Grace Sherwood's father was John White, a carpenter and planter. She married James Sherwood at Lynnhaven Parish Church (Church No. 1) in 1680 and had three sons. Grace's problems started in March 1697 when Richard Capps accused Grace of casting a spell on his bull, causing it to die. There were no findings, but the Sherwoods then brought suit against Capps for defamation which by agreement of the parties was dismissed. Then in 1698 Grace was accused by John Gisburne of bewitching his hogs and cotton. James Sherwood brought an action for slander, but lost, and later again was unsuccessful in an accusation of slander against Anthony Barnes, who charged Grace with riding his wife and then escaping through the keyhole in the shape of a black cat.
Grace's husband James died in 1701 and left Grace to fend for herself in working the family's farm and raising her three sons. Bucking tradition by not re-marrying promptly, she unwittingly became exposed to hostilities she had created with her neighbors. Working the farm was hard work and Grace often wore men's clothing (a rarity for women) while tending to the day-to-day activities on the farm. She was a skilled herbalist, and all of the rosemary growing in Virginia Beach is supposed to have come from a single piece brought from England by Grace and often advised her neighbors on which herbs to use to cure aliments (to her detractors this was the work of a witch). She was strikingly attractive, strong-willed, and a non-conformist by nature. All of these maverick traits plus the bad blood over the petty lawsuits filed by her former husband was more than enough to rekindle rumors about her witch-like behavior. She was accused of blighting gardens, causing livestock to die, and influencing the weather.
Sometime in 1704 Grace got into a fight with Luke Hill's wife Elizabeth. With Grace getting the worst of it, she sued the Hills for assault and battery. Grace was awarded fifty pounds sterling. After that verdict Luke Hill and his wife resolved that Grace should pay dearly. So in February of 1706 Luke Hill and his wife, Elizabeth, formally accused Grace of witchcraft, and she was duly brought before the county court on the charge of having bewitched the wife of Luke Hill. A jury of women was ordered to search her body for suspicious or unusual markings, thought to be brands of the devil, and naturally the jury found, "marks not like theirs or like those of any other woman." However, neither the local court nor the Attorney General in Williamsburg would pass judgment declaring her a witch. The case went back and forth between Williamsburg and Princess Anne County for the next five months. Each time Grace was required to appear in court next to Lynnhaven Parish Church (Church No. 2), she had to make a sixteen mile trek from her farm in Pungo to the court.
On May 2, 1706 the Sheriff of Princess Anne County took Grace into custody. Maximilian Boush, an early warden of Lynnhaven Parish Church (who gave the silver paten which bears his coat of arms to Lynnhaven Parish Church in 1711) prosecuted the case against Grace, and on July 10, 1706 a jury from the Lynnhaven Parish Vestry (Colonel Edward Moseley, Captain John Moseley, Lieutenant-Colonel Adam Thoroughgood, Captain Woodhouse, Sir John Cornick, Captain Chapman, William Smyth, and Mr. Richardson : Reference 42, page 331) ordered a trial by ducking. Grace was first taken inside Lynnhaven Parish Church (Church No. 2), placed on a stool and commanded to ask for forgiveness for her witchery. She said, "I be not a witch, I be a healer." She was then promptly marched from the jail (which was located next to the courthouse at the site of the present day site of Old Donation Church) down the dirt road (now Witch Duck Road) around 10 a.m. This portion of the land and river where she was cast out of a row boat has since been named Witchduck Point and Witchduck Bay in memory of the occasion. This being a big event, hoards of people from all over the colony flocked to the scene as news of the ducking spread throughout the Commonwealth. If Grace would float in consecrated water she would be deemed guilty of witchcraft; if she drowned, she'd be innocent.
Five women of Lynnhaven Parish Church (Sarah Norris, Margaret Watkins, Sarah Goodaerd, Mary Burgess, and Ursula Henley) examined her naked body on the shoreline for any devices she might have to free herself and then covered her naked body with a sack. Six of the eight member jury (all Lynnhaven Parish vestrymen) rowed out in one boat, and in another were the sheriff (Colonel Edward Mosely), the magistrate, and Grace. Just before she was pushed off the boat, the defiant and resolute Grace Sherwood spat out, "Before this day be through you will all get a worse ducking than I." Grace, bound cross body (thumb to toe), was cast into the river where she quickly floated to the surface. The sheriff then tied a thirteen pound Bible around her neck. Sinking to the river depths once again she was able to untie herself and swim to the surface, proof that she was a witch. For this she spent seven years and nine months in the jail next to Lynnhaven Parish Church.
On July 10, 1706, the day Grace was tried and convicted, the vestrymen of Lynnhaven Parish Church met and voted funds for a proper ducking chair since the procedure used that day (being tossed overboard) was not in the proper tradition used in Salem, Massachusetts and there would be no possibility of escape as just witnessed in Grace Sherwood's case. Because twelve years had passed since the infamous Salem Witch trials, interest in perusing other witches tailed off and the ducking chair was never purchased. Nevertheless, Lynnhaven Parish Church would continue to use their stock and pillory for those that perpetrated transgressions such as falling asleep during long services. Also on this day, July 10th at the same hour, 10 a.m., 293 years later (1999), the ribbon was cut at Virginia Beach Recreation Center on First Court Road opening the Bayside History Trail that winds its way past Grace's ducking place and Old Donation Church, two locations revealed to tour groups as places tied to each other in history.
After being released from jail, Grace Sherwood gathered her sons from her relative who had been looking after them, sued Princess Anne County to get her property back, paid back taxes, and lived out her life quietly on her 145 acres of land in Pungo near present day Muddy Creek Road, 16 miles southeast of present-day Old Donation Church. Grace died at the age of 80 in 1740. Her remains lie unmarked under a clump of trees in a field near the intersection of Pungo Ferry Road and Princess Anne Road.
Today a bronze statue of Grace Sherwood stands watch over Old Donation Church as the most infamous Lynnhaven Parish Church member of old and possibly the most wronged (References 15, 28, 35, 40, and 56).
1. "Gleanings in the History of Princess Anne County" April 1924, by Benjamin Dey White (1868 - 1946). Judge White was celebrated as the "First citizen of Princess Anne" and Senior Warden of Donation Church, considered one of the best authorities on the subject of Grace Sherwood which includes one of the most exhaustive studies of her trial for allegedly practicing witchcraft. See University of Virginia Library, Special Collections SC-STKS, Call Number F221 v.40
2. "Where the Wild Goose Goes," B D White, Preservationist, reprinted 1991
http://www.biggerbooks.com/book/9781878515698 ISBN 1878515691 / 9781878515698 / 1-878515-69-1 (Currently Not Available)
3. "The Witch of Pungo," Louisa Venable Kyle, 1973
4. "Grace Sherwood," by the Ferry Plantation House, Virginia Beach, VA 23455, (757) 473-5182 -http://www.ferryplantation.org/news/grace-sherwood.html
5. "Grace Sherwood & The Witch of Pungo," by the Princess Anne County/Virginia Beach Historical Society, Virginia Beach, VA 23454 -
6. "Grace Sherwood: The Witch of Virginia Beach," by VaBeach.com database -http://www.vabeach.com/virginia-beach-history
7. "Grace Sherwood: The Witch of Virginia Beach," by the White Moon Gallery
8. "Grace Sherwood, the Witch of Virginia," from Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, ed. George Lincoln Burr, published by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1914, pp. 435-442 -http://www.samizdat.com/sherwood/
9. "Witch of Pungo Statue Becomes Girl Scouts' Community Project," the Virginian-Pilot, July 18, 2008http://hamptonroads.com/2008/07/witch-pungo-statue-becomes-girl-scouts-community-project
10. Discussions between Bob Perrine (author of this article) and Belinda Nash (former Old Donation Church Historian), May and June, 2009