Virginia Governor Pardons Witch

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Last Monday, Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine pardoned Grace Sherwood, who was described as "Virginia’s only person convicted as a witch tried by water."  So I guess she may not have been the only person Virginia has tried that way, but rather the only person convicted — by evilly floating on top of the water, with the help of Satan.

Under the clever trial-by-water system, of course, those who were declared innocent by the body of water then promptly drowned.

Since this was in Virginia, I probably need to make clear that Sherwood was convicted this way a long time ago.  Droppeth they she into the Lynnhaven River on July 10, 1706.  Why Sherwood was suspected of being the "Witch of Pungo" is not entirely clear (not that you really needed a good reason back then).  It may have been because she tended to wear men’s clothes and lived separately from the townsfolk.  (Like I said, you didn’t really need a good reason.)  Sherwood repeatedly appeared in court ("appeared" in the normal way, not anything spooky) to defend herself against witchcraft charges or to sue accusers for slander.  The water test finally took place when she was 46 and had been accused of causing a neighbor’s miscarriage.  She floated, and while her punishment for floating was not recorded, other evidence suggests she was jailed for eight years and then released.

"With 300 years of hindsight, we all certainly can agree that trial by water is an injustice," said Governor Kaine in a letter that was read at the ceremony.  Oh, you guys needed all 300 years to agree on that?  Still, Kaine at least did the right thing in pardoning the Witch of Pungo and "officially restor[ing] the good name of Grace Sherwood."

A group that has been dedicated to obtaining the pardon then held their annual re-enactment of the Pungo dunking.  A woman in costume portraying Sherwood was put in a small boat with her thumbs tied to her toes.  "I be not a witch, I be a healer," she cried, using the same terrible grammar that witches be known to use.  "Before this day be through, ye will all get a worse ducking than I."  That last part was because in 1706, everybody supposedly got rained on by a sudden storm after the "witch" was convicted.  That didn’t happen this year.

Link: AP via