual rates of executions and indictments for witchcraft shows that New England was a hotbed of activity in comparison to England. The following table provides impressive comparisons of New England and England witchcraft activity in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
|Annual Rates per 100,000|
Although the total number of indictments and executions was much lower in New England, the very small total population caused the rates of indictments to be twenty-five times higher and the rates of execution to be eight times higher in New England as compared to England!
A very high percentage of those accused of witchcraft in England as well as New England were women. Keith Thomas cites sources that estimate that the ratios of women witches to men witches ranged from twenty to one [95%] to one hundred to one [99%] in England. Robin Briggs estimates that 90% of the witches in England were women. John Putnam Demos’ analysis of New England witches shows that 80% were women and Carol F. Karlsen’s analysis shown below puts the figure at 79%. Thus, in both New England and England the accused witches were predominantly women, whereas, the ratio of women witches to men witches was typically much lower in Continental Europe.
Carol F. Karlsen’s tabulation of New England witches for the period 1620 to 1725 shows that a higher percentage of women were tried than men, conviction rates for men and women were the same at 50%, and execution rates were heavily skewed towards the men where conviction literally meant execution.
|Accused||280 (79%)||75 (21%)||355|
|Tried||89 (32%)||14 (19%)||103|
|Convicted||45 (50%)||7 (50%)||52|
|Executed||28 (62%)||7 (100%)||35|
Outbreaks, like Salem, during which the community became paranoid and set out with fervor to uncover and destroy witches, inflated the overall percentages. These inflated percentages misrepresent the normal situation in a typical New England town like Hampton. For example, Karlsen explains that the high execution rate for men was heavily influenced by the fact that five of the seven men executed for witchcraft were during the paranoia of the Salem witch trials (1692-93). Likewise, fourteen women were executed during the outbreak at Salem (1692-93) and three women were executed during the Hartford (1662-63) outbreak. Thus, women routinely convicted of witchcraft in New England communities, like Goody Cole, were executed at a much lower rate of 24%. Goody Cole was tried, convicted, whipped, and incarcerated several times for witchcraft; however she was never executed. It appears that her treatment was consistent with the treatment of most women accused of witchcraft in New England communities that were not caught up in outbreak paranoia.
Goody Fit the Mold of a Witch
Goody Cole and her husband moved from Exeter, New Hampshire to Hampton, New Hampshire in 1644 where they immediately ran afoul of their new neighbors. During the ten years preceding her trial for witchcraft in 1656, the Coles were in and out of court on numerous occasions. The charges included slander, illegal withholding of several pigs, and various other misdemeanors. By 1653, the Coles had dropped to the very bottom of the social ladder. The Hampton tax list for that year shows them to rank dead last out of seventy-two households. Goody was quick to issue threats and curses against her antagonists, did not deny her witchery, and frequently challenged established authority as evidenced by her demand of the town’s selectmen for wood and other needs. Late in life she was destitute, widowed, childless and totally dependent on the community for her support.
Based on an exhaustive study of New England witches, John Putnam Demos concluded that the typical witch was female, middle aged, of English background, and married with few or no children. In addition, she was frequently involved in trouble and conflict with other family members, had been previously accused of committing crimes, practiced “doctoring” on an informal basis, was of relatively low social standing, and was abrasive in style, contentious in character and stubbornly resilient in the face of adversity. Goody Cole was very representative of the typical New England witch as described by John Putnam Demos.
The above profile of Goody Cole also appears to be an advertisement for a group that Robin Briggs described as one of the most vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft in Old England. Briggs says:
Another group of women who were particularly at risk were the dependent poor, those in receipt of regular alms... Remarriage was...less readily available for women. There were few who would defend them, and would-be persecutors felt free to express their suspicions.
Briggs says that community suspicions were often directed towards “tiresome neighbors or persistent beggars” and Goody Cole was both. One author describes her as “a terror to the town owing to her supposed league with the devil.” Despite the town people’s fear and strong negative feelings towards Goody, the town of Hampton had become liable for her support as the result of a 1659 court order that had taken possession of the Cole’s lands. While Goody was in prison, her husband, unable to support himself, petitioned the town for assistance. Hampton responded with a court order that assumed the Cole’s estate in return for supplying the Cole’s “necessities during their lives.”
Maleficiums, Witch’s Mark, Familiars, and Trials
At the 1656 trial, the accusations against Goody Cole included causing the strange death of cow and a sheep after the town selectmen had refused her request for “wood and other things.” Here again, Briggs’ description of the typical witch fits Goody’s situation to a tee:
Their dependence on begging exposed them to the classic refusal-guilt syndrome, in which those who refused charity (thus breaking with the normal expectations of neighborliness) felt at once angry and guilty, then projected their own feelings into the other person. If the rejection was followed by misfortune, the supposed ill will became witchcraft.
Goody was also accused of numerous maleficiums that included sending a gray cat to sit upon, and cause the death of, an ill person whose house Goody had visited earlier that day, the death of a calf after her curse turned grass to poison, causing strange noises outside a house when two women were gossiping about her, and the death of three cows after the owner had a quarrel with Goody.
The most damaging accusation against Goody was that of the constable of Salisbury who claimed that when Goody was being stripped to be whipped for an earlier crime, he saw under one of her breasts “a blue thing like unto a teat hanging downward about three quarters of an inch long” and that, when some women were sent to examine it, “she pulled or scratched it off in a violent manner, . . . and she said it was a sore.” Goody Cole’s observed “blue teat” fits well with Keith Thomas’ discussion about witch’s marks:
A common feature of English witch-trials . . . was the notion that the witch bore on her body the mark of her profession in the form of a spot or excrescence which could be discovered by searching her for an unnatural mark.
Thomas goes on to say, “The witch’s mark was sometimes thought of as a teat from which the familiar could suck the witch’s blood as a form of nourishment.” During a later trial, the subject of Goody’s witch’s mark was revisited and expanded to include the suggestion that Goody fed small familiars under her clothes as evidenced by the suckling noises that accusers had heard. At her 1656 trial, Goody Cole was found to be guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to be whipped and then imprisoned for her natural life at the prison in Boston. However, she was released after a few years.
Goody was last arraigned on charges of witchcraft in 1672. This time the most serious of the accusations against her was that she enticed a nine-year old girl, Ann Smith, with plums and a baby if the girl would live with her. The deposition of Ann Smith and thirty-year old Sarah Clifford indicated that, after Ann refused Goody’s enticement, Goody dragged the girl to an orchard and struck her on the head with a stone. After which, Goody supposedly “turned into a little dog and run upon the tree then she flew away like an eagle.” Ann Smith also testified that Goody later appeared to her as a gray cat with further enticements.
Understanding Ann Smith’s background helps one appreciate Goody Cole’s possible interest in the girl. Demos says Ann was a confused foster-child living in an uncertain family environment:
She had experienced the loss by death, first of her natural mother, and later her adoptive father; and, in each case, the surviving parent had acceded in her transfer to a new setting. Her current family was composed of thirteen persons, including eleven children with four different surnames.
Demos suggests that Ann’s concern about her complex and uncomfortable family situation might have left her with fears about what might happen to her next. Ann’s impressionable frame of mind coupled with Goody’s childlessness and loneliness may have combined to bring the orphaned girl and the elderly widow into fateful contact that resulted in the enticement charge against Goody.
Another accuser testified of having seen an animal familiar, a small creature no bigger than a mouse, appear on Goody’s lap during a church service suggesting that it probably came from within Goody’s body. Some testified that they had found a place on her leg where “she had been sucked by imps or the like” and others “heard the whining of puppies or such under her coats as though she had a desire to suck.” Just as described by Keith Thomas, Goody’s Hampton neighbors thought that her witch’s mark was a “teat from which the familiar could suck the witch’s blood as a form of nourishment.”
She was also accused of causing various sicknesses and a child’s death, making strange apparition-like appearances, causing a cat to leap on a person’s face in the middle of the night and causing disfigurement, and causing lambs and swine to die. Some of these accusations were as much as seventeen years old. In addition, the old accusations that she kept and nursed animal familiars and had ripped off a suckling teat prior to one of her whippings were revisited.
There did not appear to be any statute of limitations for evidence and previous accusations were reintroduced as evidence at each succeeding trial. Goody’s situation was consistent with Kittredge’s description of the evidence and neighborhood involvement that was generally responsible for the prosecution of a witch. He says, “It [prosecution] presupposes likewise the existence of a body of testimony, consisting of the talk of the neighborhood, usually extending back over a considerable stretch of years . . .” Briggs also emphasizes “the process whereby reputations grew over time, to the point where individual suspicions crystallized into an image the witch could not escape.” Goody had been the talk of the town for thirty years, each succeeding trial rehashed the most popular accusations against her during those thirty years, and she could not escape the community’s collective judgment that she was a witch.
Goody was indicted in 1673 for “not having the fear of God before her eyes” and entering “into covenant with the devil.” Goody was found “not guilty according to indictment,” but she was found guilty of “familiarity with the devil” which could have gotten her another prison term. However, that sentence was commuted and Goody returned to Hampton as a sick, aged, widow to spend the last few years of her life.
Carol F. Karlsen says that New Englanders who made witchcraft accusations were quite representative of the larger population. Most of them came from the lower and middle ranks of society; however, merchants, magistrates, and others from the upper ranks were also found among the accusers. According to Demos, “the trial of Goody Cole  presents a picture of unified effort right across the social spectrum” as seven witnesses came from the upper class, four from the middle class, and six from the lower class.
Karlsen presents the following breakdown by age and sex of New Englanders who testified as accusers of witchcraft during the period 1620 to 1725. The two right hand columns are an analysis of the age and sex of Goody’s accusers based on testimony given at her trials.
As can be seen, Goody’s accusers spanned all age brackets with a more even distribution of female and male accusers (7 male, 10 female) than Karlsen found across New England. In reading through the testimonies, it appears that the females were inclined to testify as partners with other women or their husbands while more men testified alone. This partnering may have driven the female numbers higher than otherwise might be expected.
According to Karlsen, the New England accusers during the period 1620-1725 break down as to sex and marital status as follows. Again, the right hand column reflects an analysis of trial testimony at Goody’s trials.
|Marital status||Male||Female||Total||Goody's Accusers|
|Married||124||213||337||At least 10|
Similar to what Karlsen had observed for all of New England, most of Goody’s accusers were married. Eight of the accusers are identified in the trial testimony as Goodwife or the wife of so-and-so. Two husbands are identified in the trial testimony. Others may have been married, but it is not obvious form the testimony. Here again, it appears that a higher percentage of Goody’s accusers were married women than was normally the case throughout New England at the time.
Kittredge says that, almost always, the immediate responsibility for the prosecution of a witch rested with the community or neighborhood. He adds that it is generally the belief of the neighborhood that “various strange occurrences, - such as storms, bad crops, …loss of pigs or cattle, …are due to the malice of these particular suspects.” Goody’s neighbors fit this mold as they accused Goody of the death of farm animals and various sicknesses. In general, the allegations made against Goody fit well with Briggs’ observation that “Women were more likely to make allegations about human sickness and deaths” while men “placed greater emphasis on the loss of animals.”
In summary, Goody’s accusers came from a wide cross section of the Hampton community. Her accusers included low, middle, and upper class, essentially all ages, slightly more women than men, and generally the accusers were married. Confirming Karlsen’s findings, Goody’s accusers were very representative of the small community in which she lived.
Goody’s Final Years
With Goody in prison and her husband destitute and unable to earn a living, the town of Hampton confiscated the Goody estate in 1659 and made them both wards of the town. Goody remained in prison until 1665 and the town of Hampton paid for her board at the Boston prison. It was apparently a hardship for the town to pay Goody’s board, because the town fell in arrears and on May 14, 1664 the keeper of the Boston prison arrested Thomas Marston, one of the Hampton selectmen, to secure payment for the debt owed by the town.
Sometime prior to 1671 Goody was released from the Boston prison and she returned to Hampton where the elderly widow (her husband had died in 1664) was dependent on the town for her support. Lacking a coordinated social welfare system, the responsibility to provide Goody food and fuel was passed weekly from family to family throughout the community. Goody Cole lived her last years in a small hut on the outskirts of town and died alone. The account of her death and burial in Samuel Drake’s Annals of Witchcraft in New England attests to her notorious reputation as a witch:
Some days having elapsed before her death was known, and then, according to the current tradition, it required no little bravery on the part of the inhabitants, to muster courage enough to break into her cabin; and this was at length effected, and the remains dragged out, a hole dug near by, and the body tumbled in, and thus she was there buried; and then a stake was driven through the body agreeably to the superstition of the times.
However, Goody’s death and burial did not mark the end of Hampton’s involvement with Goody Cole.
Goody is Rehabilitated (1938)
Two hundred and fifty years after her death Goody finally gained acceptance from the people of Hampton. During the summer of 1937, on the eve of the three hundredth anniversary of Hampton (1638), “The Society in Hampton for the Apprehension of Those Falsely Accusing Eunice “Goody” Cole of Having Had Familiarity with the Devil” was formed to investigate ways to make amends to Eunice Cole and “clear the stain from memory of the only woman who was ever convicted of witchcraft in the confines of what is now New Hampshire.” The movement met with widespread town approval and on 8 March 1938, at the 300th Hampton Annual Town Meeting, the citizens adopted unanimously a resolution restoring Eunice “Goody” Cole to her rightful place as a citizen of Hampton. The resolution read:
Resolved that we, the citizens ... of Hampton, in the town meeting assembled, do hereby declare that we believe that Eunice (Goody) Cole was unjustly accused of witchcraft and familiarity with the Devil in the 17th century, and we do hereby restore to the said Eunice (Goody) Cole her rightful place as a citizen of the town of Hampton.
With her 1938 rehabilitation, Goody was officially no longer a witch. However she remains a local celebrity with a memorial stone on the village green. In addition, there is a bronze urn in the Town Hall that purportedly contains her earthly remains.
Goody Cole was quite typical of the seventeenth century New Englander accused of witchcraft. She was female, old, ugly, poor, outspoken, aggressive, and widowed in her later years. Her accusers were likewise very representative of New England accusers of the same era. They were fairly evenly split between men and women, included all ages, came from all levels of society and were mostly married. The accusers were neighbors who knew Goody well over a period of thirty or forty years and, with each succeeding trial, the highlights of past accusations were revisited as evidence towards the latest accusation. Goody was whipped and imprisoned on several occasions, but not executed. Despite her rehabilitation in 1938, her memory is occasionally rekindled, with some trepidation, when an unusual or unexplainable event occurs in Hampton.
Brooke, John Hendley. Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Demos, John Putnam. Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Dow, Joseph. History of the Town of Hampton: From its First Settlement in 1636 to the Autumn of 1892.Portsmouth: Peter Randall Press, 1988.
Drake, Samuel G. Annals of Witchcraft in New England. New York: Arno Press, 1977.
Hall, David D., ed., Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England. With an Introduction by David D. Hall. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991.
Karlsen, Carol S. The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1987.
Kittredge, George Lyman. Witchcraft in Old and New England. New York: Russell and Russell, 1929.
Thomas, Keith. Religion & the Decline of Magic. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.
Tucker, James W. “The Witch of Hampton.” Hampton Tercentenary (1638-1938). Hampton: no publisher given, 1938.
 John Putnam Demos, Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1982, 338. See also note 130 for Chapter 10 on page 501 which indicates that slightly different versions of this story may be found in Toppan, Manuscript History of Hampton, III, 45 and Hurd, History of Rockingham and Stratford Counties, New Hampshire, 322.
 Keith Thomas, Religion & the Decline of Magic (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971), 454, estimates that “The total number of deaths formally attributed to witchcraft during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as a whole [in England] must have run into the thousands.” John Putnam Demos used a similar estimate of one thousand English deaths in this table.
 Karlsen, 184. Karlsen separates accusers into possessed and non-possessed where the latter are people who experienced convulsions or other similar manifestations and are considered distinct from other accusers. This discussion and the tables that follow represent the non-possessed who are more typical of Goody Cole’s accusers.
 These numbers are the result of a review of trial testimonies from David D. Hall, ed., Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth-Century New England (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1991). Of the six age categories, the first two (Under 20, 20-29) and the last two (50-59, Over 60) are exact numbers based on positive age identification in the testimonies. The third age group (30-39) includes two positive female age identifications; the other four are estimates based on other factors in the testimony. The fourth age group (40-49) includes no positive age identifications; all four are estimates based on other trial factors.