Perhaps the most famous –or infamous, depending on your personal viewpoint — person ever to live in Princess Anne County was a witch.
Or again, depending on your take, maybe Grace Sherwood was falsely accused and downright innocent.
Regardless, it’s difficult to find anyone in Virginia Beach (the former Princess Anne County) who doesn’t know at least a little something about the story of the Witch of Pungo.
In remembrance of the city’s most famous resident, Back Bay Brewing for the fifth year in a row has released Witch of Pungo, a Belgian style ale with hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, pumpkin, and squash.
And once again the magical brew has quickly sold out in cans at Back Bay, but remains available – for now – on tap.
“The Witch of Pungo is well known in the area and it usually sells out quickly,” said head brewer Travis Powell. “Many people look forward to pumpkin beers and the added local touch just makes it more fun.”
Sherwood lived along Muddy Creek with her husband James and their three sons. In February of 1706 she was accused by a neighbor of witchcraft. She had been accused previously of things like “bewitching” neighbors; entering people’s homes through keyholes and turning into a black cat; and putting spells on livestock.
Said to be attractive, she was often seen dressed like a man while working around her farm, which only increased her neighbor’s ire.
On July 10, 1706, by the order of Princess Ann County authorities, a “trail by ducking” was held along a dirt road (today’s North Witchduck Road) near what is known now as Witchduck Point. It was the first trial of a witch to be held in the Colony of Virginia and people came from all parts of Princess Anne County to watch, and were joined by people from surrounding communities as well as some from as far away as the colonial capital of Williamsburg.
Sherwood was “cross bound” (the thumb of right hand tied to the big toe of her left foot and the thumb of left hand tied to big toe of her right foot). She was then thrown from a boat into the water. The theory at the time was that if she sank and drowned she would be proven innocent of being a witch — but she’d also be dead. However, if she floated and somehow survived she most certainly was guilty of being a witch.
According to legend Sherwood freed herself and floated not just once but twice. After her first escape a 13-pound Bible was purportedly tied around her neck and she quickly sank, but was able to free herself from the bonds on her hands and feet, as well as the heavy Bible. Furthermore, at least one story states that after she rose to the surface of the water that second time, she supposedly tormented her accusers by swimming and singing and laughing.
She avoided being burned at the stake (this wasn’t Salem, Massachusetts after all) but did spend the next seven years in jail.
“We thought it would be neat to honor her memory and the intriguing story by brewing a fall-themed beer with her (as the) namesake,” said Powell.
He said while the cans are sold out at the brewery, there may still be some on the shelves at various local retailers and the beer, for now at least, is still available on tap at both Back Bay and Farmhouse Brewing.
Back Bay will also offer a pumpkin spiced milk stout beginning Oct. 26 and in the coming months Farmhouse will release a pumpkin cider and an apple pie inspired ale.
In 2006 the governor of Virginia pardoned Sherwood of her alleged crime of being a witch. A statute of her was erected at the northeast corner of the intersection of North Witchduck Road and Independence Boulevard.
Sherwood is believed to have died in 1740. One legend indicated her body was placed near a fireplace by her sons. A strong wind came down the chimney and in the cloud of swirling ash her body disappeared; the only clue left behind was a cloven hoof-print.
It is also said the Witch of Pungo, who has inspired so many stories and legends — and at least one beer — was buried in an unmarked grave among some trees in a field somewhere near the intersection of Princess Anne and Pungo Ferry roads.