Such was the reputation of Goody Cole, that she was both hated and feared. That she did not possess such trait of characters as were suited to gain the affection and good will of her neighbors, may readily be believed. She may even have been, as she was said to be, ill-natured and ugly, artful and aggravating, malicious and revengeful. But this does not tell the whole story of what was charged upon her. It was confidently believed that she had "made a league with the devil", and that by his aid she was able to render persons deformed, to torture, and even to drown them with "an invisible hand," and that she was actually guilty of performing all these misdeeds.
In the year 1656, she was arraigned before the County Court of Norfolk, charged with the crime of witchcraft. The testimony of a considerable number of witnesses was offered in support of the charge, and a verdict was rendered against her. The evidence in the case goes to establish the fact, that Goody Cole was neither loved nor respected by her neighbors, and that she was not, perhaps, entitled to their love nor respect; but on a calm review of the case, it seems difficult to understand how the court or the jury could, from the testimony introduced, pronouce her guilty of the crime alleged.
We cannot better portray the absurb infatuation of this widespread belief in witchcraft than by bringing forward some of the testimony in this case of Goody Cole. We are the more inclined to do this at some length, since tradition and poetry have made hers a representative case. Whittier's poem, "The Wreck of Rivermouth," has given occasion for much curious questioning on the subject. It is the privilege of the poet, however, to weave a thread of fact into a web of subtle fancies; while it would be unpardonable in the historian, so to connect the loss of the vessel, with its human freight, which occurred in 1657, (see close of this chapter) with Goody Cole, thrown into prison in 1656, and "Father Bachiler," returned to England in 1654 or 5.
Goody Marston, and Susanna, the wife of Christopher Palmer, deposed, "that goodwife Cole said that she was sure there was a witche in the towne, and she knew where hee dwelt & who they are;" also that thirteen years before, she had known one "bewitched as goodwife Marston's child was" and that this person "was changed from a man to an ape, as goody Marsston's child was."
Thomas Philbrick testified that she [Goody Cole] had said if his calves should eat any of her grass "she wished it might poysen them or choke them;" and he further testified that he never saw one of his calves afterward, "and the other calfe came home and died aboute a weeke after."
Sobriety, the wife of Henry Moulton, and goodwife Sleeper, the wife of Thomas, deposed that while "talking about goodwife Cole & goodwife Marston's childe," they on a sudden "heard something scrape against the boards of the windows," which "scrapeing," after they had been out "and looked aboute and could see nothing," and had gone into the house again, and begun "to talke the same talke againe," was repeated, and "was so loude that if a dogg or a catt had done it" they "should have scene the markes in the boards;" but none were to be seen.
Abraham Drake deposed in court, on the 4th of September, 1656 that "aboute this time twelve month my neighbor Coles lost a Cowe, and wen as hade found it, I and others brought the cowe home to his house & hee & shee desired mee to flea this cowe, and presantly after she charged mee with killing her cowe, and said they should know hee had killed hir cowe, for the just hand of God was uppon my cattell, and forthwith I lost two cattell, and the latter end of somer I lost one cowe more."
Goody Cole was adjudged to be guilty, and was sentenced to receive, as she afterward expressed it, "a double punishment," viz.: to be whipped and then imprisoned during her natural life, or until released by the court.
In this unhappy plight we leave poor Goody Cole for the present, but she will cross our path again.