Captain Samuel Sherburne

A History Matters column published by the Hampton Union on Tuesday, December 15, 2015.

-Tavernkeeper, Early Patriot, and Indian Fighter-

 During its first 145 years as a town, Hampton had accommodated twenty-six licensed tavernkeepers within its bounds. Among that number was Captain Samuel Sherburne, a man just two months older than Hampton itself.

Born in 1638 at Little Harbor (now Rye), Samuel was the grandson and heir of Ambrose Gibbons, the factor of New Hampshire’s original proprietor, Captain John Mason. His father was Henry Sherburne, a tavernkeeper, ferryman, and all-round important guy in Strawbery Banke. Henry and his brother John were the predecessors of the Portsmouth Sherburnes, solid members of the seaport’s eighteenth-century ruling elite. Samuel’s twin sister Elizabeth was the ancestress of the Langdon and Lear clans, two other leading Portsmouth families.

Before coming to Hampton with his wife Love Hutchins and their three children, Samuel ran the Little Harbor ferry and worked in his father’s tavern. In 1678 he paid his uncle John £140 for the old Tuck tavern in Hampton, of which John’s wife Elizabeth Tuck was heir. Glad to have such a man of means and prior tavernkeeping experience, the selectmen approved him and the court granted him license to keep a public house of entertainment for “horse, man or travelers.” He was soon made captain of the local militia, and although his upbringing had been Anglican, he and his wife were granted permission to build a pew in the Puritan meetinghouse.

HD Journal p14

Page from Captain Henry Dow’s diary, his account at Samuel Sherburne’s Hampton tavern. Courtesy of the Hampton Historical Society and the Herbert Dow Historical Museum, Midland MI (Herbert Dow founded the Dow Chemical Company in 1897; Henry Dow was his sixth great-grandfather.

A Drinking Diary

By the time Samuel hung his sign in late 1678, Henry Dow had been the Norfolk County marshal for five years, and would continue likewise for the next two years. He then became Hampton’s town clerk and held the position until his death in 1707. He frequented Sherburne’s tavern and shared military responsibilities with its keeper. Close in age, the two men were likely friends.

Through the journal Henry kept from 1672-1702, we can peek into the daily affairs at the Sherburne tavern. Beginning in 1679, for twelve years he recorded his tavern purchases. He drank tavern-brewed beer made with malt from local maltster Ephraim Marston, rum, hard cider, Madeira wine, burnt wine (brandy), and flip (a belly-warming mixture of eggs, sugar, rum, and beer heated with a red-hot loggerhead). He also bought “raysons” and cherry bounce (a cordial of brandy, cherries, and sugar) at the tavern.

Now and then Henry liked to treat others to a drink. Half pints of rum for prisonkeeper John Souter and kinswoman Mary Moulton, a quart of rum for his 17-year-old son Simon, a gill (four ounces) of rum for his 11-year-old son Jabez, and a half pint of wine for his wife Hannah.

Other records show that Sherburne sold everyday wines, with exotic-sounding names like pissado and fyal, from Spain and the Azores, and more expensive wines from France and the Canary Islands, all procured by the pipe and hogshead from Boston spirits merchant Penn Townsend.

Town Militia

After the required “trayning” day drills on the village green, militia officers were expected to treat their thirsty soldiers to rum, wine, and beer. The muster in October 1682 must have been a doozy; for his share alone Henry paid £8 and 6 shillings. The following year Samuel picked up more of the tab, as Henry’s charges fell to £1 and 4 shillings. In 1689 Henry recorded “a trayning day in wine and rum for soldiers” of only 3 shillings and 6 pence, indicating an amazing sobriety among the troops (doubtful) or that Samuel had again picked up the lion’s share of the tab. No records exist to tell us what amounts, or even if, the town reimbursed them for their expenses.

Henry also kept account of the town’s supply of bullets and powder stored at Samuel’s tavern. In a typical journal entry, he recorded that “Captain Shearborn received of Lt. Marston 90 weight of bullitts great & small and the barrill with powder. From Brother Sanborn 112 and 60 weight bullitts.”

For Sale: A Slightly-Used Inspector

Everyone in Hampton knew that Portsmouth ship owner William Vaughan had roughed up Thomas Thurton, the government’s much-despised customs inspector, for trying to enforce unpopular navigation laws on one of Vaughan’s ships. Not long after, Thurton was at Sherburne’s tavern, grumbling about the “parcel of cursed rogues” running the show in Portsmouth.

Sherburne had no qualms about reporting Thurton’s treasonous speech to the province authorities, who promptly convicted Thurton of “abusive and contemptuous language against the council” (of which Vaughan was a member). His sentence, meant to humiliate as well as to punish, was one month in the Hampton jail. And if he failed to pay a £20 fine, “he shall be sold by the Treasurer, who is hereby empowered to make sale of him for the payment of his said fine.” The laughter from that Great Island courtroom sent echoes rippling all the way to Sherburne’s tavern.

Thurton, who groveled and asked for “lenity,” may have spent some time in the Hampton jail, but the Treasurer never followed through with the sale of his person. Seven months later, Lt. Governor Edward Cranfield arrived from England, with instructions to resolve the disputes between provincial property owners and Captain John Mason’s heirs. Initially welcomed, he turned out to be a spectacular and well-hated failure. Among his many egregious acts perpetrated on the colonists was his appointment of Thurton as deputy marshal.

The Wheedled Weakling

February 1684 saw a “great bluster” in Hampton over the discovery of a petition protesting Cranfield’s misrule. Some “weaklings” had been “wheedled” to name the local subversives, and as a result Samuel and six other men were arrested and fined. A few months later we find Samuel arguing with his neighbor Dr. Hooper. The two men ended up in a bare-fisted brawl in the middle of the road, with a local magistrate ineffectually trying to break them up. Samuel was again arrested and fined, this time for “beating, wounding and drawing blood from Dr. Richard Hooper, chirurgeon.”

Had Dr. Hooper been one of the wheedled weaklings, which had so inflamed Sam Sherburne’s wrath? This was a time when opposition to Cranfield was hitting a fever pitch. He had shut down the town meetings, unfairly set the price of money, threatened puritan ministers, rigged Edward Gove’s conviction for treason, and had harassed, unjustly imprisoned, and confiscated the property of prominent New Hampshire men.

Samuel wasn’t the only man fed up with the government’s shenanigans. When he was arrested by Marshal Thurton for refusal to pay his fines, friendly townsmen helped him escape custody. He then ordered Thurton’s embarrassing midnight removal from the province by some of his militia men, who left Thurton in Salisbury to figure out a way home. In consequence, Samuel was relieved of both his rank and the town’s supply of ammunition.

By mid-1685, however, the locals had got the best of Cranfield. Now out of a job in New Hampshire, he boarded ship for Barbados. Upon leaving, he penned these less-than-famous last words: “I esteem it the greatest happiness of my life to remove from among these people.”

Fighting Indians

Samuel’s commission was restored and the ammunition returned to his keeping. As one in a long line of English colonists who had fought the French and Indians in a series of frontier wars lasting nearly one hundred years, Samuel knew how to go on the offensive. After a devastating raid on “Cocheca” (Dover) in 1689, his company went upcountry and down east to skirmish with the Indians, but with little to show for their trouble. In 1691, as part of a four-company expedition to fight the enemy on his home turf, Samuel and his men landed at Maquoit Bay in Maine. Not surprisingly, their foe disappeared into the forest like a mist, only to reappear and attack as the militia boarded ships to return home on August 4. Captain Sherburne, Nathaniel White, and James Dolle of Hampton were among those killed in the encounter.

Seven days later Henry wrote in his journal that he had received the town’s supply of bullets and powder at “the Widow Shearborn’s house.” In the town records he entered this brief epitaph: “Capt. Samuel Sherborn was kild att Casco by ye heathen ye 4 day of August 1691.” Captain Sherburne, 53 years old at the time of his death, left behind a pregnant wife and eight children. His wife Love, made of the same stern stuff as her husband, never remarried. Instead, she ran the tavern in her own name for the next ten years, retiring to Kingston in 1702.


History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of “A Meet and Suitable Person: Tavernkeeping in Old Hampton, 1638-1783.” Follow her @hamptonwriter.


The Gentleman Volunteer

By Cheryl Lassiter A History Matters column published by the Hampton Union on Tuesday, November 10, 2015. “70 yards from the German trenches.” Rupert Lindsey in the French trenches, Champagne-Ardennes, October 1917. Hampton Historical Society. A volunteer ambulance driver in World War I was not selected for his ability to bind a wound or repair […]

The Witch of Hampton: the woman and her legend

Happy Halloween!

Originally published in History Matters, Hampton Union, October 27, 2015

By Cheryl Lassiter

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.

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 abide by the terms of the 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 Unise Cole 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.

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?

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of “The Mark of Goody Cole: a tragic and true tale of witchcraft persecution from the history of early America” (2014). Her website is

Hampton’s Argonauts

Lassiter_headshot 3By Cheryl Lassiter

[Originally published in History Matters, Hampton Union, October 6, 2015]

In the mid-nineteenth century some anonymous wit applied the term “Argonaut”—from the Greek epic of Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece—to the tens of thousands of men and women, including thirteen from Hampton, whose own passionate seafaring quests for things of gold had begot the California Gold Rush of 1849.

Our Hampton Argonauts were descendants of Puritans who had brought to America a divine obligation to create a “city on a hill,” and they were right at home with the successor doctrine of Manifest Destiny. They read with interest President Polk’s annual message to the nation, which hailed the virtues of westward expansion and cited the abundance of gold in the California territory. Of course, not everyone was as sanguine as Polk: an Exeter Newsletter editor warned that the Argonauts’ land of gold was also the land of death. Maybe some cautious souls took heed and stayed at home. Not so the Hamptoners, who “took the fever” and went west.

The Accidental Argonaut

It was purely a coincidence that twenty-five-year-old Caroline Perkins Joyce was the first townie to rub up against the gold fields of California. Displaying the same independence of mind as her grandfather John Harriman, the half-Penobscot pastor of Hampton’s Baptist Church, Caroline defied her parents and joined the Church of Latter Day Saints in Boston. There she became known as the “Mormon nightingale” for her beautiful singing voice. In 1846, in company with several hundred other Mormons, Caroline, her husband John Joyce, and daughter Augusta sailed from New York on the ship Brooklyn, bound for California. This voyage proved historic, as it was the first to transport women and children around Cape Horn for the purposes of settlement.

When gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in January 1848, John Joyce deserted his plow and joined the rush for riches. “My husband has been in the gold mines,” Caroline wrote to her parents, “and in four months has dug out two thousand dollars’ worth of gold. Any boy twelve years old can get from one to three ounces of pure gold in a day.” Urging them to come out west where they could earn a better living, she posed the question, “Who would not leave home for a while and risk the ocean waves, rather than work for years?”

In 1849, Caroline’s father and brother, both named John, separately journeyed to California. As her daughter wrote years later, “My grandfather, and uncle, John Perkins, came to see my mother. I well remember sitting on grandpa’s knee and learning my alphabet from him. I recall when Uncle John sang the strange, pathetic, old-fashioned sea songs of which he knew so many and sang so sweetly.”

The gold fields enriched the Joyces but left a blight on their marriage. Caroline divorced her husband, remarried, and moved to the Utah Territory, where she died in 1876. Her tombstone in St. George, Utah commemorates her part in the historic voyage of the Brooklyn.

The Ark Sails For California

On October 31, 1849, the 297-ton brig Ark, Captain Charles Marsh master, sailed from Newburyport. After a long passage around the Horn of 206 days and some 17,000 miles, the ship sailed into San Francisco Bay on May 25, 1850. On board were over one hundred Argonauts, including three from Hampton: J. H. Williams, Fred L. Dunbar, and J. Perkins (this was either John Perkins, Caroline’s father, or Captain James Perkins, of the Tide Mill Road area).

What these men accomplished during their time in California is largely unknown. John Perkins returned home, apparently none the richer, built a house at the beach, and lived there until his death in 1876. James Perkins spent five years in California, and upon his return rebuilt his tide mill “with money he brought from California.” He died in 1894 at the age of ninety.

Fred Dunbar stayed in the west, never having struck it rich. In 1870 he was working as a laborer in the Washington Territory, and was still there in the 1890s. J. H. Williams became “a word in the wind, a brother to the fog,” and his fate remains to be discovered.

Excerpt from Charles Perkins’s Journal. NHHS.

The Domingo Follows

The barque Domingo, Captain Bray master, sailed from Newburyport on November 12, 1849. The ship caught up to the Ark off the coast of Brazil, and although faced with a week of gales and hailstorms around the Horn, sailed into San Francisco Bay on April 6, 1850, nearly two months ahead of Marsh’s brig.

Among the Domingo’s passengers were six young Hampton men, the Parker Schnabel’s of their time: Nathaniel Johnson, Charles M. Perkins, Henry S. Lamprey, Charles T. Lamprey, Morrill M. Lamprey, and John E. Dearborn. It was a confusing mix of brothers-in-law, uncles, and cousins.

From Charles Perkins’s journal, we know that Johnson, Perkins, Henry Lamprey, and Charles Lamprey had formed a company for the purpose of mining gold. After arriving in San Francisco, they set out for the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, eager to get scratchin’. They soon were mining various claims in the Curtis Creek area, graduating from picks and pans to the Long Tom, a gold washing contraption that required four men and a good stream of water to operate. For a time, each man was earning about one hundred dollars a month in gold.

In May 1851 they sold out and headed home. About this homeward journey, there’s a rural legend of sorts that points to theft and deception on the part of Charles Perkins. It goes like this: Johnson decided to take the longer route around the Horn, and he entrusted his gold to Perkins, who took the shorter route across the Isthmus. Perkins reached home on June 20, 1851. When Nathaniel arrived some months later, he was greeted with the news that the gold was gone, taken by robbers in Panama. Not everyone thought Perkins had told the truth, and the rumor mill went into production.

In 1857, Perkins returned to California with his younger brother John Calvin. What a difference a few years had made—the gold fields once peppered with independent prospectors had become industrialized, with hydraulic mining machines polluting streams and churning the gold-bearing hills into ugly moonscapes. For the last year and a half of their stay, Charles and John worked for big commercial operations like the Merced Falls Mining Company.

Back at home the war was on, and Charles enlisted in the 16th New Hampshire Volunteers. He mustered out in August 1863, and died three months later at the age of thirty-seven. John Calvin died in 1875 at the age of thirty-eight.

Like Fred Dunbar, Henry Lamprey remained on the west coast. He died in British Columbia in 1876. John Dearborn married in 1867, his wife died in 1868, and he died the following year at the age of forty-nine. Morrill Lamprey came home, got married, and lived quietly, paying for a substitute soldier in December 1864. Nathaniel Johnson turned to farming and civic duties, and owned a sloop with Edwin Hobbs and Charles Lamprey. Lamprey was mentioned in a 1938 Portsmouth Herald article as one of the “famous forty-niners.”

Broadside for the Martha, 1849. HHS.

Broadside for the Martha, 1849. HHS.

A Portsmouth First

On November 26, 1849, the four-year-old, Kittery-built barque Martha sailed down the Piscataqua, the first Portsmouth ship to carry passengers to California. Onboard with Captain Joseph Grace and fourteen crew members were sixty-four passengers who were “all badly, very badly afflicted with yellow fever.” Their ship proved to be a “poor sailer on the wind, and made a very long passage.” Indeed. The Martha beat the Ark’s time by only two days, arriving in San Francisco on June 18, 1850. Grace sold the ship in California and was back home within a year.

The Martha’s lone Hamptoner was Nathaniel Johnson’s cousin, mariner Edwin Johnson Hobbs. At some point after his arrival he joined his cousin in the gold fields, and they sailed home together in 1851. Hobbs spent the rest of the 1850s sailing the world on merchant vessels, sending letters home from exotic ports like Hong Kong and Rangoon. Back at home, he kept the lighthouses at Boon Island and the Isles of Shoals. He died in 1905.

A Hampton First

The first and only Hampton vessel to ship a load of Argonauts was the 130-ton schooner Harriet Neal, built by Captain John Johnson at his Taylor River shipyard and named for his niece. The ship had sailed to the Mediterranean, West Indies, and Texas, and in March 1849 carried the men of the Massasoit Overland Mining Company from Boston to the port of Chagres, en route to the California gold fields.

One of the Harriet Neal’s sailors was nineteen-year-old John Perkins, the brother of Caroline Perkins Joyce. Stricken with the gold fever, he jumped ship at Chagres and went to San Francisco, where he visited his sister and her family, singing old songs of the sea to his niece.

John’s story ends happily, as it was said that he worked the California gold mines “to the surprise, and, as it proved, the financial betterment of his family.” For most of Hampton’s Argonauts, however, it seems they brought home more experience than gold.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of “The Mark of Goody Cole: a tragic and true tale of witchcraft persecution from the history of early America” (2014). Her website is

A House of History, Mystery, Legend, and Lore

By Cheryl Lassiter

Originally published as a History Matters column in the Hampton Union, September 1, 2015

Moulton house, c. 1900 watercolor by Isabella S. Lamprey. Hampton Historical Society.

Moulton house, c. 1900 watercolor by Isabella S. Lamprey. Hampton Historical Society.

Hampton is a very strange, very haunted town, a place where fact and fiction tangle together like lobster traps in a hurricane. And judging from the content of the locally-produced literary efforts on file at the Historical Society, the people like it that way.

This fact v. fiction conundrum is no more evident than in the case of Mammon-worshipper General Jonathan Moulton (1726-1787) and his haunted mansion house. Nearly every writer who takes on the subject notices it, promises to do something about it, but sooner or later falls under the spell of the legend. That the famous house still exists, architecturally and historically significant as the only high-style Georgian in town, makes the stories about Moulton all the more intriguing.

The Yankee Faust

The owner of the house was a study in contradictions. A self-made man of humble beginnings, Moulton became a wealthy merchant, land speculator, and public figure. He was a noted Indian fighter and Revolutionary War figure, awarded the rank of brigadier general in the state militia. Through his political connections he obtained large tracts of land near Lake Winnipesaukee, which he named Moultonborough and New Hampton.

By all accounts, Moulton was a hospitable, well-mannered gentleman, but it was said that he “uniformly and sedulously flattered the vices and follies of mankind,” and his name became a byword for deceitful dealing and financial tyranny. Through fraud and trickery he “reduced many families from affluence to beggary,” and to win in courts of law he corrupted judges, bribed jurors, and suborned witnesses. Despite his wrongdoing, he was (and is) a respected, albeit sometimes overlooked, figure in Hampton.

Moulton’s egregious dealings provided the raw material for the fable of the Yankee Faust, in which he learns the consequences of greed when he sells his soul to the Devil for a bootful of gold coins. He employs the largest boot he can find, and when that doesn’t satisfy his lust for money, he cuts the sole from the boot to provide an endless flow of coins. When the Devil discovers that he has been cheated, he burns down Moulton’s house. Over the years Moulton lost a total of ten buildings to fire—six barns, two stores, a stable, and the house—besides one warehouse seriously singed by lightning. It seems that Old Nick didn’t give up his grudges so easily.

The Ghost Wife

In 1769, undeterred by this satanic comeuppance, Moulton built his second mansion to replace the one that burned. It was in this house that his wife Abigail succumbed to smallpox. In John Greenleaf Whittier’s supernatural tale “The New Wife and the Old,” greedy old Moulton gives the dead wife’s rings and bracelets to his new wife, provoking Abigail’s unhappy ghost to rise up and reclaim her baubles.

 The Haunted House

Moulton house, c. 1900 watercolor by Caroline T. Cutler. Hampton Historical Society.

Moulton house, c. 1900 watercolor by Caroline T. Cutler. Hampton Historical Society.

Back in ’62, before all the trouble started, Moulton bought the old Tuck tavern house from bankrupt innkeeper Gershom Griffith to use as his store. The tavern was situated on a triangular plot of land between the country road (Lafayette Road), Drakeside Road, and the road we now know as Park Avenue. It was here that he built fancy mansion number one, “contiguous with two stores.” After the house and the stores burned, the second house—the one that stands today—was built close by.

After Moulton’s death, and the delivery of his soul to Hell, the house became haunted by his own unhappy ghost. It was said that Portsmouth lawyer Oliver Whipple, who bought the mansion from Moulton’s estate, had to fetch a minister to exorcise the restless spirit and plank it up in the cellar.

In 1802 Whipple sold the mansion to James Leavitt, for whom it was home, tavern, post office, and boarding house for Hampton Academy students.

“There was one walled off part of the cellar into which we dared not go at night,” Susan, one of Leavitt’s daughters, had said. “It had something to do with General Moulton’s death. When we were seated by the fire, telling stories of ghosts and witches, we heard footfalls on the stairs, the rustle of silk dresses, and doors slamming when there was no wind.”

No one knows why, but Leavitt moved the house to a new foundation some hundred yards or so to the west side of the country road. The house had escaped the haunted cellar, but the otherworldly mystique remained, inspiring Whittier in 1843 to pen the ghostly tale of Mrs. Moulton’s disappearing jewelry.

Also in 1843, carpenter Jabez Towle bought the mansion from Leavitt’s estate. He continued to keep the boarding house. By 1870 his widow Elizabeth had taken in her divorced daughter Elizabeth Towle Mace and her three children, and was renting part of the house to a sea captain and his family.

Widow Towle died in 1873, leaving the house to her children. Mrs. Mace eventually became the sole owner, but could not afford the upkeep. The mansion fell into disrepair. It was in this era that it became known as “The Haunted House,” and would remain so for the next half century.

In 1888, with Mrs. Mace still ensconced in the house, Lucy Dow published “A Beautiful Place of Pines: Winnacunnett Shalbee Called Hampton,” her florid sketch of the history and lore Hampton. About the house she wrote: “the ghostly visitors departed long ago, and flesh and blood occupy the mansion undisturbed. It stands in a conspicuous position, a two-story, hip-roofed house, fronting on three roads, and is still outwardly substantial, and little less than imposing in appearance, though innocent of paint and tasteful care. Of the internal adornments, once lavish and costly, no vestige remains, unless, by implication, in the great stairway and the paneled wainscoting.” A fancy way of saying that the place was a dump, and a stark contrast to her glowing portrayal of the grand old house of Christopher Toppan, Moulton’s contemporary, just up the road. It’s too bad Lucy passed away before the street railway laborers came to board with Mrs. Mace. Her insights regarding their use of the moldings and wainscoting for firewood would have been priceless.

The Salem Saviors

By 1919 Elizabeth and her heirs were dead, leaving a former son in law, Robert T. Batchelder, to inherit the neglected mansion. In 1922 he sold the house to siblings Catherine, Harlan, and Sarah Little of Salem, Massachusetts, who recognized its historical importance and had the money to restore it. Their intention was to recreate the mansion as a house museum to give to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (Historic New England) after their deaths. They moved the house onto a new foundation, several hundred feet back from the road, and over the years furnished it with eighteenth century antiques, “faithful reproductions,” and “modern approximations of a style.” For years, Harlan Little was active in the Meeting House Green Memorial and Historical Association (Hampton Historical Society), and he opened the house for tours on special occasions.

Erudite and educated Eloise Lane Smith was known as a “veritable fountainhead of knowledge concerning Hampton history.” In 1938, assisted by “papers in the possession of the Little family,” she wrote Moulton, his house, and his “bodyguard, Johnny Squaretoes” (the Devil) into the Drama of Winnacunnet, a historical pageant performed during the town’s 300th anniversary.

Regrettably, the Littles’ dream of a museum was never realized—in 1975 SPNEA released the house to the contingent beneficiary, Bates College of Lewiston, Maine, which kept the antique furniture and housewares and sold the house to a private party. With deed restrictions to preserve its architectural integrity, the house remains to this day a private residence.

The Moulton Mansion Artists

Moulton house sketch by Cornelia C. Schoolcraft, 1938. Hampton Historical Society.

Moulton house sketch by Cornelia C. Schoolcraft, 1938. Hampton Historical Society.

Its dark side connections have made the Moulton mansion not only a favorite subject of writers, but of artists, too. Among the Littles’ collections were several paintings and a pencil drawing of the house, created by three local, early-twentieth-century artists: Isabella Lamprey, Caroline Cutler, and Cornelia Schoolcraft. In 1992, Bates College donated the pieces to the Tuck Museum, which periodically exhibits this special artwork.

Isabella Shirley Lane Lamprey (1865-1909) was a lifelong resident of Hampton and a descendant of early settlers William and Sarah Webster Lane. She lived on Mace Road near Five Corners with her husband, shoemaker Joseph I. Lamprey. Her watercolors present views of the Moulton mansion not easily seen by today’s passersby.

Caroline T. Cutler (1855-1928), a music teacher, was the daughter of George P. and Anna S. Cutler of Taunton, Massachusetts. The Cutlers were said to have been the first family to build a summer cottage on Hampton Beach. As Peter Randall relates in his history of Hampton, Caroline “painted many watercolors of the Beach and marshes about the turn of the century.”

Cornelia Cunningham Schoolcraft (1903-1974) was born in Savannah, Georgia. A professional painter, illustrator, and block printer, she resided in Dover, New Hampshire in the 1940s-early 1950s, and again in the 1970s. In 1933, she published “Atlanta: City of To-Day,” a book of her sketches of historic sites and street scenes in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Last House Standing

Moulton’s devilish old mansion outlived Lucy Dow’s beloved Toppan house, which died of old age about the year 1900, its “colonial grandeur” unsullied neither by satanic nor ghostly visitations. Elmfield, the eighteenth-century Hampton Falls house where Whittier summered and spent his last days on earth, was likewise devoid of apparitions: it was disassembled in 1996 and carted off to Connecticut. Maybe if some worthy shades had haunted them, they’d still be with us today.

History Matters is a monthly column devoted to the history of Hampton and Hampton Beach. Cheryl Lassiter is the author of “The Mark of Goody Cole: a tragic and true tale of witchcraft persecution from the history of early America” (2014). Her website is

Hampton’s Founding Documents

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by Cheryl Lassiter

Originally published as a History Matters column in the Hampton Union, August 4, 2015.

For such a little state, New Hampshire has an amazingly large and complicated history, especially during the early days when it seemed that everybody and their minister wanted a piece of her soil. So it’s not surprising that the myth of the state’s ‘four original townships chartered by the General Court of Massachusetts’ continues to persist alongside counterclaims that these towns—Dover, Portsmouth, Exeter, and Hampton—were ‘vulnerable and without formal government’ and were thus ‘forced to accept Massachusetts’ rule for 40 years.’

Okay, there are a few nuggets of fact in them thar statements. But the truth is, of the four original towns, only Hampton was settled (in 1638) by order of the Great and General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and from the get-go it came under the protection…

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The Millionaire, the Minister, and the Museum

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The Millionaire, the Minister, and the Museum

by Cheryl Lassiter

Originally published as a History Matters column in the Hampton Union, June 29, 2015

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…

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