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"Our Town" By James W. Tucker
Thursday, August 30, 1951
The founding fathers of our town and of New England were hardy souls and venturesome. It is reported that they were pious and God-fearing. They may have been, but a majority of them must have been blighted with the ignorance of superstition. Otherwise men and women would not have been persecuted as wizards and witches. And men and women of the Quaker faith would not have been tied to the tails of horse-drawn carts and their bared backs flogged with whips as they were dragged from town to town. Of course civilization is not yet entirely cleansed of the dark stain cast on it by superstition. But our town, back in 1938, assisted materially in this cleansing process by restoring to full citizenship one Eunice Cole, a Hampton goodwife who, almost three centuries prior to that time had been accused in Hampton of having "familiarity with the devil." She was the witch of Hampton. She became, in 1938, a national symbol of the fact that freedom from superstition as exactly synonymous with freedom from fear. And it is for this reason that "Goody" Cole should be further memorialized by our town.
Facts Versus Tradition
When she was born and where, is not a matter of record. Neither are there recorded facts relative to her marriage nor to her death. Concerning those years in which she was charged with witchcraft and whipped and imprisoned as punishment, there is introvertible evidence having to do with the life of Eunice Cole. The facts are contained in the historic records of the Massachusetts Bay colony, of Boston and of our town. Concerning such an unusual and colorful figure, there always develops a certain amount of tradition. Many people have written about Good Cole and to give additional color to narrative in prose and poetry, fiction has been interpolated with fact. The great Quaker poet, Whittier, in his thrilling poems, "The Wreck of Rivermouth" and "The Changeling," delved into the realm of fancy when dealing with Eunice Cole as an important character in these poems. Our good friend, the late William Cram, a newspaper man of the old school who wrote much about Hampton and the characters responsible for Hampton's enviable place in the nation's history, was given as he himself expressed it, to "embroidering" his stories a little. In this way tradition, as opposed to fact, is born. For the purpose of this article, we intend to stick with facts, although the temptation to embroider a little is always strong.
Whipped And Imprisoned
The record proves that Eunice, wife of one William Cole, was accused of witchcraft in our town in 1656, only eighteen years after its settlement. Arraigned before the County Court of Norfolk, many of her Hampton neighbors testified against her. Goody Marston, Susanna Palmer, Thomas Philbrick, Sobriety Moulton, Goodwife Sleeper and Abraham Drake were numbered among her accusers. Thomas Philbrick's testimony is typical. He said that Good Cole had told him that if his calves should eat any of her grass "she wished it might poysen them or choke them." And he told the court that following Goody's wish he never again saw but one of his calves. That one "calfe came home and died about a weeke after." Goody Cole was found guilty -- sentenced to be whipped and then imprisoned for the rest of her natural life.
Three years later on November 3, 1659, with his wife in prison, William Cole petitioned the General Court for relief from a financial situation which he apparently found intolerable. It seems that prior to her trial he had made over his entire estate to his wife. Now, he was unable to work and had to call upon the town for relief to keep him from perishing. Under the circumstances, our Town was unable legally to collect for the help given to Goodman Cole. But the General Court fixed that. It ordered the town to take over the estate and in the future to look after the Coles' as long as they lived. Our town complied with the order, at least, as we shall see, in part.
Hampton Selectman Arrested
In 1662 Goody Cole vainly petitioned the General Court for release from prison, setting forth her old age and infirmities and state that her husband, "being 88 years of age," badly needed the care which none but his wife could render. At some time during the next two years, William Cole died, for the record shows he was not living when William Salter, keeper of the prison at Boston, brought a demand against the town of Hampton for boarding Eunice Cole in prison. To secure payment of the debt, Salter on July 14, 1664 arrested Thomas Marston, one of the selectmen of our town. A special town meeting was called in the emergency and it was voted that "the towne doth order and agree thatt whatt remaines of old Cole's estate in the hands of the Selectmen, according to ye order of the County Courtt, shall be payed to Salter with as much speed as may bee." The balance due Salter was paid out of fines due the town.
Goody Released From Prison
In the latter part of the spring of 1665 Eunice Cole again petitioned the General Court for release and it was decided that if she would give security and leave the colony she might be freed. Probably unable to give security and unwilling to leave the colony, the aged and infirm woman remained in prison and our town continued to pay her board at the rate of eight pounds a year. Five or six years afterwards, just prior to 1671, and following an incarceration of almost fifteen years, Goody Cole was released from prison and returned to Hampton. She probably lived in the house provided by the town near the foot of Rand's Hill and in 1671 it was ordered by the town that the citizens should take weekly turns in providing her with food and fuel.
Imprisoned For Second Time
In October of the next year -- and for reasons that seem fairly obvious -- the harassed old lady was again arraigned on the charge of witchcraft. It seems that she had appeared to divers folks who were helping to support her in various forms -- as a dog or an eagle or a cat -- all for the purpose of enticing a young girl named Ann Smith to come and live with her, the grand jury found a true bill against her and in April 1673 she was ordered sent to the Boston jail by the Salisbury Court, there to await trial.
The case was finally heard and the jury rendered the following verdict: "In ye case of Unis Cole now prisinor att ye bar not Legally gullty according to indictment butt just grounde of vehement suspissyon of her haveing had famillyarryty with the devill."
Hampton Has Made Amends
How all of this resulted, almost three centuries later, in the formation locally of an organization called, "The Society in Hampton Beach for the Apprehension of Those Falsely Accusing Eunice (Goody) Cole of Having Familiarity with the Devil"
will have to be told in another column
. And at the same time we will relate how the Town of Hampton made handsome amends, during its Tercentenary celebration in 1938, to Eunice Cole, restoring her to full citizenship and telling the world in no uncertain terms that this community is done forever with injustice based on superstition and ignorance.
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