American Folklore: New Hampshire

American Folklore: New Hampshire

Like most places in North America, New Hampshire has a history of human habitation going back thousands of years. It is also one of the original thirteen English colonies, and much of it is still mountainous and rural. It has some intriguing local folklore, as one might imagine. Here are some of the highlights of it.

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One of the original thirteen British colonies in North America, New Hampshire was the ninth among them to ratify the U.S. Constitution after the Revolution, making it the ninth state to join the union. It has a long history going thousands of years before European settlement. Prior to the British coming to its shores, it was the home to several Algonquian-speaking tribes of Abnaki Native Americans. The largest ones were the Androscoggin and the Pennacook, who shared a language with other Algonquian tribes, but whose culture and religion were quite different from the others.

Explorers from England and France came to New Hampshire in the early 17th century. The first settlement was at Rye in 1623, but it did not last. The first permanent European settlement was at Dover in 1631. It was the first colony to set up an independent government from Great Britain, in 1776. With its storied and intriguing history, New Hampshire has quite a bit of interesting folklore associated with it. Here are some of the highlights.

The Happy Tale of Lake Winnipesaukee

While many stories of folklore have disturbing elements to them or are just creepy, this one is actually a happy tale of how Lake Winnipesaukee got its name. The legend goes that in the 1500s, shortly before Europeans came to New England, a Native American tribe lived on the north shore of the lake, and had a feud with the tribe that lived on the south shore. A girl named Mineola, who was the daughter of the north shore tribe’s chief, fell in love with Adiwando, the chief of the south shore tribe.

When Mineola’s father found out about the forbidden romance, he tried to fight Adiwando, but Mineola threw herself between the two men and begged for them to be allowed to wed. She managed to convince her father, and a wedding was held in the center of the lake on boats, to represent the blending of the two different tribes on either side of the lake. The wedding day was a stormy one, and people were concerned their canoes would be tipped over. However, when the couple was pronounced wed, the winds and waters calmed and the sun came out of the dense cloud cover, surrounding the nuptial canoe in light. Mineola’s father declared this to be a sign of the favor of the gods upon the marriage, and named the lake Winnipesaukee, which means “Smile of the Great Spirit.”

The Story of Persecuted Goody Cole

Back in colonial times, most married women were referred to as “Goody,” which was short for “Good Wife,” because “Mrs” was reserved for wealthy or noblewomen at the time. In the 1600s, Eunice Cole, aka “Goody Cole,” was accused and convicted of witchcraft in the town of Hampton, New Hampshire. She was not executed but was imprisoned in Boston for several years. Eventually, her poor health allowed her to be released and sent home to Hampton.

Her neighbors did not care for her presence back in town and accused her of witchcraft once more. While this second round of accusations did not result in any legal action against her, Goody Cole was ostracized by the town and left alone and destitute, resorting to foraging for berries to survive, and living in a ramshackle hut.

After she died, her neighbors began blaming her ghost for bad things that happened in the town, including a ship sinking offshore that killed eight local people. Today, her ghost is sometimes spotted wandering the streets of the town, asking where Goody Cole’s memorial can be found. Interestingly, while her grave did not initially have a memorial, the town erected one for her several decades ago.

The Mystery of Mystery Hill

Located in Salem, New Hampshire, Mystery Hill is also known as America’s Stonehenge. It is about 4,000 years old, and its precise origins are unknown. The site includes stone chambers, walls, and erect monoliths like Stonehenge in England.

Some say the site was constructed by Native Americans who believed the area on which it is built to be sacred. Others say ancient Europeans made it to North America thousands of years before the early Spanish explorers (or even the Vikings, who made it to Canada in the 11th century A.D.) and built the site. The origins of Mystery Hill, whose stones form an accurate astronomical calendar, including a point for True North, are further blurred by the wide variety of languages carved into the stones, such as Phoenician, Ogham, and Iberian Punic Script.

The Patience of Ruth Colbath

Not many people can claim to be as patient or hopeful as Ruth Colbath. Back around the end of the 1800s, she and her husband Thomas were a happily married couple living blissfully together in Carroll County, New Hampshire. Everyone in their area knew them for a devoted, loving couple, and nothing ever seemed amiss between them.

One day in 1891, Thomas left the house to do some errands in town, which was normal for him and in no way unusual, except for the fact that this time, he did not return. Ruth insisted he would come home one day, and always left a lantern burning in a window of their house at night so he could find his way there in the dark. She waited for thirty-nine years.

Eventually, Ruth died in 1930, still waiting for Thomas’s return, which she never gave up believing would happen. And, it turns out she was right. Three years after Ruth died, Thomas did come home to their house in Carroll County. He was older but other than that was seemingly in good health, unharmed, and of sound mind. He said he had not been captured or in any other way detained during the more than four decades he had been away. Instead, he claimed to have simply gotten lost on his way home. When he did eventually figure out the way, he was too embarrassed about it to come back until he did. That was Thomas’s side of the story, anyway.


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