The Grace Sherwood Stone

Dedication and Blessing of the Stone, the Herb Garden, Old Donation Episcopal Church, July 10th 2014.

Pete Owens at the ceremony standing behind the Rosemary bed in the Herb Garden

In 2013 the Historic Traditions Committee, under the leadership of Pete Owens (see above picture), voted to place the Grace Sherwood stone in the Herb Garden. Through generous donations, the stone was made and delivered on June 26th, 2014 by the Norfolk Monument Company.  A dedication ceremony was held July 10th at 10 a.m. the time 308 years ago Grace Sherwood was marched down Witchduck Road to be ducked in the Lynnhaven River. The Virginian Pilot was on hand to publicize the event - see “Witch of Pungo's Church Dedicates Marker to Her,” by Mary Beth Cleavelin, the Virginian-Pilot, © July 11, 2014

The Reverend Drew Foisie opened the proceeding with the following "Blessing of the Stone" Sermon

Christ is the icon of the invisible God; all things were created through him and for him. The Word became flesh: (people) “and dwelt among us.” Almighty God, whose Son our Savior manifested your glory in his flesh, and sanctified the outward and visible to be a means to perceive things unseen and to remember things forgotten: Accept, we pray, this stone and its placement in this garden; and grant that as we look upon it we will remember Grace and lay aside our prejudice and fear, and incline our hearts to walk in love and act with justice; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, on Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Rev Foisie then blessed the Grace Sherwood Stone and all assembled by cutting a sprig of Rosemary from the Herb Garden, dipping it into Holy Water and sprinkling it about.

Belinda Nash (above) then gave a eulogy about Grace. As the former Old Donation Church Historian, Belinda became fascinated with the story of the church’s involvement with one of its congregants, Grace Sherwood, accused by a fellow congregant, Elizabeth Hill, of witchery. She spent long hours digging up historical documents about Grace Sherwood and Old Donation Church. In 2004 she asked interim Reverend Howard Hanchey if a $93,000 bronze statue of Grace Sherwood, sculpted by California artist Robert Cunningham, could be placed on the grounds of Old Donation Church. She argued that this would act as vindication for the wrong that forebears of the church had committed. Reverend Hanchey tentatively agreed, but when the Vestry got wind of this they tabled the issue, reasoning that such honor should be reserved for Christ and the Saints. Belinda sought another location near Old Donation. In the interim she was successful in persuading the Governor of Virginia, Timothy Kaine, to officially exonerate Grace Sherwood on the 300th anniversary (July 10th, 2006) of her conviction. Then in April 2007, though Belinda's tireless efforts, the statue of Grace found its way to a location next to Old Donation property on Sentara Bayside Hospital grounds at the corner of Independence Boulevard and North Witchduck Road, a mile from Sherwood's ducking point. Dubbed “Gracie's Girls," Girl Scouts gather each year to return Grace Sherwood's luster. Belinda’s closeness to the Grace Sherwood story has some observers saying that she is Grace Sherwood incarnate. Currently Belinda is director of the Ferry Plantation House just a walk down the road from Old Donation Church.

Bob Perrine, current church historian concluded the dedication / blessing ceremony with this:

Today we come together to honor a woman who was dishonored.  Grace Sherwood was a member of Lynnhaven Parish since her birth in 1660 and for sometime after her 1706 ducking.  She married in our first church at Church Point, had three children, and attended our Eastern Shore Chapel-of-ease Church.  Besides farming and swimming in the ocean every day she helped the members of the parish when called upon, delivering babies and caring for the sick with her extensive knowledge of herbs.

Grace, however, was ahead of her time.  When she became a widow, she refused to stand before the congregation as “the weaker sex” and select a husband.  She carried on with her life—planting and harvesting, and raising her children.

A jealous Elizabeth, wife of Luke Hill, using the most damning accusation of the time, witchcraft, turned a whole Lynnhaven Parish congregation against Grace.  When Grace was marched into Lynnhaven Parish Church No. 2, known as the Brick Church or Mother Church, on the morning of July 10th, 1706, 308 years ago on this day, she was commanded by Senior Warden Maximilian Boush to ask forgiveness for being a witch.  She steadfastly declared, “I be not a witch.  I be a healer.”  There must have been an air of group conformity over rational thinking as not one person spoke up for her in that packed little church, some the very people she healed and those whose babies she brought into the world. 

Historically, Grace is the only woman to be declared a witch in Virginia.  Her reward for her tireless caring work was a ducking in the Lynnhaven River and over seven years incarceration in a tiny jail, a jail torn down 30 years later to make way for our 3rd Lynnhaven Parish Church (today’s church).

Ten years prior to Grace’s ordeal and three years after the end of the Salem Witch Trials, Rev. Samuel Willard of Boston's South Church proclaimed, "blame & shame" for hanging 19 and incarcerating over 150 accused of being witches. In addition, twelve trial jurors stepped forward asking forgiveness.  But even though the Lynnhaven Parish Witch Trail claimed only one, Grace’s label as a witch was not lifted for 300 years until Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine in 2006 officially exonerated her conviction.
(Turning to face the stone) Grace, we dedicate this stone today to your honor.  Old Donation Church is a little late with this, but it can never be too late for us to heal our wounds, and what a more appropriate place than this herb garden, a place your spirit will finally rest in peace knowing a church that dishonored you has  finally honored you. 
I close with these words, “Forgive us our trespasses.”  With this simple request from the Lord’s Prayer may we find forgiveness of our sins and for those who came before us.

Thank you for coming to this blessing of the Grace Sherwood Stone.

Note: There were around 50 who came to the ceremony. You are cordially invited to stop by and see the stone in the Herb Garden which is out in front of the Parish Hall, 4449 N. Witchduck Road, Virginia Beach, VA 23455.