“I Be Not a Witch, I Be a Healer” — 14 Things about Grace White Sherwood, the Witch of Pungo

Grace White Sherwood, also known as “the Witch of Pungo,” was the last female witch convicted in the British Colony of Virginia. She was a farmer, healer, midwife, wife, and mother.

  1. She was the daughter of either John or Patrick White and was born in what would become St. Anne’s County, Virginia. (Sources do not agree on the father’s first name; John seems to be most frequently cited.)

2. Around the year 1680, she was married at the Lynnhaven Parish Church to James Sherwood (B: ca. 1658, Virginia, British Colonies — D: 15 Aug 1701, Virginia, British Colonies), son of Peaceable [1] Sherwood (B. ca. January 1597 in Thurlaston, Leicestershire, England — D. 1645 OR after 1658 in James City, Virginia, British Colonies) and Margaret (maiden name possibly Baldwin). James was buried in the Old Donation Church Cemetery, Virginia Beach (since destroyed due to construction).

3. Mother to sons James (B. ca. 1680 — D. ca. 1750), Richard (B. ca. 1681 — D. ca. 1767), and John [2] (B. ca. 1685— D. ca. 1752) . Some reports claim three or two daughters, especially a Deborah and a Dorothy but sources don’t quite agree or support. In Grace’s will, she only included her sons. [3]

4. The first accusations of witchcraft against her were made in 1697 ( for causing the death of a bull) and in 1698. Sherwood counter-sued for slander, to no avail. But the cases of witchcraft seemed to have amounted to nothing.

5. In December 1705, Grace Sherwood brought suit against her neighbors, Luke Hill and his wife, for assault and battery. She was awarded twenty shillings in the case. [4]

6. In 1706, Luke Hill and his wife accused Grace Sherwood of witchcraft. On March 7, the Princess Anne county of Virginia in the British colonies court records state:

Whereas a Complaint have been [made] to this Court by Luke Hill and his wife that one Grace Sherwood of this County was and Have been a Long time Suspected of witchcraft and have been as Such Represented wherefore the [Sheriff] at the last Court was [ordered] to [summon] a Jury of women to this Court to Search her on the…suspicion, She assenting to the Same. And after the Jury was [impanelled] and Sworn and Sent out to make Due [inquiry] and Inspection into all [Circumstances,] After a Mature [Consideration] They bring in this [verdict]: [We] of the Jury have [searched] Grace Sherwood and have found Two things like titts with Severall other Spotts. [Signed by the Jury members as follows]: Elizabeth Barnes, forewoman, Sarah Norris, Margaret Watkins, Hannah Dennis, Sarah Goodacre, Mary Burgess, Sarah Sergeant, Winifred Davis, Ursula Henry, Ann Bridge, Ezable Wales. Mary Cotle. [5]

7. Grace Sherwood was originally supposed to be tried by water on July 5, 1706 but the weather “being very Rainy and Bad Soe that it might possibly endanger her health”, the “ducking” was moved to the following week. [6]

8. On July 10, 1706, Sherwood was bound hands to feet (or thumb to big toes) and “ducked” in the Lynnhaven River from a spot now known as Witchduck Point. She swam or floated to the surface (the evil spirits being rejected by the water, as they thought) and was ultimately found guilty. (She was searched for more “titts” and “Spotts” first. Two black marks were “found” on her body.”)

The Lynnhaven River (Photo by Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson/Chesapeake Bay Program)

9. It is known that Sherwood spent time in jail after the guilty verdict. Some sources claim she spent 7 years or 7 years and 9 months in jail as punishment for her sorcery, after which she returned home, paid her taxes on her land, and lived a peaceable life until she passed away, most likely in the autumn of 1740.

10. Her burial place is disputed but is said to be either Muddy Creek Road (where she had lived) or at Ferry Plantation House.

According to legend, Sherwood’s sons put her body near the fireplace, and a wind came down the chimney. Her body disappeared amid the embers, with the only clue being a cloven hoofprint. Sherwood lies in an unmarked grave under some trees in a field near the intersection of Pungo Ferry Road and Princess Anne Road in Virginia Beach. Stories about the Devil taking her body, unnatural storms, and loitering black cats quickly arose after her death, and local men killed every feline they could find; this widespread killing of cats might have caused the infestation of rats and mice recorded in Princess Anne County in 1743.  Her home on Muddy Creek stood for over 200 years. After being burned several times in the 20th century by vandals, all that was left in 2002 were the brick chimneys, which were bulldozed in November 2002. All that remains are a few bricks and part of the foundation, which is overgrown. The property is now owned by the Federal Government as part of Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge. (Wikipedia)

11. In 2005, sculptor Robert Cunningham was commissioned to create a sculpture commemorating Grace Sherwood. The statue shows Grace with herbs (rosemary) and a raccoon. It stands in front of the Sentara Independent Hospital in Virginia Beach. [7]

12. In 2006, Governor Tim Kaine posthumously exonerated Grace Sherwood and declared her innocent on all charges of witchcraft. [8]

13. Grace’s trial has been adapted into a live production at Colonial Williamsburg called Cry Witch. Her life has been adapted into a 1973 children’s book, The Witch of Pungo, by Louisa Venable Kyle.

14. Sherwood’s ghost has been said to appear each July in the form of a mysterious dancing light that hovers over the waters of Witch Duck Bay. Alternatively, if she is buried under a tree at Ferry Plantation House, it’s been said that

every full moon feral cats gather, climb into the tree and howl. Many people believe that Grace’s spirit rises and joins them. Some residents in Witchduck neighborhood have reported seeing the image of a woman with long, wet hair walking along the banks of the river at night. [9]


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[1] also spelled “Peceable”; possibly one or both parents were Quakers. His father is listed as a Sir Richard Sherwood. It’s possible that Peaceable Sherwood arrived in Virginia by ship in 1623. See Lancour, A Bibliography of Ship Passenger Lists 1538-1825 (link)

[2] John’s last name was often spelled in records as “Sharwood.” His will can be found here.

[3] This is not unusual for the period, even if Grace did have daughters. Had any daughters married well, it would not have been unusual for Grace to bequest only to her sons.

[4] Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, 1648-1706, Volume 16. Edited by George Lincoln Burr. Page 438, footnote 1.

[5] Burr, Narratives, p. 439

[6] Burr, Narratives, p. 441

[7] Robert Cunningham’s site here.

[8.] PBS

[9.] Colonial Ghosts: Ferry Plantation House (link)

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Additional Sources:

Ancestry

Atlas Obscura

Find a Grave

Geni

Virginia Museum of History and Culture

Wikitree

Wikipedia

And the most fun of all the sources to read: this one.

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