In Myths and Legends of our Own Time, Charles M. Skinner wrote the following story, based on two poems by John Greenleaf Whittier.
Goodwife Eunice Cole, of Hampton, Massachusetts, was so “vehemently suspected to be a witch” that she was arrested in 1680 for the third time and was thrown into the Ipswich jail with a chain on her leg. She had a mumbling habit, which was bad, and a wild look, which was worse. The death of two calves had been charged to her sorceries, and she was believed to have raised the cyclone that sent a party of merrymakers to the sea-bottom off the Isles of Shoals, for insulting her that morning.
WHITTIER’S “WRECK OF RIVERMOUTH”
excerpt from poem by John Greenleaf Whittier
As they rounded the point where Goody Cole
Sat by her door with her wheel atwirl,
A bent and blear-eyed poor old soul.
“Oho!” she muttered, “ye’re brave to-day!
But I hear the little waves laugh and say,
The broth will be cold that waits at home;
For it’s one to go, but another to come!’ “
“She’s cursed,” said the skipper; “speak her fair:
I’m scary always to see her shake
Her wicked head, with its wild gray hair,
And nose like a hawk, and eyes like a snake.”
Some said that Goody Cole took the shapes of eagles, dogs, and cats, and that she had the aspect of an ape when she went through the mummeries that caused Goody Marston’s child to die, yet while she was in the Ipswich jail a likeness of her was stumping about the graveyard on the day when they buried the child. For such offences , including making bread ferment and give forth evil odors, she was several times whipped and ducked by the constable.
At last she lay under sentence of death in the Ipswich jail, for Anna Dalton declared that her child had been changed in its cradle and that she hated and feared the thing that had been left there. Her husband, Ezra, had pleaded with her in vain. “‘Tis no child of mine,” she cried. “‘Tis an imp. Don’t you see how old and shrewd it is? How wrinkled and ugly? It does not take my milk: it is sucking my blood and wearing me to skin and bone.”
Once, as she sat brooding by the fire, she turned to her husband and said, “Rake the coals out and put the child in them. Goody Cole will fly fast enough when she hears it screaming, and will come down chimney in the shape of an owl or a bat, and take the thing away. Then we shall have our little one back.
Goodman Dalton sighed as he looked into the worn, scowling face of his wife; then, laying his hands on her head, he prayed to God that she might be led out of the shadow and made to love her child again.
As he prayed a gleam of sunset shone in at the window and made a halo around the face of the smiling babe. Mistress Dalton looked at the little thing in doubt; then a glow of recognition came into her eyes, and with a sob of joy she caught the child to her breast, while Dalton embraced them both, deeply happy, for his wife had recovered her reason.
excerpt from poem by John Greenleaf Whittier
Now the weariest of all mothers,
The saddest two years’ bride,
She scowls in the face of her husband,
And spurns her child aside.
“Rake out the red coals, goodman,”
For there the child shall lie,
Till the black witch comes to fetch her
And both up chimney fly.
“It’s never my own little daughter,
It’s never my own,” she said;
“The witches have stolen my Anna,
And left me an imp instead”
In the midst of tears and kisses the woman started with a faint cry: she remembered that a poor old creature, Goody Cole, was about to expiate on the gallows a crime that had never been committed. She urged her husband to ride with all speed to Justice Sewall and demand that Goody Cole be freed.
This the goodman did, arriving at Newbury at ten o’clock at night, when the town had long been abed and asleep. By dint of alarms at the justice’s door he brought forth that worthy in gown and night-cap, and, after the case had been explained to him, he wrote an order for Mistress Cole’s release.
With this paper in his hand Dalton rode at once to Ipswich, and when the cock crew in the dawning the victim of that horrible charge walked forth, without her manacles.
Now mount and ride my goodman
As thou lovest thy own soul Woe 1s me if my wicked fancies
Be the death of Goody Cole
His horse he saddled and bridled
And into the night rode he
Now through the great black woodland
Now by the white beached sea
He rode through the silent clearings
He came to the ferry wide
And thrice he called to the boatman
Asleep on the other side
He set his horse to the river
He swam to Newbury town
And he called up Justice Sewall
In his nightcap and his gown
And the grave and worshipful justice
Upon whose soul be peace
Set his name to the jailer’s warrant
For Goodwife Cole’s release
Then through the night the hoof beats
Went sounding like a flail
And Goody Cole at cockcrow
Came forth from Ipswich jail
Dark suspicion hung about the bedlam to the last, and she died, as she had lived, alone in her little cabin. Even after her demise the villagers could with difficulty summon courage to enter her cot and give her burial. Her body was tumbled into a pit, hastily dug near her door, and a stake was driven through the heart to exorcise the powers of evil that possessed her in life.
Adapted from Myths and Legends of our Own Time by Charles M. Skinner. Thomas Franklin Waters notes that her imprisonment in the Ipswich Jail may have been an invention of John Greenleaf Whittier’s imagination in The Changeling.
Verdicts: Eunice Cole was charged and arrested three times in her life for witchcraft
- In answer to the petition of Eunice Cole, it is ordered that she may have her liberty upon her security to depart from and abide out of this jurisdiction, and not to return. Oct. 4, 1662, ( Massachusetts Court Records)
- “In the case of Eunice Cole now prisoner at the bar but not legally guilty according to indictment but just ground on vehement suspicion of her having had familiarity with the devil.”– Jonas Clarke in the name of the rest, 1673 (Salisbury Court)
- Eunice Cole imprisoned for a third time and was released on September 7, 1680 with an ambiguous verdict: “Eunice Cole being by authority committed to prison on suspicion of being a witch and upon examination of testimonies the court vehemently suspects her of being so to be, but not full proof, is sentenced and confined to prison and to be kept in durance until this court take further action with a lock to be kept on her leg. In the meanwhile the selectmen of Hampton to take care to provide for her as formerly that she may be relieved.” (NH Court records)
Eunice Cole (born 1590 in England) died one month later, October 1680. In 1938, residents of Hampton re-opened the case of Eunice “Goody” Cole and found her innocent.
- Myths and Legends of our Own Time by Charles M. Skinner
- Wreck of the Rivermouth by John Greenleaf Whittier
- The Changeling by John Greenleaf Whittier
- Massachusetts Bay Records
- New Hampshire Court Records
- The Hampton NH Library
- Witch-hunting in Seventeenth Century New England by David D. Hall
- New England Historical Society
- The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England by Carol F. Karlsen
- Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England by John Putnam Damos.