July 28, 2023

Those traveling through Virginia Beach, Virginia will likely find themselves driving along one of the town’s most well-traveled streets: Witchduck Road. The name is peculiar, seemingly out of place surrounded by more familiar names such as Independence Boulevard and Donation Drive. The history of this name carries a legacy dating back hundreds of years and represents one of the state’s darkest hours.

Grace White was born in 1660 in the Colony of Virginia, likely within the small town of Pungo, to a Scottish father and English mother. There is little information available concerning her upbringing, and in the spring of 1680 she married a farmer, James Sherwood, and the couple went on to have three sons. The Sherwood family was poor despite owning over one-hundred acres of land, and primarily lived amongst other small land-owning families. Grace herself worked her family’s farm land, grew her own herbs to care for both people and animals, and also acted as a midwife for women of the surrounding area. Surviving records paint the woman as attractive, stubborn, and a non-conformist who wore pants when she worked, spoke up for herself, and cared deeply for animals.

In 1697, the first accusation of witchcraft against Sherwood came when a local man accused her of using a spell to kill his bull. The court made no decision and, in turn, Grace sued for defamation with this case being resolved through a settlement. The following year, she was accused of witchcraft two more times by two separate individuals. A neighbor first complained to the court that his pigs and cotton were placed under a spell and destroyed, while another neighbor said her home was invaded when Sherwood transformed into the body of a black cat while proceeding to beat her and whip her. Both cases remained unresolved, and once again a defamation charge was brought against each party; this time without resolution. Grace and her husband were forced to pay for their court costs after each failed defamation case, further sending the family into debt. In 1701, James passed away with his wife inheriting all of his property and losing her greatest ally.

Throughout her life, Sherwood found herself embroiled in at least a dozen legal cases ranging from accusations of witchcraft to assault. In 1705, after a fight with her neighbor, Elizabeth Hill, another lawsuit was brought for assault and battery with Hill and her husband having to pay twenty shillings. As the reason behind this fight is lost to history, only speculation remains. There is, however, no doubt that this earlier conflict likely fueled the accusation of witchcraft against Sherwood the following year. Hill formally accused her rival on January 3, 1706, claiming that Sherwood bewitched her and caused her to have a miscarriage. The Princess Anne County court system sought to create two all-women jury panels to perform a search of the Sherwood family home and a physical examination of Grace herself. Great reluctance from residents made the formation of these panels difficult and both times the unwilling groups refused to carry out the searches. After nearly two months of deliberation, on March 7, a group of twelve elderly women led by previous accuser Elizabeth Barnes, were appointed to conduct the physical examination. The result of their investigation concluded the existence of two “witch’s marks” and thus, tangible proof of The Devil at work.

The Sheriff of Princess Anne County took Sherwood into custody following a decision by the county justices in May that stated the allegations against her were of great suspicion. On July 5, with Sherwood’s consent, these same justices ordered a trial by ducking to take place. When asked to repent for being a witch after being brought to Lynnhaven Parish Church, Grace Sherwood claimed “I be not a witch. I be a healer.” In the early morning of July 10, she was taken down a dirt street, now known as Witchduck Road, to the shores of the Lynnhaven River where the infamous ducking would take place. The theory behind trial by water states that if a soul is pure they will sink, while a witch or other corrupted individual will float as water will reject the unclean and unworthy. Under these guidelines, Sherwood was bound right thumb to left big toe, left thumb to right big toe, covered in a sack, and then weighed down with a thirteen pound Bible strapped to her neck. Spectators gathered to watch the event unfold and lined the riverbank to see what would befall the alleged Witch of Pungo. Miraculously, despite being tied and weighed down, Grace Sherwood was able to free herself and swim to shore. Although she escaped the ordeal with her life, this all but proved her guilt to the colonial authorities and those in attendance.

Many court records following the ducking have been lost so there is little information surrounding the details of her subsequent imprisonment. What is known for certain is that Sherwood spent nearly eight years in jail and was further ordered to pay another neighbor for six-hundred pounds of tobacco. The reason for this order is lost, as is the knowledge of if the payment was ever completed, but this verdict came several years into her imprisonment. In 1714, records show that she completed payment on back taxes for her property which indicates her release came either that year or shortly before. She spent the remainder of her life living on the family farm until she passed away at age eighty in 1740.

Governor Tim Kaine restored Grace Sherwood’s name with an informal pardon on July 10, 2006; the 300th anniversary of her ducking.


Gambony, G. (2021). Open Channel: The legacy of Grace Sherwood, the alleged “Witch of Pungo.” WHRO Public Media. Retrieved from:


Newman, L. (2009). “Under an Ill Tongue:” Witchcraft and Religion in Seventeenth-Century Virginia. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Retrieved from:


Virginia Museum of History & Culture. Grace Sherwood: The “Witch of Pungo.” Virginia Historical Society. Retrieved from:




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