Virginia's Witch of Pungo legend rekindles curiosity: 'People deeply believed in magic'

'If anything happened that seemed unexplainable, it wasn’t unusual for them to blame witchcraft'
 Witch of Pungo legend
Posted at 10:34 AM, Oct 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-30 10:36:09-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Stories of ghosts, goblins, and even witches pique the curiosity of both young and old, especially around Halloween. In Virginia Beach, stories of Grace Sherwood come to mind.

For hundreds of years, Sherwood has been known as the Witch of Pungo.

Scott Moore, a Virginia Beach native and associate professor of history at Eastern Connecticut State University, is currently writing a book about the legend of Grace Sherwood. Moore recently held a lecture on the topic at the Lynnhaven House.

Moore described Sherwood as a mischievous woman, in court repeatedly. He also talked about how at that time in history, much of the population had a strong belief in witchcraft.

"This was a time when people deeply believed in magic. They deeply believed in the devil and the power of evil," explained Moore. "So, if anything happened out of the ordinary, if anything happened that seemed unexplainable, it wasn’t unusual for them to blame witchcraft."

grace sherwood witch of pungo statue.jpg

In Pungo, cotton crops withered, and some believed it was witchcraft that could be traced to Sherwood. That is just one example of the curses some believed that she brought to the area.

A judge ordered Sherwood to be tried by ducking. On July 10, 1706, Sherwood was tied up and ducked in the Lynnhaven River. She floated and survived which some said was proof that she was a witch.

Sherwood served a brief time in jail. Many years later, she died at her farm in Pungo.

Moore is intrigued by the story and wishes he could find more records of Sherwood and her trial.

“You have this perfect mixture of an event based off something that actually happened but at the same time, we don’t know much about it, and so folklore, tradition, stories have filled in all of those gaps," Moore stated.
"Because of that, basically, Grace Sherwood’s basically had a 300-year life where she’s kept changing and evolving."

Witchduck Road now carries the legend. A statue of Sherwood stands near North Witchduck Road and Independence Boulevard. One legend is that each year on the anniversary of the witch trial, a light can be seen moving over the waters of Witchduck Bay.



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