Woman Accused of Witchcraft in Virginia in 1706 is Pardoned

It took 300 years, but Virginia's only convicted witch has finally been pardoned.

State Gov. Timothy M. Kaine was asked to exonerate Grace Sherwood, who was tried by water and accused of using her powers to cause a woman to miscarry. On Monday, the 300th anniversary of Sherwood's "ducking" trial, Kaine obliged.

"I am pleased to officially restore the good name of Grace Sherwood," Kaine said in a letter that was read aloud by Virginia Beach Mayor Meyera Oberndorf before a local re-enactment of the ducking.

"With 300 years of hindsight, we all certainly can agree that trial by water is an injustice," Kaine wrote.

On July 10, 1706, Sherwood's thumbs were tied to her toes and she was dropped into a river. She floated, proof that she was guilty because the pure water cast out her evil spirit, according to the belief system of the time.

Each year, a small group remembers Sherwood with a re-enactment. Monday's re-enactment took place on land — in front of the Ferry Plantation House, a historic home.

Sherwood lived in what today is the rural Pungo neighborhood and she is known as "The Witch of Pungo." She went to court a dozen times, either to fight witchcraft charges or to sue her accusers for slander. In her final case, she was tried for using witchcraft to cause a woman to miscarry.

What happened to Sherwood after she was convicted is unclear. Some court records may have been lost to fire.

She may have been jailed until 1714, when records show she paid back taxes on her property, Ferry Plantation House director Belinda Nash said. She then lived quietly until her death at 80.