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Eunice "Goody" Cole, the Witch of Hampton, New Hampshire

Eunice "Goody" Cole had a tough life, including being convicted of witchcraft in 17th century New Hampshire

Eunice Cole flew into a rage at her neighbor Thomas Philbrick when some of his calves wandered on to her land. She screamed and cursed at him, and bellowed that she hoped her grass "might poison them or choke them!" This wasn't unusual behavior for Eunice, who was known by her neighbors as (according to a town historian) "a fruitful source of vexation."

Up to a point, the neighbors were willing to let it go at that. But this was Hampton, New Hampshire in 1656, and when the calves came to a bad end, Eunice was looking at a charge of witchcraft.

Eunice or Goodwife "Goody" Cole ("Goodwife "was a title like "Mrs.") was an outsider in Hampton. She and her husband William had come from London after earning their passage as indentured servants. They were already at least in their sixties. They had lived in Boston and Exeter, New Hampshire before coming to Hampton. They were far down on the social ladder; the tax roll for 1653 showed them dead last out of 72 households. Goody Cole was a very unpleasant character, once heard to snarl at a neighbor, "'Where is your mother Mingay, that whore? She is abed with your father, that whore-master."

So this friendless, bad-tempered shrew found herself on trial for witchcraft in September of 1656. Thomas Philbrick deposed against her about his calves:

"...if they did eat any of her grass she wished it might poison them or choke them and one of them I never see it more and the other calf came home and died about a week after."

That wasn't the only charge. Goody Cole had been to see a sick neighbor, Goodman Wedgewood, and later the same day another neighbor named Joanna Sleeper also visited the sick man. She testified that Goody Cole had turned herself into a cat and attempted to murder Wedgewood by sitting on his chest:

"I saw a cat come down from the plancher over his bed to my best thinking and she came upon his breast: and he cried out Lord have mercy upon me the cat hath killed me, and broken my heart...and it was the same evening the which Goodwife Cole was there about noon before."

For these and various other charges Goody Cole was convicted of witchcraft. But the authorities in New Hampshire were more lenient than their later counterparts in Massachusetts. She was whipped and sent to prison in Boston until 1662, when she was released to care for her ailing husband.

That wasn't the end of Goody Cole's troubles, though. Goody's husband soon died. He left one-third of his land to her and the rest to the Webster family, hoping they would care for her. But the Websters would have nothing to do with her, and the authorities sold Goody's share to cover the cost of her imprisonment, leaving her with nothing.

Broken and destitute, Goody relied on the charity of the neighbors she had antagonized all those years. She begged constantly and complained of neglect. Robert Smith, the constable, was appointed by the selectmen to supply Goody with bread, and she constantly told him it was "not so good." Robert in turn believed she had bewitched his oven.

Goody landed in serious trouble again in 1672, accused once more of witchcraft and kidnapping besides. The Websters, who held Goody's land, pushed hard for a trial, hoping to get rid of her for good. Goody was jailed, and the Websters succeeded in getting her tried in Boston.

Sarah Clifford testified in court that Goody had tried to abduct Ann Smith, a nine-year-old orphan who lived with the Cliffords. Sarah told the court that she had found Ann in the orchard with a bloody mouth. Ann told Sarah that an old woman took her to the orchard and promised her a baby and some plums if the little girl would live with her. When Ann refused, the woman hit her with a rock. Then the woman turned into an eagle and flew away. Little Ann told the same story.

Goody, who was over eighty by now, was convicted, but looked so ancient, frail, and harmless that the authorities felt a bit foolish keeping her locked up and soon sent her home.

Finally in 1680, after years of accusations leveled at Goody, including talking to disembodied voices, changing into various animals, sinking a boat with a curse, and making people sick, the authorities decided to jail her on general principles:

"Eunice Cole of Hampton being by authority committed to prison on suspicion of being a witch and upon examination of testimonies the court vehemently suspects her so to be but not full proof is sentenced and confined to imprisonment and to be kept in durance until this court take further order."

Goody was released again.  She died soon afterward, all alone in her hovel.  A Hampton historian, Edmund Willoughby Toppan, wrote in the 1840s, "The neighbours not seeing her for two or three days plucked up courage enough to break into the house and found her dead. The people collected, and dug a hole near the house into which they dragged the body and covered it up with all speed and then drove a stake through it, with a horseshoe attached, to prevent her from ever again coming up."

But Goody has not stayed in her grave, despite the stake and the horseshoe. She's been seen many times in a shawl and buckled shoes, wandering around Hampton. A policeman once reported seeing an old woman in a shawl walking along a busy highway, and warned her to be careful. "I guess I'll get along all right," she said. "I've been walking along these roads for hundreds of years."

Since time heals a great deal, Goody was cleared of all witchcraft charges in 1938, when Hampton celebrated its tercentenary. And although no one knows where her last resting place is now, a stone reading Cole has been placed in Hampton's Founder's Park. It's an acknowledgment of Goody's difficult life, and the fact that none of us are perfect.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons, it shows the court record of  the witchcraft prosecution of Eunice Cole in 1673

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Comments (8)
Ranked #1 in History

A very well-written account of this twisting story. Thanks for the insight.

Ranked #4 in History

Thanks, Michael!

Beautifully written , an interesting tale.

Ranked #13 in History

The conclusion is perfect, well done composition Kathleen.

Ranked #4 in History

Thanks, guys!

Ranked #41 in History

An interesting character to have lived through history. Her contemporaries were unheard of more likely.

Ranked #4 in History

I think she is remembered much more, just because she was so different. She was very different!

Is there anyway to share this on facebook?  My family would be very interested in this story as we are related to Thomas Philbrick and Joanna Sleeper.  Great article