Buried With A Stake Through Her Heart
By a Special Correspondent of the
St. Louis Post Dispatch Sunday Magazine
April 3, 1938
HAMPTON, NEW HAMPSHIRE .... Eunice "Goody" Cole, by all accounts, was a buxom housewife of the middle seventeenth century who was famous for the sharpness of her tongue and the sweetness of the water in her well. Seafaring men of Hampton Beach said the water from Goody Cole's well never turned brackish in the ship, no matter how long the voyage. Today the well has fallen to ruin, and there is none to say what properties preserved it from the stench of wooden ships, but from it sprang the legend which, aided by Goody's tongue, caused her to be tried as a witch.
The story of how the good housewife, broken by hunger and imprisonment, was transformed gradually into a shriveled, decrepit hag, despised and shunned by her neighbors, and how she was finally vindicated of the charge of witchcraft by 300 descendants of her neighbors at the the annual town meeting in Hampton on March 8, 1938, is a chapter in the history of New England.
Goody was tried and convicted in 1656 -- 36 years before the witchcraft cases in Salem, Massachusetts -- on a charge of putting a fatal curse on her neighbors' cattle. A stake was driven through her heart after her death, many years later, to prevent her body being carried away by the devil.
Goody owes the belated pardon of her townsmen partly to the current revolt against blue laws and Puritan tradition in New England, and partly to the research into the town's history which is being conducted in preparation for the Hampton tercentenary this summer. Two years ago James Michael Curley, then Governor of Massachusetts, started the trend of apologizing for the acts of founding fathers by signing a bill passed by the Great and General Court of Massachusetts revoking a 301-year-old sentence of expulsion against Roger Williams.
L. to R.: Commissioner Frederick R. Batchelder;
Judge John W. Perkins and John W. R. Brooks,
moderator of the town meeting which
reinstated Goody Cole to citizenship.
In Hampton, first town in New England to expunge witchcraft charges from its record, the movement to restore Goody's good name and give her decent burial was started by a quasi-historical social club called the " Society in Hampton Beach for the Apprehension of Those Falsely Accusing Eunice (Goody) Cole of Having Familiarity With the Devil ." The Cole name is quite common in New England, and several branches of the family have considerable wealth and prominence. Scions of the family include many selectmen, county commissioners, State representatives and judges -- even the Adjutant-General of the Massachusetts National Guard. The society with the long name includes descendants of both Goody's accusers and her family. [Ed. note: Goody Cole had no known children.]
Several years after its organization, the society finally persuaded the selectmen of Hampton to insert the following resolution as Article 16 in the warrant for the 1938 annual town meeting:
"Resolved: That we, the citizens of the town of Hampton in town meeting assembled do hereby declare that we believe Eunice (Goody) Cole was unjustly accused of witchcraft and of familiarity with the devil in the seventeenth century, and we do hereby restore to the said Eunice Cole her rightful place as a citizen of the town of Hampton, and
"Be it further resolved: That at such time as the selectmen shall elect during the tercentenary of the town of Hampton, appropriate and fitting ceremonies shall be held to carry out the purposes of this resolution by publicly burning certified copies of all official documents relating to the false accusations against Eunice (Goody) Cole, and that the ashes of the burned documents, together with soil from the reputed last resting place and from the site of the home of Eunice (Goody) Cole be gathered in an urn and reverently placed in the ground at such place in the town of Hampton as the selectmen shall designate."
At the town meeting in the ancient town meeting house, not a single descendant of the accusers of Goody Cole arose to defend the persecution. After unanimous vote to reinstate her, the old Paul Revere bell was tolled to signify the great error had been rectified.
Goody Cole's house was in "The Island" or "Willows" section of Hampton Beach, and past it moved all the traffic between Hampton Landing and the sea. Some of the persons on the boats that passed Cole's Point shouted unpleasant words at Goody which she repaid in kind.
It is said that she answered the taunts of a group of young people in a boat by threatening them with storm and disaster. Whittier described the supposed incident as follows:
Once in the old Colonial days,
Two hundred years ago and more,
A boat sailed down through the winding ways
Of Hampton River to that low shore . . . .
"Fie on the witch?" cried a merry girl,
As they rounded the point where Goody Cole
Sat by here door with her wheel atwirl,
A bent and blear eyed poor old soul.
"Oh!" 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 it's one to go, but another to come!'"
"She's cursed," said the skipper; "speak her fair;
I'm scary always to see her shake
Her wicked head with its wild gray hair,
And nose like a hawk, and eyes like a snake."
But merrily still with laugh and shout,
From Hampton River the boat sailed out.
Suddenly seaward swept the squall;
The low sun smote through cloudy rack;
The Shoals stood clear ion the light, and all
The trend of the coast lay hard and black.
But far and wide as eye could reach,
No life was seen upon wave or beach;
The boat that went out at Morning never
Sailed back again into Hampton River.
But the records show Goody was safely lodged in Boston Jail on the date of the " Wreck at Rivermouth ."
The record of her trial in Norfolk County Court in 1656 betrays the terror and superstition of the times. Both Goody Marston and Susanna Palmer deposed "that goodwife Cole said that she was sure there was a witche in the towne, and she knew where hee dwelt & who they are;" also that 13 years before, she had known one (bewitched as goodwife Marston's child was" and that this person "was changed from a man to an ape, as Goody Marston's child was."
Thomas Philbrick testified Goody Cole said that if his calves ate any of her grass "she wished it might pysen them or choke them; and he further testified that he never saw one of his calves afterward, and the other calf came home and died aboute a weeke after."
Sobriety, the wife of Henry Moulton, and goodwife Sleeper, wife of Thomas Sleeper, deposed that while "talking about goodwife Cole and goodwife Marston's child," they heard "something scrape against the boards of the windows." They went out "and looked aboute and could see nothing." They went back into the house and began "to talke the same talke again." But the "scraping" was repeated and "was so loude that if a dogg or a catt had done it they should have scene the markes." But no marks were to be seen.
Abraham Drake deposed in court on September 4, 1656 that "aboute this time twelve-month my neighbor Coles lost a cowe, and wen we had found it, I and others brought the cowe home to his house and hee and she desired me to flea this cowe, and presently after she had charged me with killing her cowe, and said they should know hee had killed hir cowe, for the just hand of Good was upon my cattell, and forthwith I lost two cattell, and the latter end of somer I lost one cowe more."
Joseph Dow, in his history of Hampton, says Goody Cole was adjudged to be guilty and was sentenced to receive, as she afterwards expressed it, "a double punishment" -- to be whipped and then imprisoned during her natural life, or until released by the court.
She was duly flogged, imprisoned, and for a time forgotten. Her aged husband became to ill to work. The town took over his property to pay for his care. He died when he was 89 years old.
Goody Cole might have spent the rest of her life in Boston jail if William Salter, keeper of the jail, had not arrested Thomas Marston, one of the Hampton selectmen, for failing to pay Goody's board of eight pounds a year. Marston's arrest was on July 14, 1664. Although the sum was small, Marston had difficulty raising it, and was released after paying half. The town promised to send the rest.
Some of the money was paid out of the Cole estate, but the townspeople, faced with the necessity of continuing to support her in jail, made no objection when she filed a petition for release. The court agreed to free her as soon as she paid what was due the keeper, but stipulated she must leave the court's jurisdiction within a month. Goody was entirely without resources, but managed somehow to satisfy the authorities.
Old and bent after more than a decade in prison, she returned to Hampton some time before 1671. A shelter was built or obtained for her near the Meeting House Green. According to the town tax lists, various householders supplied her in turn with food and fuel.
Children hooted at her and she was still greatly feared.
In October, 1672, she was again arrested for witchcraft. This time she was charged with appearing in various forms, as a dog, an eagle, and a cat, in order that she might entice a young girl named Ann Smith to live with her. The grand jury found a true bill against her and in April, 1673, she was tried in Salisbury lower court. She was found guilty and ordered to Boston jail to await appearance before the high court. The court ruled several months later as follows:
"In ye case of Unis Cole now prisoner at ye Bar not Legally guilty according to inditement butt just ground of vehement suspiscyon of her haveing had famillyarryty with the devill. (Signed) Jonas Clark in the name of the rest."
She returned to Hampton, a sick, old woman, but such was the temper of the times few persons dared to do anything for her. Anyone who took her broth or a few sticks for her fire was liable to be accused as witch or wizard.
Goody began to grow feeble. At last, one afternoon, a neighbor carrying food to Goody's hut, found her lying on her death-bed, but still strong in spirit.
"Aye," she said, "ye think ye still have peace when ye bury my bones, but I leave my spirit to trouble ye. It shall be good to those who have had kindly thoughts for me, but it shall mean trouble and every curse those who have used me ill."
Her voice failed, but her eyes still shone malevolently toward the world. Her visitor fled in alarm.
A group of neighbors, shrinking from their task, but fearing to leave a dying witch alone, dragged her body, as soon as it was cold, to a spot near the schoolhouse, where a shallow grave was dug.
The more fearful of her neighbors drove a stake through her heart and placed a horseshoe on top of it to cheat the devil out of the body. Then the crowd fled.
After the moon rose, two men who had befriended her and their sons removed Goody Cole's body to a new grave "between two noble trees? on higher land. In order not to attract suspicion, they smoothed over the earlier grave and left the stake as it was before. The stake is of willow and will grow into a memorial for her," one of the mourners said. An old willow tree stands there today. [Ed. note: No other known source refers to this incident of her body being moved. It is likely not true.]