Famous Witch From Hampton
New Hampshire Ramblings With Willard de Lue
Boston Daily Globe -- Wednesday, August 20, 1952
"Now mount and ride, my goodman,
As thou lovest thy own soul!
Woe's me, if my wicked fancies
Be the death of Goody Cole!"
-- From Whittier's "The Changeling."
HAMPTON -- "I'll tell you who knows about Goody Cole," said a man I talked with near the park called Meeting House Green. "You go see Roy Shaw," said he.
I had just come from the nearby Gen Moulton house, where the Devil was a frequent visitor and ghosts used to wander in the dead of night . . . and now I was on the trail of Hampton's famous witch. Park st. [Avenue] runs off U.S. 1 almost across from the Moulton house -- so I had turned into it, and in no time, found myself at the Green, on which the first Hampton settlers built their tiny log meetinghouse.
Somewhere in that area (tradition says) witch-woman Goody Cole was buried in a ditch, with a stake through her heart and a horseshoe on top of it to ward off the Devil. I rather suspect that the ditch, stake and horseshoe are late additions to an old story, but they do dress it up a bit.
I wasn't especially interested in the place where the poor old woman had been ignominiously buried after having dragged out her last sad years on the charity of the town -- shifted around from house to house, to be met sometimes with sympathy, sometimes with ill-will and even fear. What I was looking for was the place in which she had reputedly lived in earlier and perhaps happier years -- a place described as being on Hampton River at the end of the Island Path."
The man I talked with near the Green didn't know where that was, but ex-Selectman Elroy Shaw did.
"It's down at the beach," said he, and he gave me directions for finding it.
While we were talking I noticed that the lady of the house was searching around in Roy's desk, from which she produced a little vial filled with earth or sand. She handed it to me with an amused smile.
There were two types of earth in the vial (one at the bottom, the other at the top), and a printed label informed me that one was from Goody Cole's grave and the other from her well. The little bottle was a souvenir of 1938 when Hampton observed its tercentenary, restored Goody Cole to citizenship . . . and most conveniently rediscovered her old well down on the Island Path.
"And where is the grave?" I asked.
"They say," said Mr. Shaw, "that it's under a flat stone on the Meeting House Green."
Later I found at least four flat stones on the Green, three that looked like old millstones, and a fourth (a slab of fieldstone) close to the platform of a stone fireplace. This gives a visitor a chance to find the witch's grave by the eeny-meeny-miney-mo method, which perhaps is as good as any other.
Now the affair of Eunice Cole, wife of William Cole, was of Hampton's early times. Right across Park st. [Avenue] from the Meeting House Green is another park established some years ago [October 14, 1925] as a memorial to the "little band of pioneers . . . (who) in October, 1638, settled in the wilderness near this spot," as a tablet informed me. In the next two years others came in, the Coles among them.
They were here, I think, in 1640 -- and 16 years later Goody Cole was accused of being a witch. Some of the strange charges that were to be echoed in later years at the famous trials at Salem were brought out against her. She cursed the cattle of her neighbor, and they sickened and died. She had some evil knowledge of the sickness of Goodwife Marston's child and when two housewives (one of them named Sobriety forsooth) were gossiping about Goody Cole and the sick child, they heard sounds of scratching outside the window but nothing was to be seen. That meant, of course, that the devil was out there in the form of a cat; but invisible to human eyes.
So to Boston went poor old Goody Cole, to be shipped and imprisoned for life. Such was her sentence; but eventually (and in the next story) we'll find her coming back again.
Now at this point I am going to mention John Greenleaf Whittier, as I have in so many earlier stories; and I can hear some reader saying, "Why must he always drag the poet into things!" Because, dear reader, Whittier knew Hampton better then I ever shall, and certainly knew its stories. If Goody Cole is widely known today it is only because the poet made her so.
"The Changeling" is one of a group of poems which Whittier strung together in a long piece called "The Tent on the Beach." Another of that group is "The Wreck of Rivermouth," in which Goody Cole also appears. That I have already written about.
As Whittier was a poet, not an historian, he commonly took historical facts and embroidered them with trimmings of his own imagining. So now, out of a fragment of testimony against Goody Cole, he wrote a story of a demented wife, Anna Favor, "the fairest maid in Hampton," and wife of Ezra Dalton. She thought that Goody Cole had carried off her baby and left a witch-child in its place.
It's never my own," she said:
The witches have stolen my Anna,
And left me an imp instead.
"O, fair and sweet was my baby,
Blue eyes, and hair of gold;
But this is ugly and wrinkled,
Cross, and cunning, and old."
She had accused Goody Cole of this witchery, and the old woman had been carried off to jail and was about to be hanged. But finally Dalton's prayers brought a cure; his wife's mind was cleared, and she saw again the beauty of her child. Then, too, she realized the terrible thing that she had done by her false accusation of an innocent woman.
"Mount and ride, my good man, and save her," she cried.
And into the night rode he.
Now through the great black woodland,
Now by the white-beached sea.
He set his horse to the river,
He swam to Newbury town,
And he called up Justice Sewall
In his nightcap and his gown.
And the grave and worshipful justice
(Upon whose soul be peace!)
Set his name to the jailor's warrant
For Goodwife Cole's release.
It is a touching story and a fine folk-tale that Whittier produced. But I gather that it is not history.
Yet the piece lifted Goody Cole to new fame -- and it sent me searching for her homesite among the Hampton River marshes.