A Pardon for a Witch: 300 Years Later

Some legends are laid to rest a few years after they were created, while others take longer to settle. Let’s take the case of Grace Sherwood, who was accused of being a witch. She became the only person in Virginia to be convicted as a witch and 300 years later, she was given an informal pardon. Her tale is one that carried throughout history, gaining the nickname of “the Witch of Pungo.”


On Monday, Gov. Timothy Kaine pardoned Grace Sherwood, claiming that she was to be no longer considered a witch in the eyes of the public, as well as the law. 300 years ago, Grace was tried by water in what came to be the best-known case of witchcraft in the history of the state of Virginia. It all started when Grace was accused of bewitching her neighbor’s crop. The word spread of her alleged witchcraft powers until the government in Princess Anne County decided to step in. It was decided that she would be tested to see whether or not she possessed any powers of a witch.


The way that accused witches were tested in these days involved a process known as ducking, which dealt with a method using water. Water was thought to be a pure substance. The belief was that since it was pure, witches would not be able to sink further. This obviously was a preposterous way to separate the witches from the innocent. If you floated, you were deemed a witch, but if you sunk to the bottom of the water, as desired, then you would die as a result.


On July 10th, 1706, Grace’s accusers tied her thumbs to her big toes and dropped into the Lynnhaven River. This location has since been dubbed the Witchduck Point. When Grace was dumped into the water, she floated, which was seen as a sign of her guilt. Her punishment was not death as many other witches were subjected to, but she was sent to prison. She was released after spending a bit of time. After her release, no more trouble stirred and she was able to live out a quiet life, until her death in 1740. While some believed her to be a witch, she may have just sharpened her skills as a healer and midwife, using techniques that were not common in her day.


Grace was a midwife, who dressed in the same clothing as men. This wasn’t the only thing that set her aside from other women. Her eccentricities made her stick out from others and she was seen as a witch with the capabilities of ruining crops, killing livestock, as well as creating violent weather. She spent a lot of time in court; twelve times in total. All of her days in court were not to fight witchcraft charges against her, but also to bring her accusers to court in order to sue them for slander.


The Vestry of Old Donation Church exonerated Grace’s name, which is also the original place where the Second Princess Anne Courthouse was located and where Grace was put on trial. After the proclamation to clear her name was read, a statue was revealed in her honor.