841: Grace Sherwood,
The Last Person Convicted of Witchcraft in Virginia
Born: c.1660, The Colony of Virginia, (Present-day Pungo, Virginia Beach, Virginia, United States of America)
Died: Autumn 1740, Pungo, The Colony of Virginia, (Present-day Pungo, Virginia Beach, Virginia, United States of America)
Also Known As: The Witch of Pungo or the Virginia Witch
Grace was a widow with three sons living in rural Virginia. Unfortunately for her, she worked as a midwife and healer (according to some sources), drawing suspicion from nosy and idiotic neighbors. They frequently accused Grace of various things including ruining crops, conjuring storms, and killing livestock. Grace had drawn their ire even more after she and her husband sued those same neighbors for slander. Apparently, Grace wasn’t down with people claiming things about her that weren’t true. Unfortunately, the Sherwood’s lost both slander cases.
Four years after her husband’s death, Grace was back in court. These time she won her case; taking home twenty pounds sterling after alleging the neighbors had assaulted and battered her. It all came to a head in January of 1706. One of Grace’s neighbors (the same neighbors who’d been forced to pay her the years before) formally accused her of witchcraft, and the case quickly moved up to the colony’s attorney general (despite the fact no judgement had been applied at the lower levels of the court system).
Two women examined Grace and discovered “witch marks”. These marks were supposed proof of the spot where a demon suckled on the witch in question. After finding these marks, it was decided Grace was to be “ducked” in order to prove guilt or innocence. Ducking is exactly like it sounds—the person ducked is dropped into consecrated water. If the person sinks (and drowns), she is innocent, but if they float—guilty! But don’t worry, if you did drown, you’d be buried on the church grounds, so you know, that’s a plus.
Today, the place where Grace was tested is known as Witchduck Point; yes really. Before we explain further—you should know Grace actually agreed to the trial by water, and it was postponed since the original date it was to be done on was deemed too dangerous weather wise. In any case, Grace had her limbs bound and then she was tossed from the boat. Instead of letting herself drown, Grace managed to free herself from the binds and swim to the surface. And she was immediately declared guilty for her efforts. The fact that women examining her once again found the so-called “witch marks” only compounded this.
Luckily, she wasn’t burned at the stake or anything like that. Grace spent seven years in prison, and she lost custody of her sons. After her release from prison, Grace went home and lived out her days in quiet solitude before peacefully passing away around the age of eighty.
On 10 July 2006, then-Governor of Virginia officially cleared Grace Sherwood’s name; three hundred years to the day after she was ducked and found guilty. A statue now honors Grace in Virginia Beach and parts of her trial have been reenacted in Colonial Williamsburg.
Find a Grave Marked