“The Witch of Hampton”

By Leo Bonfanti @ 1972

Published by Pride Publications Inc., Box 13, Wakefield, Mass. -01880

New England legends never die, nor, sometime, do the people involved in them — at least this is what we are led to believe in the case of Goodwife Eunice Cole of Hampton, N.H., the only woman ever convicted of practicing witchcraft in that state’s history. When she was first arrested on this charge in 1656, she was tried at the County Court of Norfolk where she was found guilty, whipped, and sentenced to serve a life term in the Boston prison. After serving only six years, she petitioned the Court for a pardon so she could care for her 88 year-old husband who was terminally ill, but the court would release her only if she paid her board bill and court costs, the total of which amounted to approximately 20 pounds sterling. Unable to raise so much money, she remained in jail where she later was told of her husband’s death. Since a person convicted of being a witch could own no property, her husband’s estate was seized by the town, a fact that complicated matters to some degree, for Hampton was now forced to assume the cost of maintaining her in jail. When the town somehow managed to fall in arrears in its payments to Boston, a constable was sent to Hampton to arrest one of the selectmen, intending to keep him in jail until the bill was paid. Properly alarmed, the authorities reluctantly turned over the proceeds of the sale of William Cole’s estate to settle the account.

Goody Cole again petitioned the Court to be released in 1665, and that body agreed to do so on condition that she leave Boston and return to Hampton. Since she was too old and feeble to walk and was unable to pay for transportation, she remained in jail until 1670 when she was at last set free and returned to Hampton at the Colony’s expense. In common with most New England towns of that period, Hampton had a healthy horror of spending its tax money unnecessarily, and the authorities grudgingly gave her a small, one-room shack in which to live, but refused to be burdened with supporting her for the rest of her life. Instead, her neighbors were given the responsibility of supplying her with food, firewood, and other necessities. Although they accepted the selectmen’s edict, they did so only because they were certain that she was so old that she would soon die, thereby relieving them of their extra expense and labors. When she stubbornly clung to life, drab though it most certainly was, some of her neighbors, fearing that she would outlive them, decided to get rid of her by again raising the old charges against her, citing her erratic behavior as proof that she still practiced witchcraft.

She was taken to Salisbury in October of 1671 at which time the Grand Jury found a true bill against her, and in April, 1673, after a long trial in Boston, the jury reported, “In ye case of Unis Cole, now prisoner of ye barr, not legally guilty according to Intitement, butt just ground of vehement suspissyon of her haveing famillarrty with ye devill.” The tired old woman was then allowed to return to Hampton where she spent the remaining years of her life. Although she had been cleared of the charges, her neighbors remembered the jury’s “vehement suspissyon” and treated her accordingly, persecuting her at every opportunity.

Since no one was now required to feed her, she had to scrounge for food in all kinds of weather, sustaining herself mostly with shellfish, fish, herbs, roots, nuts, berries, and fruits. Accustomed to seeing her going about her rounds every day, some of her neighbors became curious when several days passed without a glimpse of her, and a delegation was sent to see if she were still alive. One of these men, much braver than his companions, entered her shack, and discovered her lifeless body in a corner, lying on a pile of salt-marsh hay that had served her as her bed while she was alive.

The men dug a shallow grave close to her shack, buried her, then drove a wooden stake through her heart to prevent her from returning to haunt them. It is possible that the stake missed its mark, for a weird series of events has taken place during the past 300 years, most of them, according to tradition, directly attributable to the malevolence of Goody Cole.

The strangest of these occurred only a short time after her death, during an outing attended by a large group of Hamptonites. Their boat capsized when a sudden squall came up, and the entire party drowned even though they were within easy swimming distance of land. Their grief-stricken survivors were sure that Goody Cole had caused the accident to repay the townspeople for the treatment she had received at their hands during her unhappy lifetime, and for many years afterwards, almost every tragedy in which Hamptonites were involved was credited to the vengeful spirit of the “Witch of Hampton.”

She was forgotten in time, and she might have remained merely another obscure name from our early history except that shortly before World War II the residents of Hampton were made uncomfortably aware that her spirit was still active. As early as 1937, there were vague reports that a strangely-quiet, gray-clad little old woman had been seen in some of the older sections of the town. In itself, this generated little or no interest until a police officer, visibly shaken, reported to his superiors that he had encountered a woman answering this description walking along a poorly-lighted, but highly-travelled, street. When he stopped his cruiser to warn her that this was a dangerous street for pedestrians, she replied with some asperity that she had walked on this same street for hundreds of years and should be capable of taking care of herself by now. He drove on for 30 or 40 yards before he realized what she had said, but although he backed up to where he had spoken to her, he was unable to find her. When he finally realized that he had spoken to a witch, he drove back to the station where he turned in sick.

Other encounters were reported, most of them stating that her appearances and disappearances were always unexpected, but all of them commenting on her extreme garrulousness, a complete switch from the earlier reports when she would speak to no one. One couple said that they invited her into the house for a cold drink on a hot summer night, and that she conducted herself in a charming and gracious manner while she remained with them. Their only clue to her identity came when she left, for she walked through the door without bothering to open it.

The frequency of her visits, the strangeness of her actions, and the fact that her conversations were almost wholly on matters that took place during the Colonial period convinced everyone that she was none other than Goody Cole. At the 300th annual town meeting held in 1938, the citizens of Hampton voted to restore Eunice Cole to her rightful place as an honored citizen of the town. Facsimiles of the court records of her trials were burned, the ashes mixed with soil taken from her grave, and the mixture deposited in an urn. It was also voted to erect a shaft to her memory in Founders’ Park with the urn and its contents buried beneath it. Pressed by matters of more immediate concern, the erection of the obelisk was put off for many years, and during this period it was noticed that Goody Cole’s spirit seemed much more restless than it had been at any time since her return. She was often seen at the Park, studying the markers to see if she had yet been honored, and her agitation increased to such an obvious extent that the town at last erected the stone in 1963.

The urn was on display at the Hampton Historical Society when the dedication ceremonies were held, and to this day (1972) the urn remains unburied. In spite of this oversight, or even maybe because of it, there is reason to believe that Goody Cole is satisfied with her long-delayed honors, for she always has a happy smile when she studies her marker.

In recent years, she has developed a taste for modern foods, with a decided preference for pizza and beer, and those who expect her to visit them make certain they have an ample supply of these dainties on hand at all times to satisfy what seems to have developed into a craving.

Another anomaly has been reported in more recent times, for there are indications that Goody has gone completely modern. She has been seen as a beautiful young lady in the latest fashion, and with her language updated to such an extent that her real identify is discovered only by her too-frequent allusions to events that took place long ago. Many psychologists, both professional and amateur, feeling that she is compensating for her drab, unhappy existence during the 17th century, and, believing that she will forever disappear when the urn is buried beneath the marker, have urged the Hampton Historical Society to keep the urn on display indefinitely, or, at least, until Goody herself indicates that she wants to leave this world.

If you happen to visit Hampton Beach some summer, the beautiful, vivacious, bikini-clad young lady you might be tempted to whistle at could very well be the 370-year-old Witch of Hampton, a fact that you could probably verify by inviting her out for some pizza and beer.