Writing Marked | Goodwife Unise Cole

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Goodwife Unise Cole (c.1600-1680) is arguably the most famous person ever to have trod the streets of the small New England town of Hampton, New Hampshire, situated on the granite shores of the cold Atlantic. Founded in 1638 by hardy English immigrants who brought with them a strong belief in the Devil and witchcraft, the town is steeped in brooding stories of the supernatural, with the legend of Goody Cole ranked first among them. But I wanted to know – who was the real person behind the lore? No one had ever written extensively on her life before, and I wondered, Was it even possible to find out?

As I discovered during my research, the facts of her 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. Variously feared and pitied, she has been portrayed as a foul-tempered misanthrope imbued with magical powers. She has achieved minor cult status in the region as a witch and renowned victim of the Puritan’s harsh belief system. It’s frankly hard to imagine this 17th century woman as a smiling, carefree little girl playing with dolls and making dandelion necklaces, and even harder to see her as an earnest young woman with thoughts of marriage and children. Surely she was both, but that simple observation has been lost beneath a thick veneer of legend, most of it of the pointed black hat and broomstick variety.

Regardless, there was much to discover and uncover about Unise’s real life, including the interesting dynamic between her and her husband William, a man nearly 30 years her senior, as well as with the child that she claimed had been turned into an ape through witchcraft.

A pattern of behavioral ups and downs began to emerge in her actions as my research progressed. No matter what punishment she received – whippings, set in stocks, imprisonment – as well as being subjected to the witch-finding techniques of “searching” and “watching,” Unise seemed incapable of controlling her outbursts of socially unacceptable behavior which the townspeople deemed witchcraft. She was also a childless women, and after her husband died, utterly alone in the world. No wonder she later tried to convince a young girl to live with her (for which she would be accused of using witchcraft to entice the girl).

To help go beyond the lore, I chose to spell her given name Eunice in the same way that it was spelled by Samuel Dalton, the stern Hampton magistrate, town clerk, and, by the way, her next door neighbor. It was written likewise by the unknown Boston scribe who penned the only document – a petition for release from prison – known to contain her personal mark (reproduced in the book). The name was not very common in the 17th century, and its meaning, “good victory,” certainly didn’t fit her very well.

 The Mark of Goody Cole tells the story not only of Unise Cole’s life, but also of her ‘exoneration’  by the town of Hampton during its 300th anniversary celebration in 1938. In writing the book I have attempted to give some small insight into why she continues to leave her mark on the old town and its environs.

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