‘Witch’ of Hampton

Return to Table of Contents

By John Hirtle, Production Manager

Special to the Atlantic News

Atlantic News, Friday, October 13, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of Atlantic News]

Goody Cole’s Memorial at the Tuck Museum

Near Thorvald’s Tombstone on the grounds of the Tuck Museum in Hampton is a peculiar, almost gnarled unmarked boulder, placed there as a memorial for one of Hampton’s very real and very persecuted residents, Goody Cole, the Witch of Hampton.

William and his wife, Eunice “Goody” Cole were part of John Wheelwright’s party of outcast Puritans who founded modern day Exeter, New Hampshire in 1637. For whatever reason though, the childless couple decided to move into Hampton sometime in the 1640s.

There, the trouble began.

According to most accounts, Goody Cole was a mean-spirited soul, who said slanderous things about her neighbors. Added to this was the lack of children in a household during a period of time when family and children were held in the highest regard. Then there were the strokes of bad fortune, which happen to us all, and reports of strange things happening. In a simpler time, there was a perfect scapegoat – the presence of a witch. And Goody Cole fit the profile of a witch perfectly.

As Massachusetts extended its laws and influence into New Hampshire lands in 1649, Goody Cole was promptly charged with witchcraft. No record of this trial survives, but she was whipped and imprisoned for life in Boston. There she would have remained, had her aging husband William not begun petitioning for her release so she could help him around the farm.

The courts finally agreed, and in 1662, after her husband had passed away, Goody Cole was to be released – provided that she pay for her time in prison. The town of Hampton, which was supposed to pay eight pounds a year for her stay there, had neglected to pay the bill. The poor woman spent a few years in legal limbo before William Salter, one of Goody’s jailers, arrived to arrest Hampton Selectman Marston for the town’s debt. The funds were duly collected and paid through the sale of her late husband’s estate, thus liberating the undoubtedly embarrassed Marston, and keeping Goody far away in Boston – for a time.

Goody Cole eventually returned to Hampton and made her home in a small shed at the foot of Rand’s Hill. As the town had sold her portion of her inheritance from her late husband, she was now a ward of the town. Thus the selectmen ordered the townsfolk to take turns caring for the aging elderly woman. Apparently, her time in jail had not improved her disposition, and by October 1671 she was charged with witchcraft again. This time she was taken first to the Salisbury court, then on to Boston, where she was declared not legally guilty – although there was “vehement suspicion of her having had familiarity with the devil.”

Freed again, Goody returned to Hampton where she lived out the rest of her life in the vicinity of the present-day Tuck Museum. No longer a burden to the town, Goody Cole eked out her last days, wandering the area and subsisting off of what she could collect from the land and the sea, until she was found dead in her shed in 1680. According to accounts, her body was thrown into a shallow grave, with a stake driven through her heart to make sure she wouldn’t bother Hampton ever again.

The town would not be so lucky.

For one thing, Goody Cole was the sole resident of New Hampshire to be convicted of being a witch at a time when the hysteria doomed dozens in Massachusetts. This in itself makes her a rather unique figure on the local stage.

One ripe for “hexploitation,” you might say.

John Greenleaf Whittier was among the first, as he penned “The Changeling” and “The Wreck of the Rivermouth” in 1864. The latter, a poem about a shipwreck off Hampton actually did happen in 1657, when Goody Cole was safely locked away in Boston at the time.

As Hampton’s Tercentennial approached, Goody Cole, seemed to be walking the land again. The specter of a grey-haired old woman in old-fashioned clothing began to be seen around town, notably in the vicinity of Founder’s Park and Tuck Fields, where she spend her last days. Unlike the Goody Cole of record, who was at best a foul harridan, this ghostly apparition was of a more benign, if mysterious nature. Perhaps the ages had mellowed the old woman’s spirit; or perhaps the descendants of her former accusers were more neighborly than their ancestors.

Whatever the case may be, during the town meeting of March 1938, Article 16 was passed, recognizing that Goody Cole was falsely accused of witchcraft, and restoring her as a full citizen of the town. The documents concerning her trial were burned, and deposited in an urn with soil from her reputed resting place and her home as a way of making amends. The urn itself is presently in the Tuck Museum’s collection.

Despite this exoneration, Goody Cole remained a witch, and was featured prominently in the town’s tercentennial booklet, her silhouette appeared on a special mail cachet (air mail of course), and Goody Cole dolls were made. Perhaps this, and the fact that no memorial was raised in her memory as promised, is why a mighty hurricane struck the Seacoast that year.

Whatever the case, the old grey woman’s ghost continued to wander the area, perhaps searching for the promised memorial. The memorial, in the form of an unmarked boulder was finally placed on the Tuck Museum’s grounds in 1963, in the hopes of finally putting her wandering spirit to rest.

But who knows?

The legendary lady’s name has been borrowed for the Goody Cole Smokehouse, a restaurant in Exeter, and the Old Salt restaurant in Hampton offers the elegant Goody Cole Room for functions. These are only the latest to borrow her name, ensuring that the memory of Goody Cole carries on.

Perhaps this Halloween you might see her quietly walking the roads around Founder’s Park, and wondering whose barn is being raised on the museum grounds. Located at 40 Park Avenue in Hampton, the Tuck Museum is open year round from 1-4 p.m. on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday, and has a display on Goody Cole. The memorials to Goody Cole and Thorvald the Viking can be seen from the road.

Founder’s Park, which memorializes the first founders of Hampton and the “daughter towns” that split off the original Hampton land grant, is opposite the Tuck Museum’s grounds. Two playgrounds and a number of athletic fields are also located next to the museum, making it a prime stop to explore the region’s history, or to allow the children some fun time.

Return to Table of Contents