by Jeff Biggers
Bloody feet, sisters, have worn smooth the path by which you have come hither.
—Abby Kelley Foster, National Women’s Rights Convention, 1851
In the summer of 1829, more than a century after Grace Sherwood had been plunged into the Lynnhaven River in Virginia in what is generally considered the last American witch trial, a bedraggled Anne Royall took the stand at the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia to face charges of being an “evil disposed person” and a “common scold.”
The US district attorney had conjured the charges from an ancient English common law that had long been dismissed in England as a “sport for the mob in ducking women,” especially for older women, as a precursor in trials for witchcraft.