Author's Corner with Scott O. Moore, author of THE WITCH OF PUNGO
The Witch of Pungo

Welcome back to the UVA Press Author's Corner! Here, we feature conversations with the authors of our latest releases to provide a glimpse into the writer's mind, their book's main lessons, and what’s next for them. We hope you enjoy these inside stories.

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Today, we are happy to bring you our conversation with Scott O. Moore, author of The Witch of Pungo: Grace Sherwood in Virginia History and Legend

What inspired you to write this book? 

As a historian, I have realized that the way people remember the past is often as interesting as the past itself. In particular, I am fascinated by how communities use figures and events from their history to shape the way they think about themselves and their place in the world. Considering this interest, it is hard not to think about my own community. I grew up hearing stories about Grace Sherwood, and I knew how important she was to the folklore of Tidewater, Virginia. As a result, I wanted to write about the history of her life, and also that cultural impact. For me, this book is not only about Grace Sherwood, it is about the history of Princess Anne County and Virginia Beach.

What did you learn and what are you hoping readers will learn from your book? 

I was able to uncover an enormous amount of information about the life of Grace Sherwood and her neighbors, and I hope readers will be able to learn as much as possible about the real-life people involved in this strange case. At the same time, I enjoyed having the opportunity to uncover how her legend evolved and the way her story was integrated into the culture of southeast Virginia. I hope readers will find that aspect of the book equally fascinating. Thanks to developments in the digital humanities, I was able to rediscover stories about Sherwood that are over a century old and community events that happened decades ago.

What surprised you the most in the process of writing your book? 

Considering Grace Sherwood’s importance to Virginia history and culture, I initially assumed that all of the relevant records about her and her accusers had already been found by earlier researchers. When I began looking through the surviving colonial documents, I was surprised at how much information there was left to find. With this information, I was able to provide a more complete picture of Sherwood’s community, her relationship with her accusers, and their relationship with each other. As a result, I have been able to offer some answers to questions that have always bedeviled people interested in her story. In particular, readers will be able to learn why people suspected Sherwood of being a witch.

What’s your favorite anecdote from your book?

I really enjoyed having the opportunity to explore the fantastical legends people have shared about Grace Sherwood for centuries. I particularly enjoy the story of Sherwood sneaking aboard a ship docked in the Lynnhaven River and using her magic to sail it to England so she can pick rosemary and bring it back to Princess Anne County. Other versions of the legend say she sailed in an eggshell. Regardless of how she completed the task, according to local tradition, all of the rosemary in Princess Anne County/Virginia Beach originated from this voyage. In my opinion, this story perfectly captures Sherwood’s influence on the region’s folklore.

What’s next? 

I just finished writing an article that examines another strange case from Virginia’s colonial period. Twice during the seventeenth century, courts on the Eastern Shore used an ordeal by touch to determine the guilt of a suspected murderer. Based on long-standing tradition, this test assumed if the guilty party touched the body of the deceased, it would bleed. The article not only looks at the reasoning behind this belief and the cases themselves, but more importantly, it uses these cases to examine colonial society. As a result, readers will be able to learn more about Virginia’s social hierarchy and family dynamics. The article is under review now, and I hope it will be out next year.

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