bWITCHCRAFT IN PRINCESS ANNE COUNTY
The idea of witchcraft is an ancient belief, which took on new life in England in the reign of James I. Witches were there persecuted and put to death, and the ideas came across the sea to the Colonies, and among many other places, found lodgement in Princess Anne County. Witchcraft and accusations of witchcraft consitute some of the outstanding features in the early history of the County. Much that is fanciful, inaccurate and untrue has been written about these matters, but the writer, at the risk of being tedious, will content himself by endeavoring to give an accurate account, as shown by the records. "Witchcraft, the practice of witches", a supernatural power which was thought in old times people could acquire by making compacts with Satan. The witch, generally an old woman sold herself, soul and body, and he conferred on her the power to turn herself into a cat or hare, and to ride through the air on a broomstick, and torture and otherwise punish her enemies. After the bargain had been completed, she receives a piece of money from him, and writes with her own blood on a piece of parchment, her name and makes her mark, and sometimes would put "one hand to the sole of her foot and the other to the crown of her head". The devil then gave her an "imp or familiar spirit to be ready at call, and to do whatever was directed". The special mark of a witch was a third pap or teat on some part of her body, and when a woman was suspected of witchcraft she was subjected to trial by water, "was stripped naked and cross bound, the right thunb to the left toe and the left thumb to the right toe", and cast into the water, where it was believed she would not sink if guilty. Accusations of witchcraft evidently began early as is indicated by the following order of the court, "At a private court, held the 23d of May, 1655 at the house of Mr. Edward Hall in Linhaven. Whereas divers dangerous and scandalous speeches have been raised by some persons concerning several women in this county terming them to be witches, whereby their reputations have been much impaired, and their lives brought in question, (for avoyding the like offense) it is by this court ordered that what person shall hereafter raise any such scandal concerning any aprty whatsoever and shall not be able to prove the same, both upon oath, and by sufficient witness, such person so offending shall in the first place pay a thousand pounds of tobacco; and likewise be liable to further censure of the court". Apparently one of the ladies of the County was either ignorant of the order of the court above set forth, or so far forgot herself, that at a court held in December 1695, it became necessary for the court to enforce its order. "Whereas Ann Godby, the wife of Tho. Godby, hath contrary to an order of the court bearing the date of May, 1655, concerning some slanders and scandals cast upon women under the notion of witches hath contemptuously acted in abusing and taking the good name and credit of Nico. Robinsons' wife, termingher as a witch, as by sveral depositions apears. It is therefore ordered that the said Tho. Godby shall pay three hundred pounds of tobacco and cask fine for her contempt of the mentioned order, (being the first time) and also pay and defray the cost of suit together with the witnesses charges at twenty pounds tobacco." On January 15, 1678, we find the following, "Upon the petition and complaint of Jno. Sammon against Alice the wife of Thomas Cartwrite concerning the death of a child of the said Sammon who it is supposed was bewitched, it is ordered that the Sheriff do forthwith summon an able jury of women to attend the court tomorrow and search the said Alice according to the direction of the court." And the next day, January 16th:-- "In the difference between Jno. Sammon plaintiff against Alice the wife of Thomas Cartwrite defendant, a jury of women (Mrs. Mary Chichester forewomen) being impaneled did in open court upon their oaths declare that they having diligently searched the body of said Alice, can find no suspicious marks whereby they can judge her to be a witch; but only what may and is usual on other women. It is therefore the judgement of the court and ordered that she be acquitted and her husband's bond given for her appearance to be given up". In this quasi-criminal case it will be noticed in this order that a jury of women were summoned, and the same will again appear in the Grace Sherwood trial; but it would seem that when a civil action for slander was brought by one alleged to be a witch, a jury of men heard and saw the evidence, as appears, "At a court held the 8th day of July 1698, John Byrd and Anne his wife sueing Charles Kinsey in an action of defamation setting forth in their petition that the said Kinsey had falsely and scandalously defamed them saying that the said Anne did ride him from his house to Elizabeth Russels, and that by such discourse she was reported and rendered to be a witch or some such like person, praying one hundred pounds damage with cost; the defendant for answer acknowledging that he had spoke words saying the he either dreamed or had such experiences. The whole matter being put to a jury who bring in their verdict as followeth: We of the jury do find for the defendant, Hugh Campbell foreman. On the same day John and Anne had another suit, this time against John Pitts. "Jno. Byrd and Anne his wife suing Jno. Pitts in an action of defamation setting forth by their petition that the defendant had falsely and scandalously defames them, saying they had rid him along the sea side and home to his own house, by which kind of discourses they were reported and rendered as if they were witches or in league with the devil," paying 100 pounds sterling damage with cost. "The defendant for answer acknowledgeth that to his thoughts, apprehensions or best knowledge they did serve him so. The whole matter being pout to a jury who bring in their verdict as followeth: We of the jury do find for the defendant. Hugh Campbell foreman." About this time Grace Sherwood's troubles in court began: "At a court held the third day of March 1697, a suit for defamation brought by James Sherwood and Grace his wife against Richard Caps, was by agreement of the parties dismissed; the following year John and Grace brought another suit against another defendant for defamation. At a court held the 10th of September 1698," "James Sherwood and Grace his wife suing John Gisbourne anbd Jane his wife in an action of slander, setting forth by his petition that the defemndant had wronged, defamed and abused the said Grace in her good name and reputation saying that she is a witch and bewitched their cotton and prays judgement." Upon this trial the jury, Christopher Cocke, foreman, brought in a verdict for the defendant. The same day, "James Sherwood and Grace his wife suing Anthony Barnes and Elizabeth his wife in an action of slander steting forth in their petition that the said Elizabeth had wronged and abused thew said Grace in her good name and reputation, saying that the said Grace came to her one night and rid her and went out of the key hole or crack in the door like a black cat, and prays judgement for one hundred pounds sterling, damage with cost: to which the defendant pleadeth not guilty." The jury, Francis Sayer foreman, brought in a verict for the defendant. It took four days to try these cases, the plaintiffs had seven witnesses who were allowed for four days attendance upon the court. James Sherwood, Grace's husband, died in 1701, leaving a small estate consisting of personal property, upon which Grace qualified as administrix. A few years after the death of her husband Grace got into a difficulty with Mrs. Luke Hill, and very promptly sued Luke for assault and battery, as appears, "At a court held the 7th, of December 1705. Grace Sherwood suing Luke Hill and uxor in an action of Trespass of assault and battery, setting forth how the defendant;s wife had assaulted, bruised, maimed and barbarously beathen the plaintiff, to her great damage, fifty pounds sterling; to which thew defandants by Rich'd. Corbitt their attorney, pleaded not guilty and of this put themselved upon the country ... whereupon a jury was impanneled and sworn to try the case, who bring in their verdict, "We of the jury ... find for the plaintiff twenty shill: ster: damages with cost, Mark Powell, foreman." On the 12th of the month the court found that the foreman of this jury had not signed the verdict, so that no judgement could be entered, and the matter was continued until the next term, when Mark Powell was summoned, "to give further and full satisfaction as shall be demanded of him by the court." Thereupon, after the rendition of this verdict, Luke Hill and his wife, evidently got mad; they knew or had heard the result of the two suits of Sherwood vs. Gisbourne and Sherwood vs. Barnes, and they determined that Grace should now have a taste of the law, therefore, on Feb. 6th, 1705, "Whereas Luke Hill and uxor summoned Grace Sherwood to this court in suspicion of witchcraft and she failing to appear it is therefore ordered that attachment to the Sheriff do issue to attach her body to answer the said summons next court;" the next day, "Suit for suspicion of withcraft brought by Luke Hill against Grace Sherwood is ordered to be referred till tomorrow." Whereupon the following order was entered, "Whereas complaint was brought against Grace Sherwood on suspicion of witchcraft by Luke Hill: and the matter being a long time debated and ordered that the said Hill pay all fees of this complaint and that the said Grace be here next court to be searched according to the complaint, by a jury of women to decide the said difference: and the Sheriff is likewise ordered to summon an able jury accordingly." At the next term, on March 7th, 1705, there appears this order, "Whereas a complaint have been made to this court by Luke Hill and wife that one Grace Sherwood of the county was and have been for 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 the copurt to search her on the said suspicion she assenting to the same. And after the jury was impanneled and sworn and sent out to make due inquiry and inspection into all circumstances, after a mature consideration they bring in their verdict: Wee of the jury have searched Grace Sherwood and have found two things like titts with several other spots. Elizr. Barnes, forewoman, Sarah Norris, Margrt Watkins, Hannah Dinnis, Sarah Goodacre, Mary Burgess, Sarah Sergeent, Winifred Davis, Ursula Henley, Ann Bridgs, Elizable Waples, Mary Cotle. After this report was made the court appears to have been at a loss as to the form of judgement to be eneterd, or possiblyy doubted that any judgement could be entered, whereupon Luke Hill brought he matter before the Council, as appears, "At a council held at her Majties Royall Capitol 28th day of March 1706.: "Luke Hill by his petition informing the Board that one Grace Sherwood of Princess Anne County being suspected of witchcraft upon his complaint to that county court the she bewitched the petitioners wife, the court ordered a jury of women to search the said Grace Sherwood, who upon search brought in a verdict against the said Grace, but the court not knowing how to proceed to judgement thereon, the petitioer prays that the attorney General may be directed to prosecute the said Grace for the same. Ordered that the said petition be referred to Mr. Attorney General to consider and report his opinion to his Excellency and the council on the first day of the next General court." April the 16th, 1706, ... "Mr. Attorney General having in pursuance of an order of this Board reported his opinion of Luke Hill against Grace Sherwood as being suspected of witchcraft in the following words to wit: viz Upon perusal of the above order of this honorable Board I do conceive and am of the opinion that the charge or accusation is too general that the county court ought to make a further examination of the matters of fact and to have proceeded therein pursuant to the dirrections and powers of County Courts given by the late act of Assembly in criminal cases made and provided and if they thought there was sufficient cause to have (according to law) committed her to the General prison of this Colony whereby it would have come regularly before the General Court and whereupon I should have prepared a bill for the Grand jury and if they found it I shpould have prosecuted it. "I therefore with humble submission offer and conceive it proper that the said County Court do make further enquiry into the matter, and if they are of opinion there be cause they act according to the above law and I shall be ready to present a Bill and if found proceed thereon. Ordered that a copy of the said Report be sent to the court of Princess Anne County for their direction in the premises." The Attorney General was Stephens Thompson, and his opinion will be found in the calendar of State papers, Vol. 1, p. 100, however, the words in italics are omitted therein. May 2d, 1706. "Whereas a former complaint was brought against Grace Sherwood for suspicion of witchcraft which by the Atturny Genrl Report to his Exly in Council was to General and not Charging her with Any particular Act therefore represented to them that Princess Anne Court might if they thought fitt have her examined Detto, and the Court Being of Oppinion that there is great Cause of Suspicion Doe therefore order that the Sheriff take the Said Grace into Safe Custody untill She Shall give bond and Security for her appearence to the next Court to be examined Denovo and that thr Constable of that precinct goe with the Sheriff and Scrch the said graces House and all Suspicious places Carefully for all Images and Such like things as may any Way Strengthen The Suspicion and it is likewise Ordered that the Sheriff som an Able Jury of Women also all Evidences as Cann give in anything against he in Evidence in behalf of our Soveraign Lady the Queen To Attend the next Court Accordingly." June 6th 1706. "Whereas Grace Sherwood of your County having been Complained as pson Sustected of Witchcraft and now being Brought before this Counrt in ordr for examination this Court have therefore requested mr. Maxll Boush to present Information agt her as Councill in behalf of our Soveraign Lady the Queen in order to her being brought to a regular Tryall. "Whereas an Information in Behalf of her Majty was presented by Luke Hill to the Court in prusuance To. mr. Genrll Attrys Tomson report on his Excellcy ord in Council the 16th April Last About Grace Sherwood being Suspected of Witchcraft have thereupon Sworn Severall Evidences agt her by which it Doth very likely appear." June 7th, 1706. "Whereas at the Last Court an ordr was past that the Sherr should Summons an able Jury of Women to Serch Grace Sherwood on Suspicion of withccraft which although the Same was performed by the Sherr yet they refused And did not Appear it is therefore ordr that the Same persons be againe Somd by the Sherr for their Contempt To be Dealth with according to the uttmost Severity of the Law and that a new Jury of women be by him Somd To appear next Court to Serch her on the aforesaid Suspicion and that he likewise Som all evidences that he Shall be informed of as material in the Complaint and that She continue in the Sherr Custody unless She give good bond And Security for her Appearance at the next Court and that She be of Good behavior towards her Majestie and all her Leidge people in the mean time."
"At a Court held the 5th July anno Dom 1706 ... Whereas for Several Courts the Business between luke hill and Grace Sherwood in Suspicion of witch craft have Been for Several things omitted particularly for want of a jury to Serch her and the Court being Doubtful That they Should not get one this court and being willing to have all means possible tryed either to acquit her or to Give more Strength to the Suspicion that She might be Delt with as Deserved therefore it was ordrd that the Day by her own Consent to be tryed in the water by Ducking but the weather being very Rainy and Bad Soe that possibly it might endnager her health it is therefore ordrd that the Sherr request the Justices prcisely to Appear on wednesday next by tenn of the Clock at the Court house and that he Secure the body of the sd Grade till that time to be forth Coming then to be Dealth with as aforsd." July 10th 1706. "Whereas Grace Sherwood being suspected of witchcraft have a long time waitied for a fit opportunity ffor a ffurther Examinacon and by her Consent and approbacon of the Court it is ordr that the Sher take all Such Convenient assistance of boate and men as Shall be by him thought ffit to meet at Jno Harpers plantacon in ordr to take the Sd Grace forth with and put her into above mans Debth and try her how She Swims Therein alwayes having Care of her life to prserve her from Drowning and as Soon as She Comes Out that he request as many Ansient and knowing women as possible he Cann to Serch her Carefully ffor all teats spotts and marks about her body not usuall in Others and that as they ffind the Same to make report on Oath To the truth thereof to the Court and further ordr that Som women be requested to Shift and Serch her before She goe into the water that She Carry nothing about her to cause any ffurther Suspicion." "Whereas on Complaint of Luke Hill in behalf of her Majesty that now is agt Grace Sherwood for a prson Suspected of witchcrafyt and having had Sundry Evidences Sworne agt her proving Many Cercumstances To which She could not make any excuse or Little or nothing to Say in her own Behalf only Seemed to Rely on what the Court should doe and thereupon Consented to be tryed in the water and Likewise To Be Serched againe which expereants being tryed and She Swming wh therein and bound Contrary to Custom and Judgt of all Spectators and afterwards being Serched by ffive ancient woemen who have All Decalerd on Oath that She is not like them now noe Other woman that they knew of having two Things like titts on her private parts of a Black Coler being Blacker than the Rest of her Body all which Cercumstance the Court weighing in their consideration Doe therefore ordr that the Sherr take the Sd Grace Into his Costody and to Commit her body to the Common Goal of this County theirto Secure her by irons or Other Wise thereto Remaine till Such time as he Shall be otherise Directed in ordr for her coming to the Common Goal of the County to bee brought to a ffuture Tryall there." At a later term of the coyrt, "Mr. Maxll Boush for being Queens Atty agt Sherwood" was allowed 500 pounds of tobacco. After Grace was confined in jail, which jail with its iron bars across the small windows, is yet in existence and constitutes the pantry in the residence on Lynnhaven River of Mr. C. M. Barnett, the record is silent about any further action against her. Presumably Luke Hill and Uxor were satisfied with the "Ducking," and oublic exhibition made of Grace and she was eventually released from custody. On June 16, 1714 she procured from Lt. Gov. Alexander Spotswood a grant for 145 acres of land which had escheated from John White, who was her father, the land being located "at a place called and known by the name of Muddy Creek a branch of Corotuck Bay in the parish of Lyhaven in the sd County of Princess Anne," the bounds of the land being given. Grace lived many years after this, and by her will, dated the 20th, of August 1733, admitted to probatre on the 1st, of October 1740, she devised her proiperty to her sons John, James and Richard, appointing John Sherwood the executor of her will. The inventory of her personal property showed she possessed, "5 head of cattle, one steer four years old, one steer and heifer three years old, two heiffers two years old, one hand mill, one frame table, with a draw, one chest and box, one Iron spit, three low chairs, one Inglish blanket, one Iron pot, a pewter dish and bason, which inventory was presented in court the 3d December 1740 and ordered to be recorded." With few exceptions, the exact spelling, punctuation and abbreviations used in the orders of the court have been given. It is realized that much of the above could be condensed - a digest of the orders would be more appropriate in an historical account, but for the sake of exact verity, and for the benefit of those who may hereafter be inclined to write fantastic stories about Grace Sherwood and her trial, it is deemed proper that the entire record be incorporated herein; trusting that those who are industrious enough to write the stoiries, will be industrious enough to read the record. The record demonstrates what appears to us in these days, a peculiar view point, and yet witchcraft was a very serious, real and existing thing to the early Colonists.
The preceding is an extract of WHERE THE WILD GOOSE GOES: B. D. White, Preservationist, and is part of _Gleanings from Princess Anne County_, as written by Judge White.
Benjamin Dey White was an ardent preservationist of animals, books, history, the law, etc. His last will and testament especially reflects his interests and wishes where it states, among other requirements, "I desire my Canadian wild geese delivered to the U.S. Government, to be placed, if possible, on some wild life sanctuary." "Considered one of the best authorities on the history of Princess Anne County, Judge White wrote many sketches on the subject, one of which was entitled `Gleanings from Princess Anne County,' which includes one of the most exhaustive studies of the trial of Grace Sherwood for allegedly practicing witchcraft." _The Virginian-Pilot_, April 6, 1946. It is a collection of three,talks on local history, and was previously published by the author, c1924. Judge White presided over the 28th Judicial Circuit for 38 years. He purchased his ancestral home, and restored it to its old-time charm. With its park of animals and extensive library, White Acre aptly reflected the dignity and interests of its owner in the pleasant rusticity of the Tidewater scene of which he was so intimately a part. Judge White was said to be the first citizen of Princess Anne, and that his hand was felt, unobtrusively, behind nearly all phases of the county's progress. His historical sketch covers the history of Princess Anne County, Virginia (now Virginia Beach) from 1606-1861. It was re-published on the 300th anniversary of the forming of the county. A "History of the Establishment of the Princess Anne Courthouses" by The Hon. Richard B. Kellam, now Senior Federal Judge, is included.
ISBN 1-878515-69-1, LCCN 91-75147 C. W. Tazewell (1917- ), Editor. Copyright @ 1991 by C. W. Tazewell