Francis & Lydia Perkins and the Witch of Hampton, NH

With Halloween almost upon us, I’d like to share the story of Goodwife Eunice Cole, who lived with husband William, in Hampton, New Hampshire in the 1600s. I learned about Goody Cole, accused of witchcraft multiple times, because one of her altercations happened with my ancestress, Lydia Perkins, wife of Francis Perkins. The Perkins family had the misfortune, I guess you would call it, to live very close to and perhaps next door to the troublesome Goody Cole.

Who was Eunice Cole? Well, she was born about 1600 and, although her origins are uncertain, she might have lived in or near to London, England. Her maiden name is unproven. The exact date of her marriage to William Cole is also unknown, but it is certain that he was about thirty years older than her and they had no known children.

Arriving in New England about 1636, the Coles would have stood out as different from the moment they arrived. It wasn’t just their age difference. The fact that they had no children was very different. Even Eunice’s name was unusual for its time. However, the problem was that Eunice had a sharp tongue and she directed it towards many people.

The Coles may have lived in Boston for a short time right after their arrival, but they moved on to Exeter, New Hampshire from 1639 to 1643 and then to Hampton, New Hampshire, where Eunice’s lifelong troubles began.

Charges of witchcraft disrupted and likely destroyed the life of Goody Cole from the 1640s until she died about October of 1680. One of her court appearances in the 1640s is the one that touched the lives of Francis and Lydia Peabody, my ancestors.

Ipswich court minutes from 4 November 1645 show that Eunice Cole was sentenced to sit in the stocks at Hampton due to “slanderous speeches concerning Susan Parkings (Perkins) and Lidia Pebodye” and she was to pay witness Isaac Perkins 7d and court fees. The Perkins had the unfortunate luck to also live close to the Coles in Hampton.

In future court records, notice is given that Eunice Cole was to be whipped, more than once,  for social infractions and, in 1656, she was charged with witchcraft for the first time. This charge came about because witch marks were discovered on her body at the time of her first whipping.

It is interesting that, although it appears that Goody Cole was convicted of the charges, she was not executed. Instead, she was to be publicly whipped and then imprisoned in Boston.

From that time on, she was in and out of courts and prisons. Her husband William died in 1662 at a time when she was jailed. She was released on the condition of good behavior, which she was apparently unable to keep as she was caught talking to the Devil in her house. Her land and home were taken away and she went back to prison. When she wasn’t in jail, she was destitute and a town charge, which wouldn’t have endeared her to her neighbors either.

Eunice was released from prison yet again about 1670 when she was an elderly lady of about 70 years. The town of Hampton again had to care for her and troubles soon began. By 1673, she was charged with witchcraft for the second time, mainly for “enticing a young girl to live with her.” She was found not guilty and returned to Hampton one last time.

She also made one last appearance in the court records in 1680, again over charges of witchcraft. She was sent back to prison, but in Hampton not Boston, and shackled in leg irons. Goodwife Eunice Cole lived only one more month, dying about October 1680.

I can’t help but think what a sad, difficult life the Coles lived. William was never charged with any offenses, but the townspeople would have looked down on him, too, for not being able to control his wife.

Being a carpenter, William would have had the opportunity to make a decent living, but constant court appearances and convictions would have taken its toll. Neighbors might have sought out the services of another carpenter, rather than risking a run-in with William’s wife, and convictions meant court fees had to be paid.

I also find it interesting that, time after time, Eunice was charged with behaviors related to witchcraft, but she wasn’t executed. In fact, in 1673, the jury didn’t even convict her. The jury wasn’t one of her peers, as she was tried in Boston, not Hampton. I wonder if they saw her for what she probably was – a very troubled woman.

The story of Goody Eunice Cole is truly a sad one.


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