A fascinating, year-by-year, winner-by-winner portrait, not only of these iconic summertime contests, but of Hampton Beach itself. The book’s stories and historic photos are guaranteed to bring back happy memories to long-time beachgoers, former contestants, their families, and fans, as well as bring delight to those whose own history with the beach is just beginning. This book belongs on every library and bookstore shelf in New England!

Available through,, and Baker & Taylor book distributors.


 Praise for The Queens of Hampton Beach

“A fitting tribute to all those involved in creating, sustaining, and participating in one of the seacoast’s longest running and most cherished traditions. Let’s have a warm round of applause for The Queens – the very jewels that adorn the crown – of Hampton Beach, New Hampshire.” – Don McNeill, The Continentals.

 “A must-have for anyone who loves Hampton Beach! Packed with great photos and interesting stories, not just about the evolution of our local beauty queens, but about the development of the beach itself.” – Betty Moore, Tuck Museum Executive Director.

“This book, a true treasure, not only chronicles the rich history of Hampton Beach but of the pageant that has touched so many and set the stage for success in many endeavors of my life. I remain forever grateful.” – Sheila T. Scott, Miss Hampton Beach 1964.

Back Cover Copy

      Like fried dough, henna tattoos, and the arcade, choosing a queen to represent Hampton Beach has always been an important part of the summer rituals at this popular seaside resort. What started out in 1915 as a way to sell raffle tickets with the Carnival Queen contest, open to all women, had by the late 1940s evolved into the Miss Hampton Beach beauty pageant, for which only young, single women were eligible. In 1959 the pageant moved indoors to the glitzy Casino Ballroom, and for the next three glamour-filled decades groomed New England girls for national pageants like Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss America. Tastes changed and interest waned over the years, and in 1996 the pageant was canceled—only to return to its roots the following year as a free community event, held on a Sunday afternoon, outdoors at the epicenter of the beach, the Seashell Stage. The tradition continues today, with beach queens chosen not only for their beauty and poise, but for their willingness to participate in community activities and to promote Hampton Beach as a family-friendly vacation destination throughout their reigning year.


Puritan superstition confronts an indomitable will in this richly researched, ground breaking biography of Goodwife Unise Cole, the woman known as the Witch of Hampton.

Unise Cole’s story has great appeal for anyone interested in the history and mystery of the New England witchcraft persecutions and their aftermath. Beginning with her death in 1680, Cole was treated as little more than a stock witchcraft character, a ghostly apparition, a vile old hag with a stake driven through her heart–anything but a flesh and blood woman brimming with needs and desires.

Drawn from historical records, Marked is the first book to examine Goodwife Cole’s life from her time in England, through her arrival and settlement in Massachusetts, her stormy relations with neighbors and the law, the witchcraft trials, and beyond her death to her later notoriety. Employing a chronological narrative interspersed with speculative accounts, Marked lays a scholarly yet entertaining foundation for the understanding of Cole’s motivations, behaviors, and interactions with others.


—I truly think this is the most researched tale I have ever read. I loved the historical background, although my first impression was that it was going to be a dry read. I was so very wrong. All the accounts are of value in the telling of Unise Cole sad life. Cheryl Lassiter will amaze you, as she did me with situations and circumstance without opinion. You will decide for yourself whether or not Unise was responsible for any or all of the accusers charges. (At times, I really hoped she was the cause of their misfortune.) – doseofbella on Goodreads.

—Totally engrossing and wonderfully written. –  Amelia on Goodreads.

—I want to thank you for your wonderful work putting together “The Mark of Goody Cole” and “A Meet and Suitable Person.”  What a true pleasure to read, and you have my most sincere respect.  I love the way you navigate the historical story while you keep and command the mystery and excitement of its unfolding.  Thank you! – Jonathan, San Antonio, Texas in an email to the author.

—I’m really impressed with both your scholarship and your writing, which is clear and also–rare in this kind of book–entertaining.  I loved knowing that Thomas Bradbury of Salisbury had “attractive handwriting” and that Robert and Susanna Smith had an “enchanted oven.” I want you to get famous over this well-written book, Cheryl.  Keep writing! – Judge, 22nd Annual Writer’s Digest Book Awards

—An excellent story told in wonderful detail, this book beautifully captures life in the 1600s. Goody Cole is at times portrayed as a sympathetic character; she was also her own worst enemy. Painstakingly researched, Cheryl Lassiter also weaves in a contemporary view of the events that surrounded the enigmatic Goody Cole. A treat for anyone who wants insight into the witch mania of early colonial days. – Mike on Goodreads

—The author has taken a subject surrounded in mystery and has assembled extant documents concerning the life of this woman accused of witchcraft in a 17th century New England town. Ms. Lassiter gives a picture of colonial life and the people who embellished their superstitions into crimes resulting in torture and imprisonment of what we might today call a “batty” old lady. It is a fun read for those who are interested in early times in America. I thank the author and Goodreads for a complimentary copy. – Gail on

“To give readers a complete understanding of Cole’s world, Lassiter provides exhaustive, impressively sourced records of each neighbor and town tragedy, and each instance of persecution of local Quakers and clashes with Native Americans….early America enthusiasts will jump at the chance to read more about pre-Salem witchcraft trials.” – Kirkus Reviews

~About Marked~

“It must be so, it shall be so, do what you will.” So muttered Goodwife Unise Cole to her neighbor Abraham Drake as he pondered his mysteriously deceased livestock. The deaths were blamed on her familiarity with the Devil, one of many similiar accusations lodged against her– she bewitched crops; shape-shifted into a dog, a cat, an eagle; had conversations with the Devil; enticed young children; and moved at supernatural speed. Worse, she was blamed for the deaths of a man as he lay helpless in his bed and a child who had been diabolically transformed into an ‘ape.’

Unise Cole’s childlessness, low social status, and tempestuous spirit marked her for persecution as a witch in the puritan town of Hampton, where she endured three decades of accusations, whippings, court trials, and imprisonment, all in an attempt to banish her from the town.

 When she was whipped, witch-marks were found on her body and she was put on trial for witchcraft. While in prison she had been cruelly watched for imps. With a vile and reckless tongue she spoke her mind whenever she felt wronged–when the constable served a warrant, when Philbrick stole her salt grass, when Drake killed her cow, when the selectmen refused to give her wood and food, when townspeople testified against her in court.

After her death in 1680 the legend of her life was born, and it grew more fantastic over time. The very mention of her name sent children into paroxysms of fear–she became a terrifying hag, casting spells in a hut beside a magic well near the seashore. When she died the townspeople buried her and drove a stake through her heart. Her unhappy ghost, seen walking the streets of old Hampton, is still reputed to haunt the house that is now the Tuck Museum.

In 1937 the Goody Cole Society was formed, part publicity stunt and part honest attempt to atone for the terrible wrongs of their Puritan forefathers. During the town’s 300th anniversary celebration, Unise was vindicated and restored to her rightful place as an early citizen of Hampton.

In her third non-fiction book about the people and events in the small seacoast town of Hampton, New Hampshire, Cheryl Lassiter shares her passion for detailed historical research to tell the definitive, true story of the woman known as The Witch of Hampton.


“I loved this book! I never knew Hampton was once populated by such daring men and women.” – Peg on Goodreads.

“Deeply and impressively researched, this book deftly describes tavern keeping in Hampton, New Hampshire during the 1638-1783 period. Consistently informative and entertaining, the book authentically depicts daily life in the colony.” – 21st Annual Writer’s Digest Self-published Book Awards.

Blending historical fact with a sprinkling of well-crafted storytelling, A Meet and Suitable Person takes readers on a back door tour through the taverns of Puritan Hampton, detailing the lives of 23 men and women who kept the town’s public houses of entertainment when America was still part of the English domains. Read more…

Townies can save shipping $ by picking up copies at the Tuck Museum. And you can download a free map of Old Hampton taverns and start exploring!beer in new hampshire




Tramps in Hampton NH

"I knocked softly at the kitchen door." - From The Road by Jack London, 1907.

“I knocked softly at the kitchen door.”

“The successful hobo must be an artist,” wrote Jack London in The Road, a collection of stories about his life as a teenage tramp in the 1890s. London’s “artist” was a man who could spin a convincing tale of misfortune and woe in exchange for a handout at the doors of America’s kitchens. The writer credited his successful career as a novelist to his own tramping artistry, since, if he wanted to eat, he was “compelled to tell tales that rang true.”

In contrast to London’s uncritical, often humorous portrayal of hobo life, Hampton’s historian Joseph Dow had a scathing opinion of the drifters who yearly descended on his town and beach: they “strolled idly from town to town, begging or stealing their support, and often committing deeds of violence and lust. No picnic grove or berry pasture, no secluded road or lonely house was a safe resort for the unprotected.” This annual “trampaign” of vagabonds reached its peak in the summer months and fell off with the coming of winter. As the Portsmouth Herald observed in 1899, “only working men out of jobs or amateurs tramp in the latitude of Portsmouth after Thanksgiving.”

According to Dow, itinerant vagrants began appearing in town around the year 1850, and their ranks swelled after the Civil War. Town reports referred to them somewhat sympathetically as “strangers” and “transient paupers” until 1874, when the word “tramp,” with its connotations of idling and drunkenness, entered the lexicon. The economic panics of 1873, 1884, and 1893 guaranteed the jobless tramp a permanent place in the American scene, and his ne’er-do-well mode of living was caricatured in every newspaper across the country.

The Tramp Houses

In New Hampshire towns like Exeter, Nashua, and Manchester, tramps were lodged overnight in the “bum room” at the city jail. Hampton, however, did not have a dedicated police station until 1900, when the town paid one hundred dollars to erect at the beach a 12’ x 16’ building, with three cells and an officers’ room. To deal with its growing transient population, in 1870 the town established what was facetiously called a “tramp’s retreat.” It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the retreat attracted “hordes of vagabonds,” and in some years taxpayers spent over one hundred dollars for their care and feeding. While the tramps were pleased with the arrangement, the town demanded a cheaper, less inviting alternative.

In 1874 the retreat was shuttered and a second house, “somewhat better than a dog-kennel,” was placed on land leased for ten dollars per year from Simon P. Towle, who lived at 495 Lafayette Road. The town paid $13.50 in materials and labor to S. J. Drake, Joseph Johnson, and John Dearborn to move a shack onto the property and fit it with a stove and funnel. Yet still they came. Over the next decade, Jeremiah Marston, a bachelor who lived on his ancestral homestead at the corner of Winnacunnet and Mill roads, was paid by the town for his “care of tramps,” but it’s unknown whether his efforts were in conjunction with or in addition to the tramp house. Otis Whittier of the Whittier Hotel was also paid to lodge vagabonds, and, in the 1890s, men associated with Hampton’s nascent police force—Abbott Young, Clinton J. Eaton, John I. Dow—took care of the transient population.

Related image

Gilman Marston of Exeter NH

General Marston’s Tramp Law

In 1875, New Hampshire enacted legislation to send vagrants to the county jail or town farm for a maximum term of six months, but enforcement ended when “loafers” began filling local facilities to capacity. A better solution was needed, and Exeter lawyer Gilman Marston, a battle-hardened Civil War general, was just the man to provide one.

Born in 1811 in Orford, New Hampshire, Marston had served in the United States House of Representatives before, during, and after his military service. In 1878, as a member of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, he drafted a bill to sentence tramps to a maximum of five years hard labor in the State prison. After exempting women, minors, and blind persons, the bill was passed into law that August.

Dow wrote that the effects of Marston’s law “were immediately apparent throughout the state.” Hampton’s tramp house was shuttered and sold to Otis Whittier for five dollars. In 1879 the town’s annual “trampaign” charges fell to under ten dollars.

The law was so effective that enforcement eventually fell by the wayside, prompting social reformer Frank B. Sanborn of Hampton Falls to caution that if the law wasn’t diligently applied at all times, then “tramps, like other migratory creatures, will again return.” In Hampton, at least, the “wandering willies” were proving Sanborn right. In 1887, Hampton resident Flora Shaw wrote that she would not venture alone into the woods for fear of encountering tramps; in 1894 voters agreed that the selectmen should enforce the tramp law; in 1898 they agreed to study the “possible construction of a tramp house.” Meanwhile, the town was giving aid to hundreds of tramps each year. We can only guess how many hundreds more of London’s “artists” received handouts at the kitchen doors of Hampton’s housewives.

Hampton RR Station

Paying customers only, no tramps allowed. – Train depot, Hampton NH, c. 1915.

Tramping by the Numbers

In the decade after the Civil War, the town spent an average of $105 per year on tramp care. From 1875 to 1892, with the second tramp house and Marston’s law deterring itinerant vagrants, the average cost was $18. With the economic depression of 1893, Hampton’s costs for tramp care rose, and did not return to their previous levels until 1905. During the period 1893-1907, when an estimated 1300-1500 transients passed through town, the average cost was $44 per year, with a high in 1898 of $90 and a low in 1905 of $2.25. Again, we can only speculate as to how many men received handouts outside of “official” relief channels.

By 1910 tramp care had been institutionalized at the local and county level. Replacing the traditional system of provisioning by private individuals whose expenses were reimbursed by the town (and the town by the county), police took transients to the station for the night or sent them before the local judge, who might order them to the county jail at Exeter or the county farm at Brentwood. No doubt the artists still made good at the kitchen doors.

19th Century Tramp Humor

Old Lady: Well, here’s ten cents for ye, but I should hate to feel that I was encouragin’ ye to drink.

Tramp: I don’t need no encouragement, mum.

Originally published as a History Matters column in the Hampton Union, April 21, 2017. Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society. Image of tramp at the back door from The Road by Jack London, 1907.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to thehistory of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is


Early Women’s Rights Advocate Nancy Towle of Hampton NH


“She is an instrument of much evil in the world,” wrote Nancy Towle, an itinerant evangelical preacher from Hampton, New Hampshire. Towle was referring to women in general, and laid the blame for their condition squarely at the doorstep of an educational system that taught women to see themselves as “subordinate beings.”

Towle was born in 1796 and came of age during the Second Great Awakening, a Protestant religious revival in which millennialism played a dominant role. She attended Hampton Academy and taught school in North Hampton. In 1818 she was religiously “saved” at a woman-led revival meeting, was baptized, and three years later, having “felt the word of the Lord as a fire shut up in my bones,” she set out to become a traveling preacher.

The Awakening changed the lives of millions of Americans, but women preachers like Towle were not always welcomed by those whose souls they sought to save. By her own reckoning, she had traveled more than 15,000 miles delivering the word of God’s salvation to the masses, but in many places was turned away on account of her sex. From these encounters with bigotry she formed a body of opinion about the right of women to enter the pulpit. Her 1832 self-published book, “Vicissitudes illustrated, in the experience of Nancy Towle, in Europe and America,” is as much about women’s rights as about religion.

 Towle’s first opportunity to speak before a congregation came in 1821 in Stratham, New Hampshire. Over the next eleven years she expanded her horizons in ever-widening circles, traveling first to nearby towns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, then north to Canada, west to New York and Ohio, south as far as South Carolina, and as far away as England and Ireland. At the conclusion of her preaching tours she declared herself a “citizen of the world,” not so much for her travels as for her refusal to commit to any established sect.

Towle possessed a serious, gloomy disposition, which she may have inherited from her father, who had suffered from night terrors and once planned to kill himself. She was also highly sensitive to what she termed “impressions,” and was frequently visited by premonitions of death. She foresaw her father’s death, and on the day he died experienced an auditory hallucination, which she ascribed to a gathering of angels come to take him to heaven. On the day of her brother Philip’s death, hundreds of miles away, “a darkness and strange disorder seemed to pervade [her] heart” and her spirit left her body. In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Towle experienced a vision of a “death-like shadow” standing beside her bed, and informed her hosts that someone in the house was about to die. When she returned to Portsmouth some months later, she learned that the man of the house had disappeared and was presumed dead.

Towle was intolerant of views that differed from her own. She heaped opprobrium on sects she believed were in error—Jews were “pharisaical and blind;” otherwise good Mormons had been “duped” by a charlatan; Irish Catholics, Episcopalians, Friends, and Bible Christians were “enveloped in the grossest darkness, ignorance, and superstition.” She once attacked a group of congregants, saying they were so “stupefied by sin” that she doubted they could be saved at all. She issued dire notices to male preachers who refused to allow her to speak to their assemblies, warning that if souls were not saved as a result, the “blood be upon” them, not her. At each point of denial, she detailed her unreimbursed expenses and complained that male itinerants, unlike their female counterparts, were never expected to wash or mend their own clothes or to help with the housework at the homes of their hosts.

To read Vicissitudes is exhausting. With a sledge hammer as a favorite tool of persuasion, Towle met bigotry with bigotry and self-righteousness with self-righteousness. Every page is a holy war against the forces of conformity. Yet the book is an important early marker along the path to greater freedoms for women. Besides documenting her own experiences, she wrote about the experiences of fellow female travelers, and addressed objections against women speaking in church by citing Biblical passages that assumed equality between both male and female speakers. She exhorted her God to “raise up a host of female warriors that shall provoke the opposite party from their indolence.” The book’s final line echoes the sentiments of early English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft: “I wish to deliver up my life as a sacrifice, for one, towards remedying these evils; and seal my testimony, as with my blood, in vindication of the rights of women!”

Little is known of Towle’s life after the publication of Vicissitudes. In 1834 she published a short-lived journal titled The Female Religious Advocate. It’s believed she returned to Hampton in 1840 after the death of her brother Simon. She lived on the family homestead (495 Lafayette Road) with her mother Betty, Simon’s widow and children, and her unmarried brother David. Family letters suggest that she may have taught at Hampton Academy, as a niece wrote that when she went to school there in the 1850s, she was “always terribly afraid I should come across Aunt Nancy.” Before her death on January 1, 1876, Towle suffered “delusions” and “sought death as a joyful release.” She was buried in the High Street Cemetery, where her tombstone can still be visited today.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, March 17, 2017.

Image courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is


Party Boss of Hampton


Back in an era when Republicans ruled the political roost in New Hampshire, John Garrison Cutler of Hampton Beach was one of the party’s leading bosses. Born in Exeter in 1833 to free blacks Rufus E. and Anna Cilley Cutler, he began his working life at his father’s Water Street store, later opening a billiards parlor in the same building. After the building burned in 1873, Cutler bought the Sea View Cottages at Hampton Beach and converted the property to a hotel, with dining facilities and stables. When the hotel burned in 1885 he rebuilt and expanded the property. By the turn of the 20th century, Cutler’s Sea View was a renowned summer resort hotel.

jgcutler-04John’s grandfather was Tobias Cutler, once a slave of Colonel Enoch Hale of Rindge, New Hampshire. Tobias served in the Revolutionary War, and at age 21 was received as a free inhabitant in the town of Rindge. He married Dorothy Paul and moved to Exeter, where their sons Nathaniel and Rufus would become business proprietors. John’s mother Anna was born in Nottingham and may have been associated with the family of General Joseph Cilley of that town. Cilley was known to have owned four enslaved persons, one of whom was named Chloe Cutler, who was perhaps related to the Exeter Cutlers. On July 29, 1873, with no state anti-miscegenation laws to bar the union, John Cutler married Harriet A. Brewster of Stratham. They had two sons, George and Charles. (Note: an 1893 obituary for Nathaniel Cutler says that Tobias and Rufus were brothers, not father and son, but birth records transcribed in 1906 indicate otherwise).

 Politics, As Usual

jgcutler-02Even as a boy Cutler had been interested in politics. Certainly he followed the activities of Congressman Amos Tuck of Exeter, who in the early 1850s organized the Republican Party around anti-slavery principles, and he was likely present on March 3, 1860 when Abraham Lincoln gave his anti-slavery speech at the Exeter Town Hall. Although Cutler never ran for political office, over the years his active participation in the New Hampshire Republican Party gained him a reputation as a kingmaker. He preferred to deny it, yet pointed out that office seekers came to Hampton Beach to gain his support for their causes. Known by the nickname “Bunkey,” he counted among his friends United States senators and congressmen, among them Senator William Chandler and Congressmen Frank Jones and Cyrus Sulloway, all men who had helped his career in state and local politics.

Of Chandler, Cutler said that he was a “great worker and organizer” from whom he had received his “best lessons in politics.” Of the wealthy Portsmouth brewer Frank Jones, Cutler remarked that “He was a great man. When he left the Democratic party in 1896 the party lost its brains and its money.” But Cutler’s favorite politician was Cyrus Sulloway, called the “Tall Pine of the Merrimac” for his gaunt, six-foot-eight frame. During the summer season Sulloway could often be found lounging about the piazza of Cutler’s hotel, holding forth impromptu strategy sessions with compatriots. In part because of his frequent presence, a Portsmouth, New Hampshire newspaper posed the question: “Is Hampton Beach the summer capital of New Hampshire?”

 jgcutler-03Liquor at the Beach

Under a state liquor law passed in 1903, Hampton voted to issue licenses for the sale of alcohol. Cutler’s Sea View received a license, but was later charged with selling liquor on Sundays. In his defense Cutler told the state liquor board that he thought he was permitted to sell to registered guests who took meals at his hotel. Three other local inns were also charged, and all but Cutler’s had their licenses revoked. The following year Hampton changed its mind and voted no to licenses, although hotels like the Sea View could still be granted a restricted license. Cutler was not pleased with the new arrangement, which, as he said, allowed the liquor board to arbitrarily revoke a license without a hearing, and it was thought that he had a hand in the no vote. “It’s a bad law,” he later said. “It was no such law as we would have had, had Frank Jones lived.”

 Charges of Racism

In 1904 Democrat John Worthing Dearborn won Hampton’s state legislative seat, while every other elected position had been filled by Republicans that year. Proud that he had helped his party gain a small foothold in the Republican bastion of Hampton, to a reporter he crowed that he was a “rather rare bird in these here parts—an office-holding Democrat” (the last Democrat win had been in 1897). He attributed his election to what he believed was the growing racism within the rival party, saying that the “young fellows” of the Republican Party didn’t like taking orders from a “colored man,” and they voted for him instead of Cutler’s man, the carriage maker George E. Garland. Other men interviewed by the reporter who had captured these provocative remarks agreed with Dearborn’s assessment, with one saying that the biased young men “ought to be ashamed of themselves…but the truth is the truth.” And while others thought that Dearborn’s win had put Cutler into political hot water, they weren’t altogether sure that he could be permanently beaten.

From this far remove it’s impossible to know if the charges of racism were politically motivated or had some basis in truth, but after Dearborn’s two-year term and for the remainder of Cutler’s life, which ended on February 7, 1913 after a bout of pneumonia, Republicans controlled Hampton’s legislative seat. Despite opposition, and despite his self-effacing claim that “I’m not the boss people would have you think I am,” John Cutler had remained party boss to the end.

February is African American History Month. To learn more about the history of African Americans in Cutler’s hometown of Exeter, go to

Images courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is


A Fundamental Flaw (Part III)


In this final installment, Roby’s checkered career as a justice.

Justice of the Court of Sessions

New Hampshire received its name with the grant to Captain John Mason on November 7, 1629. Mason poured his own money into improving his grant, but when he died unexpectedly in 1635, his widow informed his tenants that they would have to shift for themselves. These men, who had built the settlements of Portsmouth and Dover, looted the entire property, selling off the cannon and cattle and dividing the land among themselves. Other groups encroached on the southern end of Mason’s grant to settle Hampton and Exeter. By 1643 all four towns were under the jurisdiction of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, but when Mason’s heir Robert came of age in 1650, he began pressing his claims of ownership. Nothing came of it until 1679, when, to break the power of Massachusetts, Charles II chartered the Royal Province of New Hampshire. The King appointed a locally-constituted president and council, but would later send Lieutenant Governor Edward Cranfield to oversee the affairs of the colony and to intervene between the inhabitants and Mason. Cranfield favored Mason, and he aggressively used the executive and judicial powers of the government to help him turn landowners into tenants.

From the start Henry Roby supported their schemes; his loyalty rewarded with an appointment as a justice of the peace and a seat on the highest court in the Province. His unpopularity among the locals was guaranteed when Mason granted him 100 acres of Hampton’s common grazing land, but it was his part in the trial of Reverend Joshua Moodey of Portsmouth that sealed his fate. Moodey, a Puritan, was convicted of administering the sacraments contrary to the laws of England and for refusing to administer them according to the rites of the Church of England. This was clearly a political hit engineered by Cranfield to silence Moodey, who was a vocal opponent of the Cranfield-Mason regime. To his credit, Roby was at first for acquittal, but after a night of threats and hectoring he changed his mind, as did Justice Henry Green, also of Hampton. Both were intensely aware of how their neighbors would react to a guilty verdict, and even as they sought to appease their masters, they contrived their rulings to leave a bit of wiggle room. Or they may have been truly conflicted, unsure of which ruling took precedence: Parliament’s laws governing the sacraments or the King’s commission that allowed liberty of conscience. It was “very clear,” Roby stated, “that the statutes are clear against the said Moodey, if the commission that gives liberty of conscience doth not take away the force thereof.” Apparently it did not, and Moodey served a six-month sentence in the Great Island prison.

Although Justice Green was “much afflicted” by what he had done and would later beg Moodey’s forgiveness, Roby was decidedly unapologetic. Had he been otherwise, his position of authority might not have crumbled so quickly beneath his impenitent feet.

Justice of the Peace

If we could drop in on Roby’s public house around noon on January 2, 1685, we would find an incensed 65-year-old justice of the peace furiously scribbling out arrest warrants for Samuel Leavitt and Moses Gilman, two impudent Exeter men who just moments earlier had dared to utter “seditious” words right to his face. Roby had summoned the men to answer to the provost marshal’s complaint of abuse and for treasonous remarks made against the Governor—to which Leavitt was now cheerfully admitting his guilt.

The trouble had started four days earlier, when a gang of club-wielding Hampton men accompanied Marshal Thomas Thurton and his deputy John Mason as they went to Exeter to enforce a court-levied fine on the town constable, who had refused to collect the province tax. Since the Governor had dissolved the representative assembly, no one felt obliged to pay his unlawfully raised taxes, and men were understandably vexed at attempts to collect them. The marshals were harassed everywhere they went; goodwives threatened them with buckets of scalding water and the minister came out with a club. Their unwelcome escorts “jostled them in a very rude manner,” called them names, made fun of their swords, and turned their horses loose. When Thurton called for order, the crowd bragged that even if Cranfield himself had shown up they would not obey.

In reporting the incident to Roby, Thurton identified Leavitt and Gilman as the ringleaders. Now, as the two agitators were making their appearance at Roby’s house, the marshal was a short distance away, attempting to enforce a fine levied on Captain Samuel Sherburne for his assault on the town doctor. When Sherburne refused to pay, Thurton placed him under arrest and brought him before Justice Roby.

With a house full of hot-headed men, Roby’s quill continued fly, now scratching out a warrant to commit the insolent Leavitt to prison. When Thurton attempted to make good the arrest, Leavitt punched him. Roby tried to intervene, but was “violently” prevented from doing so by Sherburne, who then took the opportunity to escape Thurton’s custody. Moses Gilman joined the melee, striking Roby and saying that Leavitt would not be going to prison. Roby managed to abate the chaos long enough to order Thurton to put both Leavitt and Gilman in prison, but Thurton was not in need of any more prisoners. It was left to Roby’s son Ichabod to deliver the men while Thurton tramped out to reacquire the one who had just escaped.

Leavitt and Gilman refused to go along, peaceably or otherwise, until Sherburne’s young son came in and whispered to them. Amazingly, Roby saw nothing fishy in their sudden change of heart (or was relieved to be rid of them in whatever way presented itself), and Ichabod escorted them across the meeting house green to the prison. As they passed Sherburne’s tavern, several men ran out to knock Ichabod to the ground and relieve him of his prisoners.

Thurton was inside the tavern, trying to convince Sherburne to pay his fine. As he recalled it, at Sherburne’s signal a “great number of men” grabbed hold of him, beat him up, and with a rope tried to strangle him. Afterwards, under cover of night, they hogtied him and took him across the border into Massachusetts, where they left him in Salisbury at the house of a man named Smith. Meanwhile in Hampton, Gilman and four others returned to Roby’s house, and, according to Roby, for the next five hours they banged on the door demanding to be let in. Only when Roby threatened to shoot them did they ride away.

And these were just the incidents that fixed the court’s attention. Under such a cloud of hostility, the next three years could not have been pleasant ones for Roby and his family. According to Reverend Joshua Moodey, Roby became a “common drunkard,” never repenting for his part in the minister’s politically motivated conviction. Reverend Seaborn Cotton, whom Roby had publicly denounced in the 1660s, prophesied that “when he died he would not have so honorable a burial as an ass.” Cotton’s bitter soothsaying may have proved true. Moodey wrote that Roby was excommunicated from the church, and when the end came in 1688, his friends buried him in a secret location to prevent creditors from ransoming his body for outstanding debts. It was an ill-starred end for one of Hampton’s most interesting early settlers.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on February 3, 2017.

Image courtesy of Harold Fernald and the Hampton Historical Society.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is


A Fundamental Flaw (Part II)


Roby’s brushes with witchcraft, role as a father in trying circumstances, and a risky confrontation with the church.

Brushes with witchcraft           

Soon after settling in Hampton, Roby and his family encountered the purported maleficium of their neighbor Unise Cole, with whom they were already acquainted from their days in Exeter. From early on, Cole may have seen Roby as an antagonist. In Exeter, her husband and others had to pay Roby and another man “a peck of corne for harm done to them by swine.” From a modern perspective this seems like mild restitution, but those were starving times in the young settlement, and men were given the authority to search houses for surplus corn to feed the poor. While the Coles were poor, the Robys were not, and it must have rankled Unise to give up a portion of her precious store of food to a young man whose circumstances were far better than hers.

By the 1650s Unise Cole’s reputation as a witch had been firmly established, based partly on testimony the Robys had given against her in 1652-53. Nor did she help her cause when, in 1655, she interrupted a selectmen’s meeting at Robert Drake’s house to badger them for wood and “other thinges.” When they refused her demands, she told them, “They could help Goodman Roby, being a lusty man, and she could have none. This should not do.” The men were concerned that her words had conveyed more than just the worries of an old woman in need of charity. Witnesses reported that a few days later Roby lost a cow and a sheep “very strangely,” which they attributed to the devilish works of Unise Cole. Then when Cole was put on trial for witchcraft in 1656, Roby’s wife Ruth testified that Unise had tried to “insinuate” herself into the lives of her children. Ruth herself had been tormented by Cole, who appeared to her in “many ways” and in “many forms.” We don’t know what supernatural horrors Mrs. Roby had been witness to, but some of Cole’s forms were said to be those of a dog, an eagle, and a gray cat.

In 1680, in the midst of the threat of Indian attacks and the uncertainty brought about by the separation of Hampton and her sister towns from Massachusetts, Roby was foreman of a jury of inquest impaneled to investigate the death of John and Mary Cox Godfrey’s infant son. The jury decided that the boy had been murdered by witchcraft, and they named Rachel Brabrook Fuller, a young woman with children of her own, as the witch who had done the deed. In the court depositions that followed, a witness repeated Rachel’s story of a great row at Goodman Roby’s in which Dr. Reed, one of Roby’s lodgers, was pulled out of bed by witches, who “with an enchanted bridle did intend to lead a jaunt.” Roby’s strange mojo, which caused these reputed witches to call him out by name, could afflict others, too—throughout the summer of 1682 his kinsman and business partner George Walton was plagued by “stone-throwing devils” at the tavern that he and Roby owned on Great Island (Newcastle, New Hampshire).

 In Judith’s defense

According to the historian Joseph Dow, Judith was the third child and first daughter of Henry and Ruth Roby. Born about 1650, she would have been old enough to work in her parents’ public house by the time Roby received his first tavern license in 1669. In March 1671 she became pregnant by John Young, an Exeter man with whom her father was acquainted through his legal work for the town of Hampton. In December 1671 Judith gave birth to a son, naming him John after his father. There is no record that she was ever called to court to answer for her sin of fornication, unlike the experience of many young men and women of the time. John refused to accept the child, and Roby sued him for support. Young then promised to pay two shillings six pence per week, but he was so lax with payments that Roby had to complain to the court on several more occasions. To make matters worse, during this time his wife died, leaving him with three minor children to care for, and his unmarried sister-in-law became pregnant, for which he had to post a bond for her appearance on charges of fornication (she was eventually found guilty and sentenced to 15 stripes if she could not pay her fine). Roby began drinking heavily, to the detriment of himself, his family, and his tavern.

In October 1674, at the last court appearance of which there is a record for the “maintenance of the bastard child,” Roby’s new wife Elizabeth Garland caused such a scene that the justices ordered her committed to prison. Elizabeth was not a woman to be taken lightly, and she was not afraid to stand up for her rights. After she had successfully sued a man for roughing up her teenage son Jacob at Roby’s tavern, she hired Roby to sue the town of Hampton for seizing a load of wood staves that belonged to her son John (Roby won the case, and two months later he and Widow Garland were married). But Elizabeth was also smart enough to know when she had overstepped her bounds. After she confessed that she was “very sorry” for her “contemptuous carriages in open court,” the justices remitted her sentence.

Roby’s sister-in-law married her child’s father, but Judith did not. She and her son continued to live at the Roby homestead. Although she had committed a grave sin, it’s clear that Roby kept his daughter in his heart. In his 1687 will he bequeathed to her a feather bed, all the apples she wanted from his orchard, and ten pounds money, “so long as she lives single unmarried.”

We don’t know what became of Judith’s son John Young Roby, but in 1693 she married the widower Samuel Healey. In 1697 John Young, Sr., still living in Exeter, was slain by Indians.

 Confronting the Church

In 1662 the “half-way covenant” was introduced into New England’s churches. The object of this covenant was to bring more members into the fold by allowing the baptism of children whose parents were not in full communion with the Puritan church, thereby passing on the “benefits of godliness” to those children. The new covenant was not universally accepted and remained a contentious issue for many years. As late as 1678, Frances Jenness of Hampton (later, Rye) was presented at court for saying that some children recently baptized “had received the mark of the beast.”

Henry Roby, who considered himself one of God’s elect (and therefore his place in Heaven was assured), publicly disapproved of the new covenant. He declared to Hampton’s congregation that their minister Seaborn Cotton “would baptize all ye heathen in the country if there were water enough.” To a friend he said that Cotton “might as well have cast ye water upon a beast’s face standing by as upon these children.” In his journal Cotton wrote of another occasion when Roby turned his back on the sermon, departed the meetinghouse, and refused to return. Cotton’s supporters accused him of the serious crimes of “reviling the ordinance of baptism and reproaching the minister,” and he was put on trial. No doubt Roby, like his courtroom nemesis Edward Colcord, had a way with words, as the justices merely admonished him and bound him for good behavior. As we will see in the next and final installment, Cotton never truly forgave Roby for the incident.

Originally published in the Hampton Union on January 27, 2017.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015.” Her website is

A Fundamental Flaw (Part I)


drunk_woodcut Henry Roby of Hampton, New Hampshire stands out as one of the most intriguing minor figures in 17th-century New England. The fragmentary record of his life portrays an industrious colony-builder who demanded respect, but through some fundamental flaw in his character had failed to actually earn it. He abused the power of his position, disregarded his sworn oaths, and arrogantly transgressed the authority of the church. His encounters with smarter and more determined men revealed him to be a weak and ineffectual authority figure, easily flustered and prone to violence, which opened the way for disobedience to his orders and derision of his character. Drunkenness clouded his judgment and acquisitiveness made him an easy target of bribery.

In the end, it was written that he had been excommunicated from the church as a “common drunkard,” and that when he died his friends buried him in a secret location near his house, fearing that his creditors might ransom the body for his outstanding debts. Whether these stories are true or not, they illustrate the level to which he had sunk in popular opinion.

An English Immigrant

Roby was born in 1618-19 at Castle Donington, Leicestershire, England. In 1639 he and his nine-year-old brother Samuel were swept up in the great western migration of an estimated 20,000 English men, women, and children, most of whom had left the country of their birth for religious reasons. After landing at Boston, the Roby brothers whisked through the towns of Dorchester and Salem before setting down in Exeter, a new settlement whose lands had been bought from the local Indians by Reverend John Wheelwright. Roby arrived in time to sign his name to the town’s first charter for government, and while many of the signers eventually left for places like Maine and Rhode Island, he remained to take an active role in the governance of the small settlement.

Roby married Ruth Moore of Ipswich, Massachusetts sometime before the birth of their first child in 1646. After publicly disparaging Exeter’s minister, who happened to be the son of the Massachusetts governor, Roby thought it prudent to find another place to live. He bought the Hampton homestead of Isaac and Susanna Perkins, located on the north side of the meeting house green (near the present day Baptist Church on Winnacunnet Road), and moved there with his family, which by then had grown to include three children, Thomas, John, and Judith. In his lifetime he would have three wives, the last of which survived him, and would father nine children.

In Hampton, Roby served as selectman, lot layer, constable, militiaman, grand juror, attorney, justice of the peace, and a justice of the Court of Sessions. He accumulated wealth through his endeavors, which included farming, land dealing, and tavernkeeping. By 1680 his tax was over 13 shillings, one of the highest rates in town. Balancing out this stellar reputation were behaviors that landed him before the court as a defendant on numerous occasions— negligence as constable, assault on a neighbor, reproaching town ministers and a member of the court, selling wine without a license, public drunkenness, and keeping a poor public house. Even the town witches knew his character well enough to call him out by name.

Roby and the Vexatious Edward Colcord

If the Essex County court of the 17th century had been a business, lawyer Edward Colcord would have been its best (and most colorful) customer. He was constantly before the court, representing himself and others, and was accused of using subtle contrivances and underhanded practices to cheat dozens of men out of their property. He cursed, drank excessively, and was prone to violent outbursts, yet he was also the darling of the courtroom, as the justices gave him a very long rope with which to hang himself. Over a decade would pass before they dealt seriously with the complaints piling up against him, but finally, in 1661, they screwed their courage to the sticking place and sentenced him to prison in Boston—not for his fraudulent dealings, but for his needless and vexatious suits.

As Hampton’s constable at the time, it was Roby’s job to deliver Colcord to prison. He either wouldn’t or couldn’t, and through some cleverness Colcord was allowed to post a bond to avoid prison time. The situation was brought before the gentlemen of the General Court, who affirmed the Hampton court’s sentence on Colcord. They also voted unanimously that Henry Roby, “for his unfaithfulness in not duly attending his warrant,” would have to personally bear the charges of transporting Colcord to Boston.

This affair caused permanent animosity between the two men, and Roby would later sue Colcord for calling him a “base rogue” and for troubling him with many vexatious suits. The court fined Colcord for his abusive language, but did not agree with Roby’s second contention. Colcord then sued Roby and Norfolk County marshal Abraham Drake for assault and battery, claiming that they had “wounded him and endeavored to break open his house when he was peaceably at his calling with his family.” The defendants countersued Colcord for “illegally and vexatiously prosecuting” them, but even as the justices agreed that their darling had “violently resisted with weapons the marshal in execution of his office,” they determined that he had merely broken his bond for good behavior. Their reluctance to take strong measures against Colcord was especially maddening for men like Roby and Drake, who risked being fined if they did not enforce the law.

Roby the Tavernkeeper

Roby’s career as tavernkeeper began rather ingloriously, with an illegal tavern in Exeter. This tavern was eventually discovered and shut down, and he was fined 20 shillings. He later acquired an interest in the Great Island tavern of George Walton, but there is no record to show that he was anything more than a silent partner. Then in 1669 he applied for his first tavern license—which was granted to him with the proviso that he would not “suffer any townsmen’s children or servants to lie tippling in his house.” This may have been a caveat crafted specially for him, as not all tavern licenses were issued with this warning. Sometime before 1674 Roby leased Robert Tuck’s former public house from fellow townsman John Sanborn, who as the deceased Tuck’s son-in-law managed the estate for his wife. When Roby had a disagreement with Sanborn, perhaps over the terms of the lease, or perhaps over the way Roby was running his tavern, Roby knocked his landlord down with both words and fists. Sanborn sued in court, and Roby was ordered to pay reparations for his abuse. The men patched up their differences, and Roby continued to lease the house until it was sold to Captain Samuel Sherburne of Portsmouth in 1678. Roby then moved his tavern to his own dwelling.

Also in 1678, Roby married his third wife Sarah. While he pursued his occupations as attorney and justice of the peace, she ran the tavern (and would continue to run it under her own name after his death). License renewals that year were issued under a new law which made it illegal for tavernkeepers like the Robys to serve the inhabitants of their town. Needless to say, the result was much riding out to the taverns in neighboring towns, but this, too, was made illegal. Staff-carrying tythingmen were enjoined to search public houses and private homes for evidence of local tippling, for which they received one-third of any fines collected. Nevertheless, the crackdown on drinking went largely unenforced and the law was eventually repealed.

Roby was a pious man, in full communion with the Hampton church, but his strict Puritanism offered no immunity from the temptations of the tavern. He was convicted of the sins of “excessive drinking” and “drinking to the abuse of himself,” which led to later accusations and fines for keeping a sloppy tavern. These convictions gave the selectmen ample reason to refuse his yearly license renewals, but they did not, because in the 1670s Henry Roby had not yet become the guy everyone loved to hate. That would come later.

To be continued…

First published in the Hampton Union on January 20, 2017.

Sources for this series of articles: Essex County Court Files Vols. 1-3, New Hampshire State Papers Vol. 1, The History of Hampton by Joseph Dow, Genealogical Dictionary of Maine and New Hampshire by Noyes/Libby/Davis, Seaborn Cotton’s Journal (Massachusetts Historical Society), and Henry Dow’s Journal (Hampton Historical Society).

 History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter’s latest book is “The Queens of Hampton Beach: A History of the Carnival Queens and the Miss Hampton Beach Beauty Pageant, 1915-2015,” available at Her website is