Joan Wright, Surry’s Witch

While Massachusetts was stoning and hanging witches in the sixteen hundreds, Virginia courts took a more moderate view. In 1626 the Virginia General Court heard extensive testimony from various people accusing Joan Wright, a midwife of James City County (on the Surry side), of witchcraft.  Accusers said she bewitched them, their butter churns and their chickens, threatened to make a thieving servant girl dance naked and caused a baby to die. Joan was also said to have predicted the deaths of several people and to have caused a torrential rain that washed out a man’s tobacco plants. One of the female deponents claimed that she had asked Joan why she did not complain to the court, if the accusations against her were not true. “To whom good wife Wright replied, God forgive them, and so made light of it.” 

The Court then interviewed Joan Wright’s husband, who was responsible under the law for her conduct, asking if he knew anything about these goings on.  He replied that he had been married to her for sixteen years and knew “no thing of her touching the Crimes she was accused of”. 

 
Magic Circle  by John William Waterhouse, 1886.

Magic Circle by John William Waterhouse, 1886.

 

No further record of the affair is found in the Virginia General Court records. Accusations of witchcraft were sometimes aired in Virginia county courts as a result of neighborhood squabbles. Usually the justices heard it all patiently, but sometimes they required husbands to post bonds for their wives’ good behavior.

FACTOID:  While Virginia was a British colony, county court cases were appealed to the Virginia General Court at the capital, which was Jamestown until 1698 when the statehouse was destroyed by fire. Then the capital was moved to Middle Plantation and renamed Williamsburg. 

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Eve S. Gregory