Author Topic: Witch Trials?  (Read 3936 times)

Devious Viper
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Witch Trials?
« on: July 03, 2006, 06:09:51 PM »
(Virginia Beach, Va.)

Grace Sherwood was a healer, a midwife and a widowed mother of three sons. Her neighbors thought she also was a witch who ruined crops, killed livestock and conjured storms. On July 10, 1706, the 46-year-old woman was tied up and "ducked" - dropped into a river - in what is now Virginia Beach. The theory behind the test was that if she sank, she was innocent, although she'd also likely drown. She floated - proof she was guilty because the pure water cast out her evil spirit.

Three hundred years later, a modern-day resident of this resort city has asked the governor to exonerate Sherwood, Virginia's only convicted witch tried by water. Belinda Nash, 59, also is raising money to erect a bronze statue of Sherwood and trying to find a place to put it. "I would like to see her name cleared because I don't believe she was a witch," said Nash, who has an affinity for Sherwood in part because Nash's reputation for having things she wishes for come true earned her the nickname Samantha the Witch. "Otherwise, I'd be ducked (too)," she added with a smile in an interview at the Ferry Plantation House, a historic home where she volunteers as director and, dressed in costume, tells visitors about "poor Grace."

The courthouse where part of Sherwood's witchcraft trial took place was located on the old Ferry farm property, Nash said. Nearby is the Western Branch of the Lynnhaven River, where Sherwood was ducked at a site now known as Witchduck Point. Nash hopes Gov. Timothy M. Kaine will decide whether to vindicate Sherwood's name by the 300th anniversary of the ducking, which Nash and a small group will commemorate with a re-enactment, as they do yearly, her daughter playing Sherwood. Nash's request was being reviewed, said Kaine's spokesman, Kevin Hall. "I must say it is odd to be considering a request like this for an individual who's been dead almost 300 years," Hall said.

Virginia never had a witch craze like that in Massachusetts, where 19 colonists were hanged for witchcraft in Salem Town in 1692. Records survive of 15 witchcraft cases in the Virginia colony in the 1600s, with most ending in acquittals, said Frances Pollard, director of library services at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. A copy of the transcript of Sherwood's trial was among the first items donated to the society, founded in 1831. No one was executed for witchcraft in Virginia, although Katherine Grady was hanged in 1654 aboard an English ship bound for Virginia when passengers blamed her for causing a storm, Pollard said.

The latest Virginia witchcraft case was in 1802 in Brooke County, now part of West Virginia. A couple accused a woman of being a witch and the court ruled that was slander. That was a frequent result in such cases, with people fined for bringing false charges, Pollard said. "It was pretty clear that Virginia early on tried to discourage these charges being brought of witchcraft because they were so troublesome," Pollard said.

Sherwood seems to be the only accused witch tried by water in Virginia, let alone convicted, Pollard said. Sherwood lived in what today is the rural Pungo neighborhood and she's known as "The Witch of Pungo," the name of a children's book by Louisa Venable Kyle. Her story also is told in "Cry Witch," a courtroom drama at Colonial Williamsburg, the recreated 18th-century capital of Virginia. Nash has been researching Sherwood for more than 20 years, since she moved from Canada to Virginia Beach and wanted to find out the story behind the name of Witchduck Road, near her home. She also goes to schools and portrays Sherwood.

Sherwood was a tall, good-looking and unconventional woman who grew herbs for medicine, owned prime waterfront property and wore trousers - taboo for women at that time - when she planted crops. Nash thinks her neighbors were jealous and made up witchcraft tales to get rid of Sherwood, perhaps to take her land. "Grace just knew too much," she said.

Sherwood actually went to court a dozen times, either to fight witchcraft charges or to sue her accusers for slander, Nash said. In her final case, she was tried for causing a woman to miscarry. The court had "ancient and knowing women" search Sherwood's body for marks of the devil, Nash said. They found two suspicious moles. Sherwood then consented to be tried by water.

She was led from jail and taken by boat 200 yards out in the river. A crowd gathered, chanting "Duck the witch!" The skies were clear, but Sherwood warned the onlookers, "Before this day be through, you will all get a worse ducking than I," Nash said. Sherwood was tied crossbound - her right thumb to her left big toe and her left thumb to her right big toe - and tossed into the water at 10 a.m. She untied herself and swam to the surface. As she was pulled out of the water, a downpour started, Nash said.

What happened next to Sherwood is unclear. Some court records may have been lost to fire.

Records do show that in 1714 she paid back taxes on her property. She may have languished in jail until then and been freed when excitement about witches had passed, Nash said. She moved back to her home and lived quietly until she died at about 80.

Nash had hoped to dedicate the statue on the 300th anniversary, but it won't be ready in time. She has raised about a third of the $92,000 cost, and is waiting to hear whether the city will permit her to put the statue by a school near where the old courthouse stood. The statue will be of a woman with a raccoon by her feet to represent Sherwood's love of animals, Nash said.

The woman also carries a basket of rosemary. Legend has it that she sailed to England in an eggshell to gather rosemary and introduce it back home.

Related links:

Information about Grace Sherwood:

Ferry Plantation House:

Virginia Historical Society:

Salem witch trials:

Devious Viper
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Re: Virginia witch trial reopened..?
« Reply #1 on: August 01, 2006, 04:04:56 AM »

Witch pardoned 300 years after trial by water found her guilty
by Sonja Barisic in Virginia Beach, Virginia

It took 300 years, but the only convicted witch from the American state of Virginia has finally been pardoned.

The state governor, Timothy Kaine, had been asked to exonerate Grace Sherwood, who was tried by water and accused of using her powers to cause a woman to miscarry.

On the 300th anniversary of her "ducking" trial, he obliged. "I am pleased to officially restore the good name of Grace Sherwood," he said in a letter read aloud by Virginia Beach's mayor, Meyera Oberndorf, before a re-enactment of the ducking.

On 10 July, 1706, Sherwood's thumbs were tied to her toes and she was dropped into a river. She floated - proof, it was said, that she was guilty because the pure water cast out her evil spirit.

Each year, a small group remembers her with a re-enactment ceremony.

Sherwood lived in what today is the rural Pungo neighbourhood and she is known as "The Witch of Pungo".

She went to court a dozen times, either to fight witchcraft charges or to sue her accusers for slander. In her final case, she was tried for using witchcraft to cause a woman to miscarry.

What happened to her after she was convicted is unclear: some court records may have been lost in a fire.

One theory is that she may have been jailed until 1714, when records show that she paid back taxes on her property. Sherwood is then thought to have lived quietly until her death at the age of 80.

Devious Viper
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Witch Trials?
« Reply #2 on: August 01, 2006, 04:33:33 AM »
On the surface, it seemed the classic witchcraft trial conducted a la Salem. An alleged witch could admit to practising magic and face prison, or admit she was not conspiring with the dark arts and so be jailed for fraud. To sink or float, as it were.

But this was not the Middle Ages - it was wartime Britain - and Helen Duncan's fate was sealed after she held the dubious honour of being the last Briton convicted on charges relating to witchcraft. While the Callander-born psychic died in 1956, the fight to clear her name continues today. "A massive miscarriage of justice has occurred," claims the publisher of the magazine that today spearheads Duncan's appeal.

It has been more than 50 years since one of the country's more bizarre criminal trials occurred. The case not only involved alleged paranormal activity, but national security, Winston Churchill and a Scotsman reporter's admission under oath of witnessing an apparition of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A practising medium who specialised in producing "materialisations" at seances held across Scotland, Duncan's crime was to claim that she contacted a dead sailor whose ship had been sunk by a German U-boat. The wartime government, then plotting to invade occupied France, would only report the sinking of the HMS Barham two weeks after Duncan's witnessed revelation.

Amid concerns in the coalition government that her psychic intelligence could endanger national security, Duncan was tried in London's Old Bailey under antiquated witchcraft laws. The government also claimed that by the nature of her work - contacting the dead - Duncan was fraudulently preying on a nation's suffering psyche, as the death toll mounted in the Second World War.

The 46-year-old from Edinburgh pleaded not guilty in February 1944 to a charge of contravening Section 4 of the Witchcraft Act, 1735, as well as causing "money to be paid by false pretences" and "creating a public mischief", following a police raid at a seance conducted by Duncan, in the Master Temple Psychic Centre, atop a drug store in Portsmouth, England.

As in the Massachusetts town of Salem, and in the cases of thousands of witches over history, Duncan's legal hands were tied. In the short trial, the prosecution convinced the jury that all goings-on at seances were so "palpably ridiculous", that Duncan was by default a fraud who had extracted money by craft. The judge agreed and sent the Scot to prison for nine months, though Duncan's not-guilty plea to witchcraft was upheld.

The trial continues to fascinate, and to be scrutinised. Duncan's defence produced 44 witnesses to her alleged supernatural acts and called to testify a famous news correspondent, who would say under oath he had witnessed Duncan conjure an apparition of the late Sir Arthur at a séance the reporter had attended. James Herries, an investigator of psychic phenomena for 20 years and a personal friend of the author of Sherlock Holmes, claims: "The figure was a little ghostly, but I easily recognised the rounded features of Sir Arthur, particularly the moustache. The figure spoke, and I traced a distinct similarity to Sir Arthur's voice." A Navy officer also backed his claims.

Newspapers reported a trial tinged with bizarreness, such as the court's collective, impromptu singing of Loch Lomond when Duncan's Scottish accent was commented upon by the prosecuting attorney.

It was also notable for the involvement of Churchill, then-Prime Minister, who wrote to his Home Secretary demanding to know why Duncan was being tried, and under a bill dredged up from 1735. Unable to secure Duncan's release, Churchill, who had a documented interest in the paranomal, would later visit Duncan in jail.

Ray Taylor, owner of Psychic World, the magazine which originally broke the story of Duncan's demise under the headline "Mediums demand pardon for the murder of Helen Duncan", also speaks of "several contradictions" in the case that he believes could work in favour of the appeal. The matter is currently in the hands of the Criminal Case Review body.

"We found one or two interesting aspects: that the barrister who defended Helen Duncan was not a criminal one; he specialised in conveyancing and the like - he was not the right one to defend her," Taylor notes. "Also we dug out some records that belong to the Home Office, which they say they don't have, so we seem to be at an advantage over this one."

Several trial witnesses described seances at which long-dead relatives materialised, alongside ectoplasm - a white, morphous substance secreted from Duncan's stomach. The sitting judge denied the defence's request that Duncan should be allowed to give a demonstration of her powers in court. Notably, Duncan's legal team also argued that nobody had proved photos of the apparent ghosts were false.

Several publications have also highlighted an apparent assault on Duncan in 1956 by the arresting officers, who had seized the medium as she was conducting another séance. This was said to have resulted in her serious injury – second-degree burns to her stomach area - that led to her death.

Medium or fraud, Duncan had been silenced as in Salem, and as with all other "convicted" witches before her.

Bloody Angel
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Witch Slaughter? pagan deaths not forgotten.(history)
« Reply #3 on: August 10, 2006, 02:26:47 AM »
Babies formerly rejected by the Catholic Church and buried in unmarked graves will be commemorated with a special monument that will be unveiled next Sunday at Mullaghmore, on a road leading to a field where the bodies are buried.
Historian Joe McGowan admitted there are hundreds of similar sites around the country containing the remains of unbaptized infants and stillborn babies because the church refused to allow them be buried on consecrated ground.
“Back in early Christian Ireland in this area this site was known as Cill na mBoctáin – the Church of the Poor.
Burials have taken place in these lonely spots up to the 1920s and ‘30s, some as late as 1964.”

Devious Viper
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Witch Slaughter
« Reply #4 on: August 23, 2006, 01:07:25 PM »
The police in India's north-eastern state of Assam say five people have been killed by tribals who suspected them of practising witchcraft.

Santhal tribesmen killed two couples and a teenage girl in two separate incidents in the Kokrajhar district. The villagers said the couple were practising witchcraft and harming fellow tribes people, the police said. Analysts say villagers are often accused of witchcraft to settle personal and land disputes.

Originally from central India, the Santhal tribes people were brought to Assam during British rule to work in the tea gardens.
The BBC's Subir Bhaumik in Delhi says the Santhals are generally found in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Assam and it is quite common among them to attack people they suspect of practising witchcraft.

One study shows a number of cases in West Bengal and Assam where certain families have been attacked by rivals within the community for practising witchcraft and their land taken away after the killings.

"The Santhals fear witches and believe great harm can be done by them," says the study by senior police officer Asit Baran Choudhury. "So anyone accused of practising witchcraft can come in for severe punishment and this is often manipulated for settling personal scores," he says.

According to police records, some 200 people have been killed in Assam in the past five years for allegedly practising witchcraft.