Sunday, July 23, 2017

Joanna Sleeper and Goody Cole

A belated memorial
From The Witch of Hampton (4)

Eunice (or Unise) Cole lived in Hampton, New Hampshire from before 1640 until her death in 1680. She was charged with being a witch on and off throughout her life. "Goody" Cole, as she was known, was accused, possibly indicted, whipped, imprisoned, and generally made miserable by her neighbors.

From The Witch of Hampton: "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." (4)

From Wikipedia "Goody Cole was almost certainly unpleasant in the extreme - Hampton historian Joseph Dow referred to her as "ill-natured and ugly, artful and aggravating, malicious and revengeful" - but certainly not a witch. Such behaviour is unsurprising given the accusations leveled against her and her treatment by those in her community." (2)

When she died, she was buried in an unmarked grave. Local legends abound regarding her life and her death, but in 1937 the townspeople formed a Goody Cole Society, more formally known as  "The Society in Hampton Beach for the Apprehension of Those Falsely Accusing Eunice (Goody) Cole of Having Familiarity With the Devil." Their intent, although much belated, was to clear her name. (2)

I am sorry to tell you that my 9th great grandmother, Joanna Lee Sleeper, was one of the townsfolk who gave sworn testimony about Goody Cole. 

Joanna Sleeper on a cat that afflicted Goodman Wedgewood
Joanna Sleeper aged 33 years or thereabouts testifieth that last winter was a twelve month this deponent went into Goodman Wedgewood's to see him he being sick when I came in he was very cheer[i]ly over what he had been, and when I arose up to go away yet standing by his bedside I saw a cat come down from the plancher [Planking or platform.](of a gray color) over his bed to my best thinking and she came upon his breast: and he cried out Lord have mercy upon me the cat hath killed me, and broken my heart, and his wife asked me if that were the cat (which she showed me), and I thought the cat which I saw as aforesaid was bigger than the cat she showed me although she was like that cat for color, and it was the same evening the which Goodwife Cole was there about noon before, and farther saith not.
Sworn in court September 4, 1656 Edward Rawson Secretary.
Source: Suffolk County Court Files, 2:256a (MA) (1)

For other testimony against Goody Cole, see Vehement Suspicion (3).

This is a sad chapter in my ancestors' history. It was bad enough that Joanna was giving testimony as a witness in a witch's trial. For others in our family, the witch trials were a great deal more personal and tragic. Next time...


1. Witch-Hunting in Seventeenth Century New England; A Documentary History, 1638-1693, edited by David D. Hall. Duke University Press, 2005. 
2. Wikipedia: Eunice Cole.
3. Vehement Suspicion: Eunice Cole of Hampton (1656-1680).
4. The Witch of Hampton, the Woman and Her Legend, by Cheryl Lassiter. 2015.
5. Joanna Lee Sleeper 1623-1703) was the wife of Thomas Sleeper and the mother of Elizabeth Sleeper Perkins who I wrote about in My 8th Great Grandfather: Slayne by ye Indians.

Here is how we are related:

1 comment:

  1. Holy Cow! Gives the term "witch hunt" some depth. We use it so cavalierly these days but its origins are very sinister and awful.


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