Witchy History: Grace Sherwood

One of the most famous witches in Virginia’s history is Grace Sherwood, whose neighbors alleged she killed their pigs and hexed their cotton. A farmer, healer, and midwife, she was accused by her neighbors of transforming herself into a cat, damaging crops, and causing the death of livestock. She was charged with witchcraft several times. Sherwood was accused of bewitching her neighbor, Elizabeth Hill, causing Hill to miscarry. Other accusations followed and Sherwood was brought to trial in 1706.

The court decided to use a controversial water test to determine her guilt or innocence. Sherwood’s arms and legs were bound and she was thrown into a body of water. It was thought if she sank, she was innocent; if she floated, she was guilty. Sherwood didn’t sink and was convicted of being a witch. She wasn’t killed but put in prison and for eight years.

A satirical article (supposedly written by Benjamin Franklin) about a witch trial in New Jersey was published in 1730 in the Pennsylvania Gazette. It brought to light the ridiculousness of some witchcraft accusations. It wasn’t long before witch mania died down in the New World and laws were passed to help protect people from being wrongly accused and convicted.

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