VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WVEC) -- Today, many people probably don’t think twice when driving down Witchduck Road in Virginia Beach.
They may assume that it’s nothing more than the name of a street. But “Witchduck” has an extraordinary story that dates back hundreds of years.
“[Grace] was a woman ahead of her times,” says local author Deni Norred. She is referring to Grace Sherwood, a woman born in 1660 to English parents in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach.
Grace wasn't your average lady.
“It is said that she was probably very attractive, she was unconventional, [and] she wore men's pants in the fields,” says Norred.
Her oddities didn't go over too well with the neighbors.
“Her crops were always good,” says Norred. “Her animals were healthy, and so there was probably a lot of jealousy.”
It was the era of the Salem witch trials, which began in 1692. “That probably stirred up talk everywhere about witches, and got everybody all superstitious and fearful again,” says Norred.
An unusual woman during the days of witch accusations became the perfect “spell” for Grace Sherwood to become known as “The Witch of Pungo." The townspeople blamed her for many of their problems, like “unexplained weather, droughts, severe storms, [and] animals that might die,” says Norred.
Then in 1706, Princess Anne County (which is now the City of Virginia Beach) finally agreed to try her as a witch by strapping a 13-pound Bible to her chest, and “ducking” her into the water by tying “right thumb to left toe, and left thumb to right toe,” says Norred. The rules were simple: drown and be named innocent, or escape and be proven a witch.
Understanding the rules, Grace made her decision.“She struggled out of her bounds and she laughed,” says Norred.
She was found guilty and spent nearly eight years in jail.
Today, the story of her trial lives on in Virginia Beach in statues, markers, and names like Witchduck Road.
Norred adds that every year on the anniversary of Grace’s trial, people reportedly see a moving light -- believed to be her spirit -- over the place where she was thrown into the water in Witchduck Bay.