Grace White Sherwood

Memorial marker for Sherwood

Grace White Sherwood (c. 1660 – c. 1740), called the Witch of Pungo, is the last person known to have been convicted of witchcraft in Virginia. A farmer, healer, and midwife, she was accused by her neighbors of transforming herself into a cat, damaging crops and causing the death of livestock. She was charged with witchcraft several times; at her eventual trial in 1706, Sherwood was accused of bewitching her neighbor, Elizabeth Hill, causing Hill to miscarry. The court ordered that Sherwood’s guilt or innocence be determined by ducking her in water. If she sank, she was innocent; if she did not, she was guilty. Sherwood floated to the surface and may have spent almost eight years in jail before being released.

Sherwood lived in PungoPrincess Anne County (today part of Virginia Beach), and married James Sherwood, a planter, in 1680. The couple had three sons: John, James, and Richard. Her first case was in 1697; she was accused of casting a spell on a bull, resulting in its death, but the matter was dismissed by the agreement of both parties. The following year she was accused of witchcraft by two neighbors; she supposedly bewitched the hogs and cotton crop of one of them. Sherwood sued for slander after each accusation but her lawsuits were unsuccessful and her husband had to pay court costs. In 1706 she was convicted of witchcraft and was incarcerated. Freed from prison by 1714, she recovered her property from Princess Anne County (her husband had died in 1701). She did not remarry, and lived on her farm until her death in 1740 at the age of about 80.

On July 10, 2006, the 300th anniversary of Sherwood’s conviction, Governor Tim Kaine restored her good name, recognizing that her case was a miscarriage of justice. A statue depicting her was erected near Sentara Bayside Hospital on Independence Boulevard in Virginia Beach, close to the site of the colonial courthouse where she was tried. She is sculpted alongside a raccoon, representing her love of animals, and carrying a basket containing garlic and rosemary, in recognition of her knowledge of herbal healing.

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