Since my good friend Dena brought up Grace Sherwood in my previous post, I though I would post Grace’s story today. Grace is sort of a local legend around Virginia Beach, as she was known as the “Witch of Pungo.” This is her story:
The Witchcraft case of Grace Sherwood is one of the best known in Virginia, with the early court records on file to back it up. Witchcraft was a very serious and real thing to the colonists during the early 1700’s and everyone was constantly on the lookout for witches. Grace was accused of bewitching a neighbor’s crop in 1698.
Grace Sherwood was the wife of James Sherwood and the mother to three sons. They lived in the late 1600’s - early 1700’s. Grace was an unusual woman for her times. She was said to be strikingly attractive, strong-willed, and a non-conformist by nature. These traits were resented by her neighbors, who began spreading rumors about her witch-like behavior. Being a very tall woman, she was threatening to many. She wore men’s pants and did not wear dresses. This was not heard of in those times. It is easy to see how this got her into trouble. After eight years of slander from her neighbors, Grace was charged with witchcraft.
A jury of women were ordered to search her body for suspicious or unusual markings, thought to be brands of the devil himself, and naturally the jury found, “marks not like theirs or like those of any other women.” However, neither the local court nor the Attorney General in Williamsburg, would pass judgment on declaring her a witch. It was finally decided that Grace, “by her own consent, be tried in the water by Ducking, (dunking).” Water was considered to be the purest element and the theory was that it would reject anything of an evil nature. Based on this theory, the accused was tied up and thrown into the water. If the person drowned, he was declared innocent of witchcraft; if he could stay afloat until he could free himself, he was declared a witch.
On July 10, 1706, Grace Sherwood, was marched from the jail (which is located near the present day site of the local Old Donation Church) down the dirt road (now the every day traveled Witchduck Road), tied and cast into the Lynnhaven River. This portion of the river has since been named Witch Duck Bay in memory of the occasion. As predicted by her accusers, Grace managed to stay afloat until she could free herself and swim to shore. She was jailed and awaited trial for witchcraft for nearly eight years, when the charges against her were dropped due to the softening of her accusers hearts, and she was set free. She moved back to her Pungo home. Her husband had died in 1701, so her children had been sent away to live with relatives. She lived in the Pungo home until her death at the age of 80 which was so rare in those days.
The original foundation and chimney still remain from Grace’s house and every Halloween, like clockwork, people gather there.