(Another) Goody Cole Story Surfaces at the Museum
In the archives of the Hampton Historical Society reside the yearbooks and associated records of the now-defunct Hampton Monday Club (1907-2007). Produced by a group of civic-minded women who took their record keeping seriously, it is an impressive historical collection that spans nearly the entire 20th century. There are lists of club officers and members, reports, letters, activities, and photographs, as well as original member-written essays which were presented orally at club meetings.
Among the more interesting artifacts is an undated script for a radio play titled “A Haunted Town,” written for the club by an unknown author. In 1937, according to a history printed in the club’s 100th Anniversary program (2007), “…Five Club members assisted in a broadcast on the local radio station WHEB. They presented the History of the Hampton Monday Club, told a NH Folk Tale, and special music was provided by the Musical Committee.” A handwritten note in the script’s margin reads: “Monday Club Broadcast over Portsmouth Radio Station Tuesday [morning?] 11 o’clock”.
Hampton in the 1930s was defined largely by the Depression and the town’s 300th anniversary; as a result, it seemed that everyone took a giant, collective step into the past to remember the “good old days.” Yet those days were not so good for all involved, and in the 1930s, as now, you could not talk about Hampton’s past without acknowledging the lone historical figure whose wretched life story is a wart on the nose of our generally benevolent history: Goodwife Unise Cole, the Witch of Hampton.
And so it is with “A Haunted Town.” At first accusatory, then finally sympathetic, the play depicts some of the better-known tales about the reputed 17th century witch. Significant probably only to myself, there is no mention of her magic well or witch’s hovel at the beach, lending support for my finding that those story elements were created in 1938 by Haverhill newspaperman William D. Cram to promote his newly-formed Goody Cole Society. In the play, Mother explains to daughter Betty that Goody Cole “lived in a little hut in the rear of the Academy near the Meeting House Green” – completely ignoring John Greenleaf Whittier and seeming to draw from Edmund Willoughby Toppan’s then-unpublished history (it was published in 2009 by his descendant, Hampton Academy teacher Lori White Cotter).
The play’s two actors, Bernice Palmer (1899-1985) and Emma Young (1860-1952), were both long-time members of the Hampton Monday Club. Bernice was an artist and some of her watercolors are on display at the Tuck Museum. It’s said that she preferred to pronounce her name “Bur-nis,” with emphasis on the first syllable. Emma contributed to the club in a writerly way, and she may have written the script. In another posting I’ll share her c.1926 composition of a Folk Tale of Hampton, N.H. in 1836. Meanwhile, if anyone can confirm the script’s authorship, please let us know.
The Mark of Goody Cole, my 2014 biography of Goodwife Cole, is available for purchase through the Hampton Historical Society.
Here’s the script, reprinted in its entirety~
A Haunted Town
Scene: Living Room
Characters: Mrs. Waldron [played by Emma Young] and her daughter Betty [played by Bernice Palmer]
Betty: Mother, is it true that once upon a time there were ghosts in Hampton?
Mother: well dear, my great grandmother used to tell me some very interesting stories about it.
Betty: Tell them to me, won’t you? I would love to hear all about ghosts.
Mother: She told that Hampton was called “A Spirit Haunted Town.” Ghosts and witches, and even the evil one himself often appeared to its inhabitants.
Betty: I should have though they would have been terrified.
Mother: By what she told me, I should think they were. One could not lie down in bed at night with peaceful certainty that no alarming spectre would stalk through his rooms to trouble his slumbers. Nor could one jog along the country lanes without the disturbing possibility that some broom stick rider might be hard upon his track.
Betty: Don’t you think Mother, that the Hampton people were over superstitious?
Mother: I understand that the good people of Hampton were no more superstitious than men and women usually were who lived in rural communities in Colonial days, and especially those living near the sea, but it is certain that they peopled the quiet village with personages our modern eyes do not see. However it might be with ghosts, witches were tangible enough and the Hampton authorities made short shrift of them. The delusion found its chief victim in the person of Goody Cole, widow of the late William Cole.
Betty: I never knew much about witches. I know this will be interesting.
Mother: The evil powers were ascribed to her by the people of Hampton.
Betty: Did she ever do any harm through her evil spirits?
Mother: It is related that at one time some young people looked into her window and saw her busily engaged turning a bowl, they said it was in the shape of a boat. At last she turned it over and exclaimed, “The devil has got the imps now.” That night news came that Peter Johnson and James Philbrick were drowned at that hour. It was believed that the boat overturned through her agency and this greatly increased the fear and hatred of the old woman.
Betty: Where were they drowned?
Mother: They were drowned near a Creek, now known as Cole’s Creek.
Betty: What a terrible thing for her to do. Did anyone ever see the evil one?
Mother: The children reported having seen him. They too, used to indulge in the fearless pleasure of peeping into her windows, and the story they told was that the evil one was in the shape of a little black dwarf with a red cap on his head. He sat at the table and frequently she cuffed his ears to keep him in order. There was another story that was common at the time and it was that Goody Cole turned Goodwife Marston’s child into an ape.
Betty: Was there no way to stop her from doing such awful things?
Mother: In 1656 she was tried before the County Court of Norfolk. At the trial Thomas Philbrick testified that she had said that if any of his calves should eat her grass, she wished it would poison or choke them. Immediately after one of the calves disappeared. The other one came home and died about a week later.
Betty: Were there any others to testify against her?
Mother: Yes. Goodwife Sobriety Moulton and Goodwife Sleeper testified that while talking about Goodwife Cole and Goodwife Marston’s child, they heard on a sudden a scrape against the boards of the window but after they had gone out and looked around they could see nothing. They went into the house and began to talk as before. The noise was repeated so loud that if a dog or cat had done it they should have seen the marks in the boards and such evidence was conclusive.
Betty: On, this is really spooky. Just like a Halloween story. What happened then?
Mother: The poor woman was sentence to be whipped and imprisoned for life.
Betty: Did she really have to stay for life?
Mother: No. She remained there in prison for fifteen years and was then released. The Town was ordered to contribute to her support.
Betty: Well, I suppose she lived happily ever after, didn’t she?
Mother: Oh, no. Shortly after she was arrested again on a new charge of witchcraft but after a few more months of confinement she was discharged. The Court rendered this remarkable decision, “In ye case of Unis Cole, now prisoner at ye bar, is legally guilty according to indictment, by just ground of vehement suspicion of her having familiarity with the Devil.”
Betty: She certainly was familiar alright. I am glad she is not living now. Did she still continue the evil work?
Mother: No. She returned to Hampton to die soon after in bitter poverty and distress.
Betty: Where did this wonderful Goody Cole live?
Mother: She lived in a little hut in the rear of the Academy near the Meeting House Green.
Betty: Mother, did you ever hear anything about her burial?
Mother: Yes, the malignant hatred of persecutors followed her to the grave. The tradition still lingers among the older people of the Town that the witch was denied a Christian burial and that her body was dragged and then thrown into a hastily dug trench in the ditch by the side of the road near her home, and that a stake was driven through her with a horseshoe attaché to drive away the evil spirit and prevent her from again troubling the good people of Hampton.
Betty: After all, I think the poor woman was a martyr, don’t you?
Mother: Yes, I do. With her quarter of a century of persecution and suffering she was surely as much of a martyr as those to whom death came quickly on the scaffold of Witch’s Hill. Now as the hour is getting late I must not talk any more about ghosts and witches. Some other time I will tell you what I have heard about the Quakers.
Betty: Thanks, Mother. It has all been very interesting and I expect I shall see ghosts and witches in my sleep. Good night.
© 2015 Cheryl Lassiter lassitergang.com