The Witch of Hampton

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Happy Halloween!

It’s my guess that most people in town would not be surprised to learn that the most frequently asked questions by visitors to the Tuck Museum, especially around this ghostly time of year, are those about Goody Cole, the Witch of Hampton.
     For the benefit of those who might not have heard of Hampton’s most famous citizen: Goody Cole, whose given name was Unise (alternately, Eunice), was a seventeenth-century miscreant whose hateful presence disturbed the town’s peace, leaving the magistrates no other choice but to physically punish her, and when that didn’t produce the desired good behavior, to charge her with witchcraft.
     Unise Cole has been portrayed as a foul-tempered misanthrope imbued with magical powers. In modern times she has been variously feared and pitied, and has achieved minor cult status as a witch and renowned victim of a cruel belief system. The truth is, the facts of Goody Cole’s existence present themselves like the prison she was so often in: dark, windowless, and having a heavily barred door to further inquiry. It is impossible to know who she really was and what her desires and demons might have been. But we can try.

From England to America
In 1635, a maid named Eunice Giles married a sawyer named William Coules at the medieval Anglican church of St. Dunstan’s in the parish of Stepney, Middlesex, England, just outside of the walled city of London, adjacent to the East India Company’s sprawling shipyard in Blackwall. I believe this was the Unise and William Cole who arrived in New England during the summer or fall of 1636. They lived at Mount Wollaston, south of Boston, until 1638, when they were among the first settlers of Exeter, New Hampshire. In 1640 the town of Hampton granted land to William, but he continued to appear in the Exeter records until about 1644, in which year it is supposed he and Unise moved to Hampton. Once here, Unise’s legal troubles began almost immediately. Long before her first trial for witchcraft, she was fined, set in stocks, “admonished,” and even whipped for various infractions of the law, much of it related to bad relations with her neighbors. Neither the civil authorities nor her husband, who once joined her in railing against a perceived injustice, could subdue her for long.
     During the quarter century from her first witchcraft trial in 1656 until her death in 1680, Unise spent more than half the time in prison. In all, she was whipped at least two, perhaps three, times, was hauled before the court on at least eight occasions, fined twice, admonished once, twice put under a bond, set in the stocks, searched for witch-marks, watched for diabolical imps, and, near the end of her life, was locked in leg irons and imprisoned one final time.

Unise Cole’s signature mark from her 1657 court petition. Mass Archives.

First Trial for Witchcraft
Twenty-six witnesses testified at her first trial for witchcraft, held in Boston. The main evidence brought against her was the witch-marks discovered on her body at her first whipping. The reason for the whipping seems to have been related to her involvement in the death of a (possibly deformed) child. Witnesses also implicated her in the death of a bedridden man, said she had killed their cattle through demonic agency, and that she had had an uncanny knowledge of a private conversation.
Convicted on a lesser charge, Unise was kept in the Boston prison until early 1660. When she returned home she was immediately back in trouble. For calling her neighbors despicable names, she was again whipped and sent back to prison.
    When William died in 1662 Unise petitioned the court for release, which was granted. Unable to “depart this jurisdiction,” never to return, as called for in the terms of her release, she was sent back to prison for a third time—coincidentally on the morning after she had been observed discoursing in her house with the Devil himself.

Her house and land were taken from her and she became a ward of the town, which paid a yearly charge to keep her incarcerated. Eight years later, over 70 years old and homeless, she was freed from prison. When she returned to Hampton the town put her in a cottage near the meeting house and grudgingly provided her with food and wood.

Second Trial for Witchcraft
The trouble again started up, with a whining pup in the meeting house, threats made to the night’s watchmen, and the enticing of a nine-year-old girl. The last offense was deemed witchcraft and in 1673 Unise was again put on trial in Boston. The prosecutors, John Sanborn and/or Nathaniel Weare, threw the kitchen sink of testimony at her, even bringing in decades-old evidence to wring out a conviction. Yet, after all their hard work, the jury stubbornly refused to find her legally guilty. Unise again returned to Hampton. Nothing more was heard of her by way of the court until 1680 when she was again accused of being a witch, for which she was locked in leg irons and held in the local prison. One month later she died, and a legend was born.

Early Legends
By the nineteenth century, tales of old Goodwife Unise Cole were circulating in written form thanks to the pens of local historians like Edmund Willoughby Toppan (1808-1845) and Joseph Dow (1807-1889), and the poems of John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892) of Amesbury, Massachusetts.
     Toppan was the first person, as far as is known, to set down the Cole lore as it existed in his time. He looked with a bemused eye upon claims of Unise’s “alliance with the Devil,” observing that despite her reputation as a fearsome witch, the “young people of that day” delighted in antagonizing her with tricks. Concerning her death, Toppan wrote that after a few days of not seeing her out and about, the townspeople “plucked up courage enough to break into the house” and found her dead. They buried her and drove a stake into the grave, with a horseshoe attached, “to prevent her from ever coming up again.” When Toppan was a student at Hampton Academy, a “little mound of earth was pointed out [to him] as the veritable grave of the once powerful Eunice Cole.”
Whittier also took an interest in the lore. Much of today’s popular perception of her can be traced back to the scratchings of his imaginative quill. The 1864 ballad Wreck of Rivermouth recast a real-life 1657 shipwreck near the mouth of the Hampton River into a doomed fishing excursion to the Isles of Shoals. The poet places “the mad old witch-wife” in a riverside shack, where she is able to curse her antagonists as they sail merrily by. When a young lady onboard makes fun of the “bent and blear-eyed poor old soul” sitting at her door a-spinning, Unise conjures up a storm to teach her a lesson. Whittier must have felt a pang of guilt for abusing her memory in this way; at the end of the tale he gives her a heart: as she sees the sinking ship, a tear stains her cheek and she is utterly shaken that her “words were true.”
     Joseph Dow, who wrote the History of Hampton, just stuck to the facts.

Goody Cole Society Membership Card. Hampton Historical Society.

The Goody Cole Society
The Great Depression with its Dust Bowl, dispossessed farmers, and homeless vagabonds had sparked America’s social imagination and fired enormous interest in the lives and sufferings of ordinary people. It was during this time that Unise Cole’s life story became an object lesson in injustice, and her reputation as a witch rocketed to celebrity status. She was Hampton’s most well-known citizen, with a story ripe for exploitation.
     In 1937 the Goody Cole Society was formed to “restore” Unise Cole to the “citizenship” of which she had been deprived by many years of imprisonment, and at the town meeting in 1938 residents voted to give back her “rightful place as a citizen of the town of Hampton.” Two weeks later she and her latter-day champions starred in a nationally broadcast radio program to dramatize the event.
     As the star of the town’s three-hundredth birthday, held in August 1938, her imagined likeness was emblazoned on pamphlets, plaques, street signs, commemorative coins, and an air mail cachet; there was a Goody Cole doll and a Witch of Hampton booklet. Goody Cole scenes appeared in the town’s historical pageant. An entire day was devoted to her memory, with a special ceremony, attended by local and state dignitaries and a national celebrity, to restore her rights as a citizen of Hampton.

Later Legends
In 1937, Haverhill, Massachusetts newspaperman William D. Cram invented the enduring story of Goody Cole’s magic well, placing it alongside her riverside shack at The Willows on Sargent’s Island. Then in the early 1960s, just in time for another town anniversary, came a spate of sightings of the ghost of Goody Cole (as well as the installation at the local museum of a large lump of granite in her honor).

A Well-treated Witch?
Since those earlier times, the town’s demeanor has taken a more sophisticated turn: the two most recent town anniversaries were devoid of any new Cole lore. But she is far from forgotten—a musical album about her legend has been produced, information about her life is one of the top visitor requests at the Tuck Museum, and the Witch of Hampton remains as well-known to the town’s children as the local candy store. Remembrances of her have become, in their own way, part of the lore. It begs the question—has any other “witch” in history been treated so well post mortem as our own Goodwife Unise Cole?
   

Originally published in the Hampton Union, October 27, 2015.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of three books of local history, including “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole, 1656-1680.” Her website is http://www.lassitergang.com.

The Millionaire, the Minister, and the Museum

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It was the 1920s, the war to end all wars had been fought and won, prosperity was rising, morals were relaxing, and a rush of innovations was creating a new mass consumer culture in America. Amid all the ‘roaring’ going on in the country, significant changes were taking place in Hampton, too. The population was increasing as never before, farming and fishing were steadily abandoned in favor of business and manufacturing, and the town, embracing its reputation as a summer tourist destination, boldly touted Hampton Beach as the ‘Atlantic City of New England.’

 

Ira Jones (left) and NH Sec of State Hobart Pillsbury, October 14, 1925, Memorial Park dedication.

Ira Jones (left) and NH Sec of State Hobart Pillsbury, October 14, 1925, Memorial Park dedication. Hampton Historical Society photo.

A Good Time To Gather Up The Past

Some felt that now was the time to gather up the past before it slipped away forever. To that end, a group of civic-minded citizens formed the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association, with a mission to preserve the town’s history. They built Memorial Park on the Meeting House Green and dedicated it on the occasion of the town’s 287th birthday, October 14, 1925. Attended by representatives of Hampton’s nine ‘daughter’ towns, the event was capped by the unveiling of a 12-ton granite monument honoring Hampton’s Puritan founders.

Across the road from the Park, in an 1890 farmhouse purchased for the purpose, Association members created Tuck Memorial Hall as a place to collect and preserve the town’s historical relics. Nearby they erected a log cabin, their version of the town’s first meeting house. They later acquired the funds to construct the Tuck Athletic Fields to benefit Hampton’s present and future crop of youngsters. Not exactly a conventional historical society function, but they did it anyway.

Ira Jones of Hampton and Edward Tuck of Paris, France were largely responsible for creating the memorial park, hall, and playing fields. The original idea belonged to Ira, who applied the sweat equity in liberal doses and drummed up enthusiasm for the project while Edward supplied the funds and goodwill. Neither were spring chickens, but both would have scoffed at any suggestion that they were far too old to be running around starting new adventures at their time of life. Ira, a retired Baptist minister and funeral director, was 89 years old. Edward, a retired ex-pat banker, was 83.

Edward Tuck in Paris. 1920s. hampton Historical Society photo.

Edward Tuck in Paris. 1920s. Hampton Historical Society photo.

Edward Tuck, The Millionaire Philanthropist

Edward ‘Ned’ Tuck was born in Exeter in 1842. His mother was Sarah Nudd of Hampton, whose ancestors had settled here in the early 1640s. She married Mainer Amos Tuck, himself of Hampton first-settler stock, his fourth great-grandparents being the town’s first tavern keepers Robert and Joanna Tuck. A graduate of Hampton Academy and Dartmouth College, he became a lawyer, abolitionist, and congressman. His son Edward was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and Dartmouth College.

In view of his father’s ardent abolitionist stance, it remains a curious fact that Edward missed out on the Civil War. After graduating in 1862, he was appointed to a diplomatic post in Paris, France by his father’s friend, President Abraham Lincoln. Edward remained in Paris, joined an international banking firm, and married heiress Julia Stell. By the 1880s Mr. and Mrs. Edward Tuck had wealth enough to claim membership in the new Gilded Age millionaire class.

In some measure, they were adherents of Andrew Carnegie’s ‘gospel of wealth,’ and when Edward retired from banking he and Julia devoted their lives to giving away their fortune to worthy causes, with much of their philanthropy aimed at New Hampshire. Long before Edward became the benefactor of the Hampton museum that bears his name, he had given generously to his alma maters and had financed such projects as the New Hampshire Historical Society building in Concord, the Reverend John Tucke obelisk on Star Island, Stratham Hill Park, and the Exeter Cottage Hospital. He was also in the habit of donating $300 a year to his father’s old prep school, Hampton Academy.

Founders Monument Ira Jones 1925. Hampton Historical Society photo.

Founders Monument & Ira Jones, 1925. Hampton Historical Society photo.

Ira Jones, The Minister With An Idea

From the founding of the town in 1638 until 1810, the Meeting House Green had been the site of a succession of meeting houses. From then until 1883 it was home to Hampton Academy. When plans were being made to move the school building to a new location, there were calls to ‘put in its place something as a memento of the past.’ For centuries this part of the common had been the beating heart of the town, and for some it was a wrenching experience to see it abandoned. But the calls went unheard, and for forty years the Green was a ‘desolate’ place, ‘growing only weeds and brambles.’ ‘Then,’ in the words of Caroline Lamprey Shea, the Association’s first secretary, ‘came a man with an idea.’

That man was Ira Jones, born into a Quaker family in Maine in 1836. Rejecting that creed, he studied at New Hampton for the Free Baptist ministry. When war came, he served with the 15th Maine Infantry Co. D until June 1862, when he was discharged as disabled at Camp Parapet, Louisiana. Over the years, he preached in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and every New England state. In 1901 he came to Hampton, bought a furniture and casket store, and hung out his sign as a funeral director. His wife Aurelia Lawrence Jones bought some nice flower gardens attached to an unspectacular Victorian on Winnacunnet Road, not far from the bramble-choked town green. The name of their new home was Roselawn, which Ira emblazoned in raised golden letters on his personal stationery.

Aurelia died in 1913 at age 83, and the following year Ira, now 77 years old, married a 38-year-old nurse named Vina Morgan, who was likely the old lady’s caretaker in her last illness.

Caroline Shea tells us in her elegant little sketch that Ira ‘came to town a stranger, learned to love its beauties and know its history,’ and he ‘determined to do something to preserve the Green and honor the founders of Hampton.’ Aware that wealthy philanthropist Edward Tuck was a regular contributor to Hampton Academy, Ira solicited and received his financial backing. Ned’s first gift of $7,000 in 1925 paled in comparison to the nearly $850,000 he gave to Dartmouth College that year, but it enabled the Association to buy the farmhouse and build Memorial Park.

The Jones-Tuck Mutual Admiration Society

Ira and Edward corresponded across the Atlantic as the projects progressed, even swapping photographs of themselves like a couple of giddy school boys.

“I cannot refrain from expressing my admiration of your picture, showing your fine and impressive appearance at your advanced age,’ Edward, the young pup, gushed upon receiving the senior Ira’s likeness. ‘I make a very good showing myself, but I take my hat off to you.’

‘I am quite convinced,’ Ira replied benevolently, ‘that you need not take your hat off to anyone as showing a better physical or mental condition for the age you represent. I do most sincerely compliment you.’ With his letter he included yet another photo of himself, which he pointed out that ‘in posture I have followed Paris Style.’

No one talks like that anymore, which makes their exchange all the more charming.

Ira had another admirer in James Tucker, the editor of the Hampton Beach News-Guide. Commenting in 1926 on Ira’s recent appearance as King James II in a local play, he heaped praise on ‘that splendid gentleman and rare citizen,’ who, ‘unbowed by his more than four score years, straight as the proverbial arrow and with real majesty in his bearing, moved across the pageant stage, a living symbol of everything that was and is good and worthwhile in the life of historic Hampton.’

Seven months later, in April 1927, just as his plans to build the Tuck Athletic Fields were being finalized, Ira died in his sleep. When Edward heard the news he lamented that it was ‘a pity that Mr. Jones could not have lived to see [his work] fully completed.’ He donated another $10,000, others took up Ira’s work, and the playing fields were completed and dedicated in 1930. Edward would live to see 96 years and no more, all the while continuing his financial support of the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association.

 

Tuck House, 1931. Note addition at rear with closed in porch. HHS photo.

Tuck House, 1931. Note addition at rear with closed in porch. HHS photo.

The Museum Turns 90

If the millionaire or the minister had any serious doubts about the future of their Hampton endeavors, they never expressed it. The Association was a legal corporation, and other members stepped in where they left off. Over the years the farmhouse that we know as the Tuck Museum has been joined by a fire-fighting museum, an eighteenth-century barn, and a twentieth-century tourist cabin. The old log cabin meeting house finally disintegrated, its place taken by a nineteenth-century one-room schoolhouse.

GOTG 1Up PosterThe Museum and the Association, now known as the Hampton Historical Society, together turn ninety years old this year. To mark the milestone, the Society has opened a new exhibit, ‘Gathering on the Green: A History of the Hampton Historical Society and Tuck Museum, 1925 to the Present, with highlights of town, beach, and national events.’ On Saturday, July 18 they’re hosting a birthday bash on the museum grounds, with appearances by Vikings at Thorvald’s Rock, the witch Goody Cole, and other things of equally special magnificence. I hope to see you there.

Originally published in the Hampton Union, June 29, 2015

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of several books of local history, including “Marked: The Witchcraft Persecution of Goodwife Unise Cole, 1656-1680.” Her website is http://www.lassitergang.com.