Witchduck Road: Story of Grace Sherwood

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

An article, I wrote, about the bizarre story involving accusations of witchcraft from a woman who lived in Pungo of Virginia Beach, dating back to the late 1600s and early 1700s

 

Witchduck Road

 Story of Grace Sherwood

 

[10-31-2021]

 

If you’re a local under the Seven-Five-Seven region of Virginia, you know the name “Witchduck Road” of Virginia Beach, more than likely. To some, it’s just the name of a road—not knowing of the history behind it. Into the Lynnhaven River, a lady was ducked on the Tenth of July, Seventeen-O-Six, to determine her as a witch or a person with false claims held against her. Witchduck Road earned its name leading to the location of her ducking site, specifically worded “South Witchduck Road” and “North Witchduck Road”.

Coming from South Witchduck Road, the lower-half of North Witchduck Road ends at a four-way intersection where Pembrook Boulevard runs straight ahead. Reaching the upper-half is turning onto Sullivan Boulevard at the intersection, where North Witchduck Road continues on the first right turn, sending you a straight shot to the historic area of the witch ducking. Each year, a mysterious light appears in July, dancing over “Witch Duck Bay”, it is said.

Accused of witchcraft, they call her “The Witch of Pungo”, although Grace Sherwood would be her name. In Sixteen-Sixty, she was born in Pungo of Princess Anne County, modernly under Virginia Beach—living ‘til she climbed to eighty during the year of Seventeen-Forty. In the state of Virginia, she was considered the first individual ducked for witchcraft and the very last convicted of witchcraft. She healed animals & people, farmed, and was a midwife.

By several neighbors, accusations have been made of Grace being a witch. Claims of her transforming into a cat, causing death to a neighbor’s livestock, damaging crops, and causing a miscarriage to a neighbor by witchcraft have been used against her, along with many more. Following her ducking, seven years of her life were spent imprisoned for the crimes claimed.

During the outset of Sixteen-Ninety-Seven, the first accusation fell upon her from a man named Richard Capps, sending her to court over the death of his bull—blaming Grace of casting a spell. In court, the case had been dismissed. Husbanded by James Sherwood, they filed a defamation suit against Capps, getting resolved by a settlement.

The marriage between James and Grace had spun off in April of Sixteen-Eighty, at the Lynnhaven Parish Church. James Sherwood was a well-respected landowner to a small farm. Together, they had children of three—named John, Richard, and James. By the marriage of Mrs. Sherwood’s parents, “White” was her maiden name. John, her father, was Scottish—farming and doing work of carpentry. Her mother, Susan, was born English.

She, in Sixteen-Ninety-Eight, took accusations of bewitching hogs and cotton crops of John Gisburne, along with entering the home of a neighbor, Elizabeth Barnes, as a black cat—whipping her and riding her, then escaping through the keyhole. Grace failed, attempting to sue John & Jane Gisburne and Anthony & Elizabeth Barnes for slander. Mr. Sherwood had paid the costs on each testimony against his wife.

A fist-fight occurred between Grace and a neighbor named Elizabeth Hill, late Seventeen-O-Five. She inflicted a great amount of damage to Grace, but a lawsuit was on its way. December Twelfth of the exact year, Mrs. Hill had “assault and battery” charges pressed against her from the witch of Pungo, who asked for restitution. James’ wife received victory in court and received twenty pounds of sterling. The husband of Grace had passed some years prior to her recent court situation, minimizing her to a single parent. James Sherwood’s cause of death is undetermined through research. She never remarried.

Again, though, Grace faces court. The Third of January, Seventeen-O-Six, Elizabeth Hill and her husband—named Luke—threw a lawsuit upon Grace. Mrs. Hill, who was a neighbor to Mrs. Sherwood, released claims of having a miscarriage due to witchcraft by the daughter of John White. Appointed to court on February Seventh, Grace Sherwood failed to answer her plea of being charged behind Mrs. Hill’s miscarriage. In March, judges of Princes Anne County sought to enroll two juries, both consisting of all-women. One would be sent to search the home of Grace for any possible indication of witchcraft, such as waxen or baked figures—having the other jury examine her for demon suckling teats. The tasks were refused to be carried by both juries.

Grace was examined on the Seventh of March by twelve “Discreet and Knowing” women, searching her body for markings of the Devil. Two marks were discovered, unlike theirs or any woman, they claimed. Elizabeth Barnes, claiming to be whipped and rode one night by Grace Sherwood entering her room as a cat, was the forewoman of the jury.

For the Witch of Pongo, things would only worsen. She was, soon, imprisoned, waiting for the final test to determine if she was really a witch as the accusations pointed her to be. July Tenth, it happened, what everyone wanted to see. “Duck the witch!” was shouted by many spectators, although the crown there were less than one hundred individuals. An innocent person would drown from getting ducked, believed from the town, saying one who floats is certainly a witch.

Grace’s naked body was searched by five women at the shoreline, ensuring there were no type of hidden object of which could free the tied-up witch. Getting shoved into the Lynnhaven River, she was sent two hundred yards out by a boat—with her left thumb tied to her right toe and her right thumb tied to her left toe, covered with a sack. Her body floated, therefore, a thirteen-pound bible was tied to her neck by a sheriff on the boat, causing her body to decrease beneath the water.

With the appearance that she had drowning, she managed to untangle herself under water and swam to shore, living to see another day. According to the town, only a witch would be capable of loosening herself free from rope. Was Grace Sherwood actually a witch, described by others? Surviving her witch trial, she took imprisonment for seven long years, what was mentioned earlier in the story.

Following her release, she returned to her farm home in Pungo, living with her three sons. July Tenth, three hundred years later, the bad reputation was thrown away, replaced with a good name. “Two Thousand and Six”, that very day, Governor Tim Kaine would be the man behind the reversed reputation given to Grace “The Witch of Pungo” Sherwood. She, no-longer, is to be seen as a witch of the past—only a women with ridiculous accusation thrown upon her. She was exonerated for the so-called crimes she committed.

The next year, April Twenty-First, a bronze statue was unveiled at Ten A.M., named “Statue of Grace”. Where, would be located in the lawn of Sentara Bayside Hospital, 800 Independent Boulevard of Virginia Beach. He statue stands around the corner of North Witchduck Road and Independent Boulevard, two tenths of a mile from the old “Princess Anne County Courthouse” she appeared in, modernly used for office space.

Besides North and South Witchduck Road, a few other places have been named after the so-called Witch of Pungo. “Witch Duck Point” is the name of a neighborhood located where she was subjected to trial by ducking—where the very end of North Witchduck Road leads to. Sherwood Lane, Witch Point Trail, and Witchduck Bay Court would be street names in the perimeter. Modernly, the body of water from her ducking is named “Witch Duck Bay”, rewinding you to where I stated a light is seen dancing, each year, above water.

 

Written by Troy “The Ghost-Bull” Powell


Submitted: October 31, 2021

© Copyright 2021 The Ghost-Bull. All rights reserved.

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