Why is it called Fairfield?

It’s midnight and I’ve got Donna Summer on a loop and a cat that won’t stop until she has MORE FANCY FEAST NOW.

So clearly it’s time to write about a strip mall in Kempsville, drug trafficking, and the Caribbean island that gave us Rihanna.  Not sure how those relate?  Soon you will.  Read on.

Caribbean Drug Trade

Today when you say “Caribbean drug trade” people usually think of cocaine cowboys in Miami or those medieval catapults on the Mexican border propelling mary jane across the Rio Grande at 200 miles a second.  But the Caribbean drug trade is much, much older than that.  Three hundred years older.

Sugar and tobacco are some of the most addictive substances on the planet.  In the 1690s, Caribbean drug trafficking meant sugar and tobacco.  And these products were brand new to the European market.

Sugar: the crack of the 1690s.

One of the major producers of both was Barbados.  That little island was churning out incredible quantities of each.  But there was a problem: Virginia.

Compared to Barbados, Virginia was gigantic; the Old Dominion could churn out cancer sticks faster than anyone else.  And there was the undeniable truth that Virginia tobacco tasted better.  Virginia was no good for growing sugarcane, but who cared when you could grow gold in your backyard with a hoe and a pile of horse manure?

Barbadian planters tried to grow and sell their own tobacco in European markets, but nobody wanted Caribbean tobacco when they could get that sweet, sweet Virginia strain.  So smart Barbadians came up with a plan: throw some hogs and sugar and rum in a boat, take it to Virginia, and trade their tropical goods with the Virginians for tobacco that they could sell.  Or, better yet, they bought Virginia plantations of their own to grow high quality tobacco, and then traded it back home in Barbados for sugar.1  Processed sugar was a very new and tasty treat in 1650.

One family did just that.

Thomas Walke

Thomas Walke was part of a wave of Barbadian immigration to Norfolk and Princess Anne County in the mid 1600s.  Norfolk and PAC were ideal because they were on the coast: there was no long inland journey, goods could be taken to ships in a few hours, and Norfolk was already becoming a major shipping port back to England.2  

In 1662, Thomas used headright patents to get 500 acres of land in New Norfolk County (soon to be Princess Anne County).  Headright patents were a wacky early incentive to encourage immigration to Virginia.  Here’s how it works3:

  1. Beg, yell, or bribe your family to come with you to Virginia
  2. Round up some slaves or indentured servants
  3. Register with the Virginia Company for your trip
  4. Collect 50 acres of land per person that came with you

Item 4 was helpfully vague in the Virginia Company policy, and many colonists (like Adam Thoroughgood) exploited this policy to use their servants as access to more land.  In this case, Thomas Walke had no wife or children (yet), so that means he brought 9 slaves or servants with him.

He didn’t stop there.  Not satisfied with his first 500 acres, Thomas bought a second 360 acre plantation in Lynnhaven Parish in 1691.  As payment, he traded 6000 pounds of pork.

Now it’s time to switch gears.

Richie Rich of the 18th Century

Once upon a time, there was a toddler that lived in Kempsville.  He was the son of Thomas Walke.4  Shortly after Thomas bought that plantation in exchange for a metric crap ton of swine, Thomas died. 

Thomas must have sensed that the end was coming, because he wrote out a painfully specific will.  First, he wanted everyone he had ever met to have a ring.  And I mean that literally.  You get a ring!  She gets a ring!  Your sister’s barber’s turtle gets a ring!5

Second, he wanted his executor to buy his oldest son, Anthony, a plantation.  Sell his shiny new pig-plantation (I doubt they’d finished eating the pork chops), sell all the ships going back and forth between Virginia and Barbados, sell all the property in Barbados, and buy the most awesome, extravagant, amazing plantation money could buy.

There was also another son and a daughter, but the second son got a second-rate plantation in Currituck, and the daughter some furniture.

The executor did his job, and bought Anthony an 800 acre plantation called “Fairfield.”  And then he gave him the rest of his inheritance in cash: a cool million in 2018 dollars, and a lot of slaves.  A LOT of slaves.

It doesn’t stop there.  Anthony’s uncle died when he was a boy.  Thomas’ brother left Anthony 100 pounds (about $19,000 in today’s money) and another slave in his will.

Anthony was all set to be a Prince of the Universe at the tender age of two-and-a-half.

In Kempsville, you’ve probably never wondered why the vast shopping center is called “Fairfield Shopping Center.”  The name isn’t random.  Fairfield Shopping Center in Kempsville was built on the former site of Anthony Walke’s inheritance, Fairfield Plantation.6



1 Hatfield, April Lee.  Atlantic Virginia: Intercolonial Relations in the 17th Century.  University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.

2 Why not trade with South Carolina or Florida?  They weren’t successful English possessions yet.

3 Headrights.  Bob’s Genealogy Filing Cabinet, 2004, http://www.genfiles.com/misc-files/Lower-Norfolk-County-Headrights.pdf.  Accessed 17 March 2018.

4 The Virginia Historical Society.  The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography.  Vol 5, Printed by William Ellis Jones, 1898.

5  In case you’re wondering, 20 shillings in 1694 is equal to one pound, which is equal to $192 in 2018 money.  That’s $2200 for jewelry.  He presumably wanted his relatives to make and wear mourning rings in remembrance of him.

6 Hawkins-Hendrix, Edna.  Black History: Our Heritage, Princess Anne County/Virginia Beach, VA.  Self-published, 1998.

Why is it called Norfolk?

When Adam Thoroughgood hopped off the boat in 1622, he must have been very confused.

He had just left Norfolk, England, which looks like this:

And landed in what is today Virginia Beach, which looks like this:

Actually, I lied.  The second picture is Norfolk, UK too.  But you believed me, didn’t you?

My point is, the Norfolk he left behind looked an awful lot like the place he had just adopted. So it makes perfect sense that when Elizabeth City County was subdivided in 1634, he suggested the new smaller county be called New Norfolk.  And when Norfolk County eventually became the city of Norfolk, well, here we are.

It’s one of history’s little ironies that Virginia Beach’s favorite founding father selected the name for one of its traditional rivals.


A History of Bay Island

Sometimes I start one of these blogs thinking “Eh, I know all about this already!  I don’t need to check the librar—Oh.  Oh.  Huh.  I didn’t know that.  Hmm.”

This is one of those times.


Bay Island is a small island in between First Landing State Park and Great Neck.  The island is about two miles long but only about a quarter mile wide.  As you can see in this old postcard, it is very narrow and now surrounded by water on all sides.

It is currently divided into two different neighborhoods: the older Broad Bay Colony in the western half, and Bay Island in the eastern half.  But just about everybody calls it “Bay Island.”

Way, Way Older Than You Think

Bay Island, Great Neck Point, First Landing State Park, the mouth of Lynnhaven Bay… all of these were originally home to thousands of Native Americans. Great Neck Point or nearby Bay Island were probably the site of Chesepioc, a major Chesapeake Indian village.  The earliest accounts of the Jamestown settlers mention their explorations of these areas, and their encounters with the local people.  English nobleman George Percy later wrote

At night, when wee were going aboard, there came the Savages creeping upon all foure, from the Hills like Beares, with their Bowes in their mouthes, charged us very desperately in the faces, hurt Captaine Gabrill Archer in both his hands, and a sayler in two places of the body very dangerous. After they had spent their Arrowes, and felt the sharpnesse of our shot, they retired into the Woods with a great noise, and so left us.

It’s likely the natives had already heard about the English antics in Roanoke.  Hence the attack.

Throughout the Colonial period and the 19th century, Bay Island was mostly marsh land, and still connected to Great Neck Point.  The northern boundary of Bay Island was a narrow channel called Long Creek.  The eastern half was probably tidal and only accessible some of the time.  But otherwise, this 1879 map by the Army Corps of Engineers clearly shows no division between Bay Island and the northern shores of Great Neck.

The western half of the land seems to have been higher and dryer, and a few people built homes here before 1900.

The 20th Century

Large scale development didn’t happen until the mid-20th century.

Broad Bay Colony was developed first, in the 1940s.  A small draw bridge connected the island to the mainland.

Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, the marsh area along the southern boundary was heavily dredged.  A newer, deeper water channel was dug out of the marsh muck.  It was now truly an island.

Deck of a home in Bay Island, looking south across the canal to homes in Great Neck.

In 1959, a real estate company in Norfolk began selling lots to the eastern half of the island.  According to their civic league, “The first Bay Island house was built on Windward Shore Drive.  A 1962 aerial map shows about 33 houses on Bay Island.  Bay Island had almost as many canals as streets, with most homes having backyard waterway access.”

In 1960, Princess Anne County erected the tall bridge that we still use today to access Bay Island by road.  It’s worth noting the postal addresses people used at this time.  The USPS lumped Bay Island with the small village of London Bridge to the south, so everyone’s address was 1234 Road Name, Route 1, London Bridge, Virginia.

A 1991 issue of Real Estate Weekly says: “Across the water from Seashore state Park, and reaching in Broad Bay like the tentacles of a giant squid, is Bay Island, Virginia Beach’s answer to Venice.  Bay Island is canals; serene, secluded canals that invite you to glide into the neighborhood straight up to your own back door.”

The whole area is now so water friendly that you can hop in your boat on Bay Island and zip across to one of the many waterfront restaurants along Shore Drive and Lynnhaven Bay.


Time is taking a toll.  The homes of the 1950s and ’60s are giving way to massive redevelopment.  Virginia Beach citizens, looking for cheap deep waterfront access to the Chesapeake Bay, have begun demolishing the old homes to build newer, bigger palaces.  Take a long look at Bay Island the next time you drive that way – it will probably look very different in 10 years!

George Percy, “Observations gathered out of a Discourse of the Plantation of the Southerne Colonie in Virginia,” in Hakluytus Posthumus, or Purchas His Pilgrimes, compiled by Samuel Purchas (London: H. Fetherston, 1625) 4:1686-1689.

Wolfe, Brendan. “Indians in Virginia.” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 23 Nov. 2015. Web. 3 Mar. 2018.

Princess Anne, Part 2: Revenge of the Crying Tomato


A marker outside the Virginia Beach courthouse.

A brief note from our sponsors…

Princess Anne, part 1, was brought to you by a pot of coffee in the middle of the night and a cat who kept waking me up by sleeping on my face.  Princess Anne, part 2, is sponsored by cheap wine from Lidl and some really tasty gouda cheese crackers.

It’s time for a quick recap.

In Part 1, Anne Stuart is born and spends her childhood imitating a crying tomato.  Her uncle, King Charles II, dies with no heirs, making Anne’s father King James II.  Anne gets married to a kindly anti-Viking from Denmark.  James’ flirtation with Catholicism gets him forcibly removed from the English throne after only 3 years.  Anne’s sister and brother-in-law ascend the throne in his place, and Anne becomes the new heir presumptive to the crown of England.  Not bad for being born a woman in early modern Europe, eh?

Here’s part 2.

A Waiting Game

Anne Stuart was extremely popular in the 1690s.  She was expected to replace William and Mary as Queen of England one day, and that made her top of mind in Virginia throughout the last days of the 17th century.

In 1691, a very large Lower Norfolk County in southeast Virginia was split in two pieces.  One part became Norfolk County (eventually Chesapeake), the other part became Princess Anne County – the precursor of Virginia Beach.

Many other American places were named for Anne around the same time, especially in Maryland and Virginia.  (Annapolis, anyone?)

Aside from her newfound popularity, Anne spent the 1690s mostly removed from politics.  Despite her status as heir, the co-monarchs William and Mary didn’t really include Anne in the decision making of the realm.

Anne and her husband George had a quiet life in London with their only living son, George.  Anne was still struggling with miscarriages and stillbirths, of which there were at least ten between 1689 and 1700.

Friends said there was nothing more moving than to see the Queen and her husband mourning together as the little coffins mounted up.  Sometimes they would weep together.  Other times they just sat in silence hand in hand.  It was unimaginably awful.  To this day, no one really agrees on the reason behind [Anne’s fertility struggles].5

Despite the horror at home, Anne was known for her charm, her obstinacy, her fun-loving spirit, and her weight.  Her statue sits outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in London; a contemporary commented “it was fitting she was depicted with her rump to the church, gazing longingly into a wineshop.”6

She sounds like a good time.

Queen at Last

Anne’s sister Mary died in 1694.  Mary’s husband William died in 1702 in a riding accident. William wasn’t a well-loved King.  More than a few of his subjects were spotted saluting the horse that toppled him.7

Does anyone remember Mr. Ed? Imagine if he were King William’s horse. “I’ve had enough of your shit Willy. Also, I can time travel. Peace!”

Anne became the first Queen Regnant since Elizabeth I.  This was somewhat controversial, and not for the reasons you might think: Government ministers worried that when the time came, her chronic ill health would make her physically incapable of the job.  To 17th century eyes, Anne was gigantic – both in height and weight.  Whether because of her weight, or her reported gout, Anne’s joints were in constant pain.8  Her mobility was so bad that she hobbled around Kensington Palace in a sedan chair.

Accordingly, the new queen’s ministers were fearful of being at the mercy of a sickly woman.  They soon realized there was no reason to worry.  Shortly after her “Sunshine Day” of ascension, Anne appeared before Parliament for the first time.  She was a smash.

According to one eyewitness, “Never any woman spoke more audibly or with better grace.”…  [She was] resplendent.  She wore the crown, the star and garter, and a magnificent gown of red velvet lined with ermine and edged with gold galloon.9


King Charles II of Spain. His family tree was a collection on spoons instead of forks. His autopsy says his body “did not contain a single drop of blood; his heart was the size of a peppercorn; his lungs corroded; his intestines rotten and gangrenous; he had a single testicle, black as coal, and his head was full of water.”12 And these people LIKED HIM.

Her lifelong rosacea was interpreted as bashfulness, which the Parliamentarians viewed as especially charming.10  After giving a heartfelt speech about her loyalty to England and her wishes for the prosperity of its people, she was compared to Elizabeth I.11

It was good that Parliament adored her.  She was about to experience her first trial by fire.

How to Go to War in 60 Days

Only 2 months after Anne became queen, Europe erupted in war.  After years of baffling Christendom by continuing to live, the inbred King of Spain had died childless.  His closest heir was also an heir to the French throne – creating the terrifying possibility of a new European Empire.

England, Holland, and Austria fought together to prevent France and Spain from forming this new, Super-Catholic Superpower.  The War of the Spanish Succession was one of the first world wars, and it dominated the rest of Anne’s reign until finally being settled in 1714.

Anne – who had never demonstrated any interest nor aptitude for warfare – now found herself trying to lead an army.

She chose the best possible route: she delegated the war effort to people who knew what they were doing.  She consulted experienced admirals, generals, and diplomats.13  Soon, the British were winning victories.

This became the hallmark of Anne’s ruling style.  She knew that her own experience was too limited, so she found and listened to subject matter experts and made decisions based on their recommendations.
In Part 3, Queen Anne settles the succession on a distant German prince and united England and Scotland under one flag.

5 “Stuarts to Hanoverians.”  Fit To Rule: How Royal Illness Changed History, series 1, episode 2, BBC Two, April 2013.  Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAQ2SrKFfBg.

Somerset, Anne (2012). Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion. London: HarperCollins.

7 “Stuarts to Hanoverians.”  Fit To Rule: How Royal Illness Changed History, series 1, episode 2, BBC Two, April 2013.  Youtube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pAQ2SrKFfBg.

8 Saxbe, W. B. Jr.  “LISTERIA MONOCYTOGENES AND QUEEN ANNE.”  Pediatrics, vol. 49, no. 1, 1972. American Academy of Pediatrics News Gatewayhttp://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/49/1/97..info.

9 Bucholz, R.O. (1993).  The Augustan Court: Queen Anne and the Decline of Court Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

10  Possibly the best moment in the History of Rosacea.

11  Green, David (1970). Queen Anne. London: Collins.

12  Gargarilla, Pedro. “Enfermedades de los reyes de España. Los Austrias : de la locura de Juana a la impotencia de Carlos II el Hechizado” La Esfera de los Libros S.L., 2005.

13  John B. Hattendorf, “English Governmental Machinery and the Conduct of War, 1702–1713.” War & Society 3.2 (1985): 1-22.


Curtis, Gila; introduced by Antonia Fraser (1972). The Life and Times of Queen Anne. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.


Witchduck Road and Grace Sherwood

I would be a total idiot if I did not include the story of Grace Sherwood, the Witch of Pungo, and the reason for Witchduck Road.

The story about Grace is a lot like Kool-Aid:  You have your bright purple sugar packet and a pitcher of water.  The water is the truth; the sugar is all the legends and embellishments and lies.  After you mix the two together, you get something totally new…  And something that can never really be divided again into its component parts, no matter how hard you try.  Most of what I’m about to say is a big ole pitcher of Purple Drank, because we have no way to know otherwise.

You’ve been warned.


If you’re not from Virginia Beach, let me bring you up to speed:  in 1705, a woman named Grace Sherwood was accused of witchcraft.  The court ordered her to be bound and thrown into the Lynnhaven River.  She survived, and lived a quiet life thereafter.

The little dirt track that lead to her dunking site became forever after known as Witchduck Road.  The modern day site of her ducking is now a neighborhood called Witchduck Point.

If you’re looking closely, you can see little markers of her existence scattered around the city.  There’s a statue in her honor outside the old Bayside Hospital.  There’s a marker about her life somewhere on Princess Anne Road.  The foundations of her homestead are still here, but overgrown somewhere in Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge.

That’s the verified truth about Grace.  Let’s dive into the rest.

🎵🎵 How Do You Solve a Problem Like Grace Sherwood🎵🎵

🎵How do you catch a witch and duck her down?🎵

Statue of Grace Sherwood outside of the old Bayside Hospital.

She was born in Princess Anne County in 1660.  She married in 1680 and had a small farm.  She was born here, she was married here, she lived her entire life here, and she died here.  But more importantly…

Grace Sherwood annoyed the hell out of her neighbors.

From the 1690s onwards, Grace was in and out of court constantly.  She was accused of killing livestock.  Hexing cotton crops.  Spiritual assaults.  People thought she could teleport through keyholes.  On one occasion, someone claimed she turned herself into a tiny black cat with a whip and whipped them out of their bed.2  (I guess the origins of BDSM are older than I thought.)     

What surprises me most about these accusations is that the local courts apparently saw them for what they were: a way to harass another citizen without much proof.  Where the records still exist, they show that her accusers’ cases were quickly dismissed, or the courts chose not to deliver decisions.3   This, I suppose, is the legalese way of shrugging and saying “PPFFTTTT. WHATEVER.”

After each of these accusations, Grace counter-sued her accuser for defamation.  She often won.  These cases were also resolved quickly.

Late in 1705, Grace’s neighbor Elizabeth Hill attacked Grace.  Grace immediately had her up on charges for assault and battery, and asked for restitution. In December of 1705, Grace won a judgement for 20 shillings – that’s about $250 in today’s money.

After losing their case, the Hills fought back immediately.  Late in December of 1705, they told the court that Grace had used witchcraft to cause Elizabeth Hill to have a miscarriage.4

This is the point where everything escalates out of control.

Time Out

All of Grace’s previous cases had been resolved quickly.  Why was this time different?  Why did the court treat it so seriously?  Why couldn’t the Hill family let this go?  

Let’s imagine that we are Grace Sherwood’s neighbor.  

Grace had a nasty relationship with Luke Hill.  Maybe she pooped in his yard, or yelled at somebody’s kid to get off her lawn.  Then Grace and Elizabeth got into a fistfight.  It was the last straw, and I can easily imagine her accuser screaming in Honeymooners style “So help me God Luke, if that woman bothers us ONE MORE TIME, I swear I will call out a warrant for witchcraft.  ONE MORE TIME!”

But her angry neighbors had a hurdle.  Many had accused Grace of witchcraft before and failed.  They certainly couldn’t run to the sheriff and whine about a Phantom Pooper.  They had to have a charge that would finally turn other people against her.  Something that would stick.  So how do you get the authorities to take you seriously and finally take action once and for all?

You allege an unprovable murder. 6

The previous accusations of witchcraft were fundamentally different.  The damages suffered seemed more temporary.  The court could easily tell Grace’s accusers to buy another cow.  Wait for another piglet to be born.  Grow another field of wheat.

The court could not replace Mrs. Hill’s lost baby.

After Time Out, I’ll show that the Hill family hounded Grace Sherwood through the legal system, making sure the case stayed alive after the local court tried to drop it, and even petitioning the Governor to get involved. 

Why couldn’t the Hill family let this go?  Simple: they were out for blood.

The Not-Trial of Grace Sherwood

The oldest records available about Grace Sherwood’s ordeal are the Princess Anne County Court records.  They are incomplete (there was a pesky Civil War that burned them up), but they are fascinating.5

Despite the best efforts of Luke and Elizabeth Hill, the courts were reluctant to pursue the murder-via-witchcraft charges.  The judges, county officials, and even the Governor’s Council dragged their feet at every step.  

At the first court appearance on January 3rd, 1706, Grace didn’t even show up.  This was a strategic mistake, because the court then ordered she be imprisoned in the county jail until the next session.  It also seems that they forgot to charge her with anything.  Oopsie!

At the second court appearance in February, there was a lengthy debate about what to do.  Again, nothing was decided. Perhaps at a loss, the Justices ordered that Grace come back to court in March.  In the meantime, the Sheriff was ordered to summon a jury of women to search Grace’s body for marks and to report their findings.

At the third session on March 7th, the findings of Grace’s search were revealed.  The completely unbiased Jury of Women (headed by Grace’s very first witchcraft accuser, Elizabeth Barnes), declared that they had found at least 2 suspicious marks.  Despite these findings, the court did nothing.  There is no record of a penalty or a dismissal.  Grace probably walked free.

The historical marker near the site of her ducking.

The first episode of Law & Order: Special Witches Unit had ended.  Luke and Elizabeth Hill must have been incandescent with rage.  The local Justices of the Peace were trying to sweep the whole thing under the rug, but the Hills weren’t having it.

Late in March of 1706, Luke Hill petitioned the Governor and his Council.  He explained the Princess Anne County Court’s lack of action, and begged the Attorney General to prosecute Grace Sherwood for her crimes in a higher court.  In April, the Attorney General responded – rather than take up the prosecution himself, he directed the local authorities do the whole thing over again.  And this time, he suggested they charge her with a crime.  And maybe do a real investigation.  For Grace, the whole rodeo was starting over again.  

On May 2nd, the Court cited the Attorney General’s report and ordered that Grace be taken to jail until the next session in June.  They ordered a new Jury of Women to examine her.  They ordered a second Jury of Women to search her house and look for evidence of witchcraft.  And they asked for a Crown Representative to make the case on behalf of the Hills.  (Curiously, this had not already happened.)

On June 6th, Luke Hill testified against Grace.  (Why didn’t he testify before?  His wife was the afflicted one, why didn’t Elizabeth take the stand?)  On June 7th, the Court asked the Sheriff for the results of the new examination and the property search by the two Juries of Women.

He didn’t have them.  The Sheriff had impaneled two different groups of women for the tasks.  They had all refused to participate.  No one was willing to help the court in its dirty work.  Episode two of Law & Order: Special Witches Unit was just as disappointing for the Hills.

Hearing this, the Justices ordered all of the women to be held in Contempt.  A new Jury of Women would be called.  Grace was ordered back to prison until the next court session in July.

On July 5th, the Court reconvened and learned that, once again, no women were willing to join the Jury to examine Grace. 

So there was no new evidence.  The court was stuck in idle.  Again.  At this point, there’s a note of exasperation in the court records.  They had been trying to proceed for six months.  The Attorney General for the Colony of Virginia had ordered them to shit or get off the pot, but there was no compelling evidence in either direction.  The local people weren’t cooperating anymore.  Luke and Elizabeth Hill wouldn’t shut up and go away.  And Grace had been rotting in jail for 2 months.

Grace had had enough.  The Court had had enough.  On July 5th, they struck a bargain.  Dun dun!

Totally Ducked

The Princess Anne County court records ordering Grace Sherwood to be ducked. Courtesy of the Virginia Historical Society.

Therefore it was Ordrd that this Day by her own Consent to be tried in the water by Ducking, but the weather being Rainy and Bad Soe that possibly it might endanger her health it is therefore ordrd that the Sherr request the Justices precisely to appear on wednessday next by tenn of the Clock the Court house and that he Secure the body of the Sd till that time to be forth Coming then to be Dealt wth afore sd.7

This part of the story is a revelation.

When I was a child hearing this story for the first time, this was presented completely differently.  Grace was thrown into the river and she survived by some miracle.  She certainly didn’t consent to be thrown in.  But here, we have evidence that she agreed to this.  We have evidence that the Justices arranged this bit of theatre with her safety in mind. 

The ducking was not her sentence after a trial, the ducking was a bit of pre-trial maneuvering to further establish guilt or innocence, to move her on to a full trial or exonerate her completely.


The court ordered her to be ducked on July 10th, which gave five days notice to everyone in the county who might want to go and watch.  That was enough time for the anticipation to ratchet into the stratosphere.  I wonder – when Grace emerged from the jail to be taken out on the river that day, was she greeted like Charles Manson?  Or did people see her as a victim?

On July 10th, 1706, she was removed from the jail and a procession left the courthouse and headed for a prepared site on the Lynnhaven River.  It is said that huge throngs of people crowded the riverbanks to get a glimpse of the action.

An aerial view of Witch Duck Point today.

For those that couldn’t see at the back of the crowds, it’s easy to imagine a Howard Cosell-type Monday Night Football narration:  “Sherwood is in the boat… the Sheriff makes the handoff… SHERWOOD IS IN THE WATER… SHERWOOD IS IN THE WATER… a big splash… SHE’S FLOATING…SHE’S A WITCH!  SHERWOOD IS A WITCH!”

At this point, just for good measure, the Sheriff apparently beaned Grace with a heavy Bible to see if she’d sink.  She did, rather like anyone else in deep water who gets a ten pound weight chucked at their head.

Once they were sure of the result, they hauled her back to shore and had a council of “five antient weomen” examine her.  They again claimed she had some dark marks that weren’t normal.

The Justices were finally convinced of her guilt.  She was remanded to the Sheriff’s custody and told to await her “Future Tryall.”

There is no record of this future trial.  It’s unclear if the trial happened or if the charges were dismissed.  There is no record of Luke or Elizabeth Hill’s reaction.  

After the ducking, Grace lived 34 more years and was never accused of witchcraft again.


Notes & Sources

1  I used to think this theory was ludicrous (who has the energy to get upset about fashion?), but then I started paying attention to all the modern day grief and violence that accompanies transexuals who wear the “wrong” clothing.  Now this theory doesn’t seem so farfetched.

2  I can’t decide if this is a very early manifestation of BDSM or if someone had a vision of the future and saw Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman.

3 To me, this smacks of paternalism: “Oh these country bumpkins are at it again!  When will they stop?”

4 Though heavily implied, it is never stated outright… Did the assault cause Elizabeth Hill’s miscarriage?  Or did she miscarry after Grace won her day in court?

5 The gears of 18th century justice moved a bit differently.  Instead of appearing before one judge, Grace had to appear before a panel of Justices of the Peace.  These men were prominent local officials, often ship captains or members of the militia, and they convened once a month on behalf of the Crown.  I was surprised that some names were already familiar to me: Adam Thoroughgood (a descendant of the local legend), Richardson, Woodhouse, etc.

6 There are lots of advantages to this.    

  1. She has to strip naked and be examined, possibly more than once.
  2. There was no need for evidence of a crime, because Ghostbusters hadn’t come out yet and nobody would have known to look for pink goo in the subway.
  3. She has to go to court, which is a nuisance and far away from home.  Even if she wins, it still costs her time and money to appear.
  4. You get to testify in court, and let everyone know how horrible she is.  
  5. If she loses, she’s humiliated, fined, maybe jailed, and possibly thrown overboard into a muddy swamp.  She might even die.

7 There was a belief in those days that water – an element of holy baptism – was a pure substance.  Therefore, it would reject a witch and bob her back to the surface.  If Grace were innocent, the water would accept her and she would sink.  Grace popped back to the top of the water like a cork.

Cushing, Jonathan.  Collections of the Virginia Historical and Philosophical Society, vol 1. TW White, 1833.  Google Books.

Hume, Ivor Noel.  “Witchcraft and Evil Spirits.”  Something from the Cellar, Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2005, pp. 88-90.  Google Books.

James, Edward W. “Grace Sherwood, the Virginia Witch.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 2, 1894, pp. 96–101. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1914583.

Newman, Lindsey.  “Under an Ill Tongue: Witchcraft and Religion in Seventeenth Century Virginia.”  MA Thesis, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 2009.

“The Virginia Case of Grace Sherwood, 1706.” Narratives of the Witchcraft Cases, edited by George Lincoln Burr, Charles Scribner & Sons Press, 1914, pp. 433-442.  Google Books.

Witkowski, Monica C. “Grace Sherwood (ca. 1660–1740).” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 2 Feb. 2018.


Pains in the Neck

After you’ve been in Virginia Beach a while, you notice “necks” everywhere.  Dam Neck.  Great Neck.  West Neck.  What is a neck?  Why is it on every other street sign in the city?

“Neck” is an old expression for peninsula, or a narrow piece of land or sea.  It must have been a common English expression in the 17th century, because Neck appears all over the map of Virginia Beach, from street names to creeks to wide geographical regions.  With no trouble, I stuck a dozen pins in this map.

Most of the Necks are self-explanatory.  Gigantic peninsula in the northern half of the city?  Great Neck.  Slightly smaller peninsula nearby?  Little Neck.  Peninsula once full of birds?  Bird Neck.

The other Necks are more problematic.

Dam Neck

The Virginian-Pilot did a little digging a few years ago about Dam Neck, finding that

Deeds for the plantation of Thomas Brinson, an original Dam Neck inhabitant who lived there until 1675, said the property was “lying and being in dam nick,” and that it was bordered by beaver dams and a swamp.

So it’s “Dam Neck” because of some beavers.  Gotcha.

Or not.

Anne Henry of the Virginia Beach Historical Society goes by a different theory.

She believes that the area got its name from the windmills that stood in Dam Neck for more than a century and were used to grind up grain and wheat.

In some areas, the mills were powered not by wind but by water – more specifically, the ocean tides, captured by a dam, Henry said. Henry’s family had property near Great Neck and Mill Dam Roads, where just such a tidal mill existed.

Ok then.  Seems plausible.  What about the other Necks?

Charity Neck – I dunno man.  I’m still working on it.

Morris Neck – I dunno man.  I’m still working on it.

West Neck – I dunno man.  I’m still working on it.

Buzzard Neck – I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say that birds were involved.

Did I miss a Neck?  Do you know about the other Necks?  Tell me!

Princess Anne, Part 1

Princess Anne Road in Virginia Beach, near Nimmo Church

Lots of landmarks and businesses in Virginia Beach are named for Princess Anne, so I thought it was fitting to include a brief bio of our patron Princess.1

Anne wasn’t born a princess.  She was never supposed to be Queen of England.  She liked drinking.  She liked music.  She was fat.  And she was the first Queen of a united Great Britain.

A Funny Looking Kid

Anne was born in 1665.  Her parents were James, the arrogant, irritating younger brother of King Charles II, and Anne Hyde, the daughter of an earl.

Anne was a fugly kid.  She was born with some kind of eye disorder that meant she always looked like she was crying.2  Her family sent her to see an eye doctor in France when she was 4, but nothing worked.  Her eyes continued to water for the rest of her life.  She had a bright red face that got redder when she was excited or embarrassed.  Her parents weren’t around much, consigning her and her sister to be raised by governesses.  When she was 6, her mother died.  When she was 12, she caught smallpox, and carried its scars for the rest of her days.

It wasn’t the best start in life.

Nonetheless, while Anne was still young, her uncle the King came to the realization that he wouldn’t have any legitimate children of his own.3  That meant the succession would fall to her father James, and possibly Anne herself.  Charles had sworn himself to the Anglican Church; James had very publicly converted to Catholicism with a wink and a pinky swear to not let his conversion affect his reign when he was King.

With her son in 1694.  There are dozens of images of Anne online at the UK National Portrait Gallery.

Hint: it did.

The English court in 1683 was a teeter-totter, swinging up and then swinging down in favor of Protestant this and Catholic that.  As palace intrigues swirled around her, Anne’s uncle arranged a Protestant marriage for her with a Danish Prince.  George was 12 years older and dull as paint.  But he was kind to Anne, notoriously easy-going, and supported her publicly in everything she did.  They were very happily married, except for one thing: children.

Poor Anne is famous among British queens for being pregnant 18 times.  Her gynecological history is heartbreaking:  out of 18 pregnancies, there were 8 miscarriages, 5 stillbirths, 2 dead within a week of birth, 2 dead of smallpox before age 2, and a single boy who died at age 11 in 1700.  Her son George’s death would have momentous consequences for the English crown.

Cut It Out, James

As Anne came of age and set up her own household with her new husband, the ever murky world of English politics was getting worse.  Most of this was because of her father James.

James was… special.  He was a loving but distant father.  He spent most of Anne’s early years wandering the Court of St James with his mistresses.  His favorite hobbies were whoring and annoying his brother with Catholic plots.

Have you ever been told not to do something?  After being forbidden, were you ever seized with the desire to do exactly the thing you were told not to?

A portrait of James from the Royal Collection. Am I the only one getting a “come hither” vibe?

Yeah.  James felt the same way.

Charles told James not to enact pro-Catholic policies in England.

Parliament told James not to enact pro-Catholic policies in England.

William of Orange told James not to enact pro-Catholic policies in England.

Anne told James not to enact pro-Catholic policies in England.

Charles kicked it in 1685.  James became King.  James enacted pro-Catholic policies in England.

Like a 17th century episode of Quantum Leap, James was determined to hop into the quantum accelerator and turn back the clock to 1530.  He was hell-bent on reversing the English Reformation.

After three years of this, Parliament had enough.  Parliament and James’ son-in-law William of Orange engineered a “Glorious Revolution” in 1688 to get rid of the English King.  James was kicked out, and his very Protestant daughter Mary and her Dutch husband were invited in.

I’ve put Glorious Revolution in quotes because a better description of 1688 is “carefully crafted invasion.”  Today, if I told you that the President of the United States was leaving and would soon be replaced by a Dutchman offshore firing Tomahawk missiles, you’d say a coup had taken place.Anyway…

Anne was now two heartbeats away from the throne.


1 Nerd Note: I was so excited to write about Princess Anne, that I created a JSTOR account. 😀

2 Emson, H. E. “For The Want Of An Heir: The Obstetrical History Of Queen Anne.” BMJ: British Medical Journal, vol. 304, no. 6838, 1992, pp. 1365–1366. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/29715689.

3 But he did have bastards.  So, so, so many bastards.

4 “The Glorious Revolution.”  British History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley, series 1, episode 2, BBC Four, Jan 2017.  Youtube, https://youtu.be/QgOPIwh9ggI?t=1133.



Why is it called Church Point?

Odd name for a neighborhood, don’t you think?

1879 survey of Lynnhaven Bay and Lynnhaven River
This 1879 map of the Lynnhaven River clearly shows two spots known as “Church Point.”

The area of the current Church Point neighborhood was known as “Church Point” long before houses were built there.

Church Point is so named because it was the original site of Old Donation Church.  Around 1639, Adam Thoroughgood donated approximately 200 acres for the church, and the land surrounding the church was deeded in perpetuity to its pastor so he could grow his own food.¹

At some point towards the end of the 17th century, the colonists tried to divert water from the Lynnhaven River.  In a very early audition for Kevin Costner’s Waterworld, the water got the best of them, and flooded their nice new church, which apparently stood in the middle of the water for a good long time before toppling over.  This 1930 road map says that the original church was still standing in the middle of the river until 1855.  The name “Church Point” survived the 17th century; the church did not.

The 200+ acres surrounding the church were eventually acquired by a Norfolk businessman named Charles F. Burroughs Sr in 1933.  He owned the Church Point land and neighboring Bayville Farm, which he turned into a dairy (to obtain his own milk and cheese, because he thought his children would catch tuberculosis from unsafe “city milk”).²


Milking time at the Bayville Dairy, 1940. Courtesy of the Norfolk Public Library.

During World War II, the Bayville Farms dairy at Church Point got a new kind of labor force.  The German POW kind.  Sent out from Camp Ashby in Thalia to the southeast, thousands of Nazi prisoners became free labor to the Hampton Roads war effort.  Some of them worked at the farms at Church Point.

After the war, Church Point stayed in family hands until 1992, when it was sold for residential development.  Nowadays, Church Point is home to 383 unique homes.  In homage to the memory of the original church and Adam Thoroughgood, “The streets were named from different parish churches in the Tidewater area and from crewmembers of the Adam Thoroughgood Grant.”

¹ I hope he liked fish.

² Considering the epidemic raging across America at the time, he may have had the right idea.

Beware the Sea Haggis

Deep in the bowels of the Library of Congress is a letter about the Sea Haggis and a voyage to the colony of Virginia in 1684.

It was written in 1688 to the members of the English Royal Society, who presumably had asked for a description of the writer’s travels in the New World.  Below, you will find the highlights of his trip.

John Clayton was a young man in 1684 when he made his way to Virginia.¹ He was a newly minted Anglican priest who liked to pickle birds.  During the long voyage to Virginia, he had his first encounter with jellyfish:

In the Sea I saw many little things which the Seamen call Carvels; they are like a Jelly, or Starch that is made with a cast of Blue in it; they Swim like a small Sheeps Bladder² above the Water, downwards there are long fibrous Strings, some whereof I have found near half a Yard long…

When we were one Day becalm’d, getting some to make Observations thereof, the sportful People rub’d it on one anothers Hands and Faces, and where it touch’d it would make it look very Red, and make it smart worse than a Nettle.³

Let’s rewind.  I’m imagining this scenario, which is more or less Sailor Boys Gone Wild, 1684 edition, wherein some mischievous sailor grabs a jellyfish and begins whipping the tentacles around like Indiana Jones’ whip. This explanation is frankly a lot more plausible than one man telling another “Hey, you know what would be fun?  Pressing this unknown monster’s appendages to our faces.  What could go wrong bro?”4

Clayton also describes a brush with disaster on the high seas, when, alone in the Atlantic, their ship the Judith began to take on water from an unknown leak.  After days of fruitless searching, the Captain turns to Clayton for help before the ship sinks.  Clayton’s solution is perfection: he fashions an ear trumpet, and together Clayton and Captain Trim wander the ship listening for clues, like a deaf, seafaring Holmes and Watson.  The leak is quickly found and patched, and the journey continues safely to Virginia.

Later, the sailors tell Clayton that they will smell the pine trees from Virginia long before they will see land.  Clayton is skeptical.  I don’t blame him.5

After arrival in Virginia, Clayton learns that the new colony is a deathtrap.  Everyone suffers from bloody diarrhea.  Poorly made chimneys explode.  They are terrorized by lightning, which is happening on a scale completely unknown to the English.  They are accustomed to lightning perhaps once a year in England.  In Virginia, it appears often, striking down colonists, animals, and homes.

Nonetheless, Clayton doesn’t seem too bothered by the high mortality – except when his neighbors confiscate and destroy his dead bird collection.  It seems his friends thought his own brush with illness would be fatal, and took the opportunity to clean out his house… which was full of smelly dead animal specimens.  He apologizes to the Royal Society profusely for not sending them better quality dead birds.

I Had indeed begun once whilst I was in that Country to have made a Collection of the Birds, but falling sick of the Griping of the Guts, some of them for want of care corrupted, which made them fling others away that I had thoroughly cured; for I was past taking care of them my self, there remaining but small hopes of my Life.6

Strangely, Clayton makes no mention of slavery, and only little mention of the natives.  He explains how they hunt deer (with elaborate crowns made of tree boughs), and describes an effective remedy for venomous snake bite (applying a tourniquet and cauterizing the bite), but his only discussion of friction with the colonists is an offhand comment about horses.  While discussing which animals are native or non-native to North America, he mentions that a few of the horses have wandered off and gone wild.  He worries that the Pamunkey have obtained some of these wild horses – weapons he perceives as more dangerous than guns.

The Indians have not yet learnt to ride, only the King of Pomonkie had got three or four Horses for his own Saddle and an Attendant, which I think should in no wise be indulged, for I look on the allowing them Horses much more dangerous than even Guns and Powder.

John Clayton returned home to England in 1686.  I presume with a very small bird collection.

Sources & Notes:

¹ Bond, Edward L. and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. “John Clayton (1656 or 1657–1725).” Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 20 Apr. 2016. Web. 18 Jan. 2018.

² Beware the sea haggis!!

³ A letter from Mr. John Clayton, rector of Crofton at Wakefield in Yorkshire, to the Royal Society, May 12, 1688. Giving an account of several observables in Virginia, and in his voyage thither, more particularly concerning the air. http://www.loc.gov/resource/lhbcb.27239

4 Only this would be in 1686 English, which is probably more like “And thereupon, with Great Concentration, I did introduce the mighty carvel nettle to his face, and BOY DID THAT STING.”

5 If you saw a bunch of dummies whip each other with jellyfish stingers for the fun of it, you might be skeptical too.

6 I can see it now: “The preacher is sick.  This is our chance to get rid of all those seagull mummies.  DO IT NOW AGNES GO!”

Extra Note:  I know Clayton’s letters were about Jamestown and not Virginia Beach – however, the landscape and experience for the colonists in either place would have been substantially the same.  Besides, where else would I find a colonial story about floating sheep bladders and seagull mummies?