New Hampshire legends and lore
April 22. 2011 2:01PM
The Witch of Hampton
Eunice "Goody" Cole was New Hampshire's only convicted witch. She was tried and convicted in 1656 during the frenzy of the witch trials. She was sent to a Boston prison, her land taken by the town of Hampton to pay for her imprisonment. In her final days, she was taken care of by the townspeople, and she died alone in a small hut in the center of town. She had been blamed for various atrocities, including a shipwreck that killed 8 residents. Even her death is mysterious; some legends claim that she was tossed off a cliff into the sea by local citizens. Goody was exonerated in 1938, and a stone now stands outside the Tuck Museum to remember the woman who, it turns out, was never a witch after all.
New Hampshire's Doctor Granny
"Granny" Stalbird, also known as Deborah Vicker, was only the second woman to settle in the town of Jefferson. She married Richard Stalbird and gave birth to five children. But it's her service to the residents of the region that are steeped in legend. Granny is known to have traveled on horseback, healing those by drawing from her nursing training and her knowledge of Native American remedies. Her family lived for four generations at the property now known as the Applebrook Bed & Breakfast.
Passaconaway — the Indian Chief
Passaconaway was chief of a Pennacook Tribe who was born somewhere between 1550 and 1570. Legend has it that he could make water burn, turn dried leaves green and make dead snake skin turn into living snakes. Passaconaway is attributed with creating the forestless "old horn" of Mount Chocorua. It is said that Passaconaway started a forest fire that laid the peak bare. Another legend tells that upon his death he was carried away to heaven from the top of a mountain by a sled drawn by wolves.
Published by the Bisbee Press, Lancaster — 1938
An old Indian legend of Hampton Beach tells of the gentle Owaissa (Bluebird) and her cruel father Kenu. Owaissa had become very friendly with the white settlers and especially their children in a nearby settlement. As time passed and the Indians grew more and more hostile towards the English, her father, Kenu, forbade her visiting the pale-face settlement again. The gentle Indian maid dared not disobey this mandate until one day she heard that a child whom she was very fond of was sick and right at death's door. Her father soon heard of the visit she had made to the settlement in spite of his orders and in revenge he burned down the home of the child's parents. Here he later found Owaissa weeping at the smouldering ruins of the home she had arrived too late to save. Fleeing from her wrathful father she managed to reach a rocky headland that has since been known as Great Boar's Head and here finding a canoe, pushed out to sea praying as she went to the Great Father to save her from her irate parent who was wrathfully watching her from the rocky height unable to follow without a canoe. Her prayer was soon answered and she was seen ascending to Heaven in her canoe with arms outstretched and looking for all the world like a white sea gull. Thus passed on to the Happy Hunting Grounds the gentle Owaissa, but even to this day fortunate ones sometimes see this vision and hear the wild sea waves endlessly repeating "Owaissa, Owaissa."
Legend of Lake Winnipesaukee
"Many moons ago on the northern shore of this beautiful lake there lived a great chief, Wonaton, renowned for his great courage in war, and for the beauty of his fair daughter, Mineola. She had many suitors, but refused them all. One day, Adiwando, the young chief of a hostile tribe to the south, hearing so much of the fair Mineola, paddled across the lake and fearlessly entered the village of his enemies. Her father happened to be away at the time, and admiring his courage, the rest of the Indians did not harm him. Before long, he and the Indian maid were desperately in love with each other. Wonaton, on his return, was exceedingly wroth to find the chief of the enemy in his camp and a suitor for the hand of his daughter, that he immediately raised his tomahawk to kill him. Mineola, rushing in between them, pleaded with her father for the life of her lover, and finally succeeded in reconciling them. After the wedding ceremony, the whole tribe accompanied the two in their canoes halfway across the lake. The sky when they started was overcast and the waters black, but just as they were about to turn and leave them, the sun came out and the waters sparkled around the canoe of Mineola and Adiwando. "This is a good omen," said Wonaton, "and hereafter these waters shall be called Winnipesaukee, or 'Smile of the Great Spirit'."
In 1873, a double murder took place at Smuttynose, the largest of the Islands of the Isles of Shoals. Norwegian immigrants Anethe and Karen Christensen were purportedly the victims of murderer Louis Wagner, a German fisherman who was seen in Portsmouth Harbor earlier that evening. Wagner had previously stayed and worked on the island and reportedly rowed to the island to rob the house. He was convicted of the murders and was hung in 1875. Wagner professed his innocence until his death and the story has since been sensationalized in the press and on film. Although Wagner had no alibi, the conviction was based on circumstantial evidence and several theories about who may have killed the women have emerged over the years.
The Bear that Heard Sarah
In 1783, Sarah Witcher was lost in the woods near Warren, NH. Legend has it that the little girl was protected by a bear until she was rescued a few days later. There have been a couple of books written about this true-story-turned-folktale, including The Bear That Heard Crying by Natalie Kinsey-Warnock and Sarah Witcher's Story by Elizabeth Yates.
Ruth Colbath's Love
Ruth Colbath's husband left the family farm one day in 1891, never to return during his wife's lifetime. For 39 years, Ruth is said to have left a light burning in anticipation of his return. She died in 1930, at the age of 80 without seeing her husband again. Thomas returned just three years after her death without any real explanation for where he had been. He claimed to have wandered away and was too embarrassed to return after so much time had passed. Today, the Russell-Colbath House is a registered historic site. It is open to the public.
Willey Family Tragedy
The Willey family was killed by a landslide on August 28, 1826, after one of the most violent rain storms to hit the region. The Saco River rose quickly overnight, carrying away buildings, livestock and other debris. The Willey family, who had escaped their home, fled to a stone shelter on the property. The whole family and their hired hands were all killed in the landslide. But the house, which was protected by a ledge from above, was spared any destruction, leaving the house in untouched condition.
The ruins of "America's Stonehenge," a 4,000-year-old man-made structure, is comprised of rock walls, chambers and monoliths that create an accurate astronomical calendar. These monoliths mark important dates such as the equinoxes and solstices and point out the True North Alignment. It is believed by some that Stonehenge, which used to be called "Mystery Hill," was built by the Celts. Others believe that the ancient site was a Native American ceremonial meeting place.
Chocorua's legend states that the proud Indian Chief refused to flee from conflict with the white man. It is said that he befriended one of the colonial settlers, a man by the name of Cornelius Campbell. Chocorua left his son Tuamba in the care of Campbell's family, while he went north to celebrate a powwow. While he was gone, Tuamba ate some poison that was meant to kill marauding wolves. When Chocorua returned, Campbell was away, and Chocorua killed his wife and son in anger. When Cornelius returned to find his family killed, he sought the Indian Chief for revenge. Chocorua fled to the top of the highest nearby mountain, with Cornelius in pursuit. Knowing he would die, Chocorua raised his arms to the sky and shouted, "Evil spirits breathe death upon the cattle of the white man! Wind and fire destroy your dwellings! Panthers and wolves howl and grow fat on your bones. Chocorua goes now to the Great Spirit!" before leaping to his death from the mountain known today as Mount Chocorua. Two years later, Cornelius' body was found dead, partially eaten by wolves. Other mysteries have plagued the area, all blamed on the curse of Chocorua.
Ocean Born Mary
Legend has it that "Ocean Born Mary" was born at sea on July 28, 1720, to James and Elizabeth Wilson. She was on a ship filled with immigrants that was intercepted by pirates. The pirate reportedly promised not to harm anyone if the Wilsons named their new baby after his mother, or his wife (depending on the version). She moved to Londonderry and married James Wallace in 1742, wearing a silk gown that was presented to her at birth by the privateer. Some versions take the legend even further, stating that the pirate returned two decades later to claim Mary after her husband died, when in fact he lived to be 81. There is a house in Henniker known as the Ocean Born Mary house, but it has no connection to the red-haired baby who was born on a ship and later became known as Ocean Born Mary.