Season of the Witch

“Season of the Witch,” an original play written by Abigail Schumann, was presented outdoors in the re-created James Fort at Jamestown Settlement, with an immersive theatrical experience that brings to life the 1626 witchcraft trial of Jane Wright – who stood accused in the first recorded witchcraft inquiry in Virginia.

Actors weren’t the only ones with roles to play in this new production. Act I kept the audience on their feet as they traveled back in time visiting buildings throughout the fort to meet community members and individuals involved in the 1626 investigation. In Act II, audience members convened in the church to take part in trial proceedings before deciding Goodwife Wright’s final fate. With each night’s performance offering a unique experience, which way did they vote – guilty or innocent?

“The first act allows for immersive encounters with witnesses and members of the court, which provide context to assist the audience in determining the fate of the accused during the second act,” said Abigail Schumann, “Season of the Witch” playwright and special exhibitions programs manager at Jamestown Settlement. The recipient of eight regional Emmy awards for script writing, directing and producing educational history programs, she has created plays and performances for museums and historic sites for more than 20 years.

Written in support of Jamestown Settlement’s special exhibition “TENACITY: Women in Jamestown and Early Virginia,” this theatrical experience blends the historical record with a modern perspective. “Turning a court record into a script that doesn’t sound like a court record, while striving to create a memorable theatrical experience for our audiences, was the best and biggest challenge of writing ‘Season of the Witch,'” Schumann said.

Section from witchcraft pamphlet: A Rehearsal both Strange and True, 1579. British Library.

“Season of the Witch” is a fictional play with a very real story, based on transcripts and testimonies taken in 1626 regarding charges of witchcraft against Jane Wright. As the first recorded witchcraft inquiry in Virginia, on September 11, 1626, community members brought accusations of witchcraft against Jane Wright, the wife of Robert Wright, in the General Court at Jamestown, with Governor Sir George Yeardley presiding as chief justice to determine if the accusations merited further legal proceedings. The accusations against her ranged from being the source of misfortune and property destruction for members of the community, to causing pain, sickness and even death. The court records are fragmentary, but provide an insight into witchcraft beliefs of the time:

Robert Thresher sworne and examined sayeth yt good wiefe Wright came to him and requested him to give her some plants, He answered yt when he had served his owne tourne, she should have some, so she went away and yt night all his plants were drowned...Elizabeth Gates sworne and examined sayeth yt Goodwiefe Wright came to Mr. Moores at Kickotan to buy some chickens, but he would sell her none, shortly after the chickens died, and after that the henn died, and this she affirmeth she had hearde from others.

The facts are drawn from the historical record where available, while supplemental invention is used to propel the narrative. Although there is no documentary evidence of an actual trial or outcome of the inquiry, we do know that had she been found guilty, the witchcraft charges against her would have been punishable by death.

The role of Goodwife Jane Wright will be played by Stacy Hasselbacher Hernandez, who works for Colonial Williamsburg Teacher Institute and Colonial Williamsburg Evening Programs. She has performed locally in productions including “Proof” and “Pride and Prejudice” at Williamsburg Players, and “Gossip Well Told” and “‘night Mother” for Panglossian Productions at the Williamsburg Library Theater. The role of Governor Sir George Yeardley will be played by Jim Gandolfo, a veteran performer/director with more than 300 titles to his credit and currently an adjunct instructor in theatre at Christopher Newport University. He also founded The Comedy Troupe, In All Seriousness, distinguishing its brand of performance improv while performing with Ellen DeGeneres, Lewis Black, Sinbad, Jeff Dunham and others. Ron Carnegie, known for portraying George Washington at Colonial Williamsburg, in addition to his numerous stage credits, portrays Dr. Pott, a member of the Governor’s Council.

The cast of characters for “Season of the Witch” also includes Heather Doré Johnson as Isabel Perry, Emily Doherty as midwife Rebecka Graye, Nicole Brown as Mistress Allington, and Kilian Head as provost marshal Mr. Smallwood.

Tickets to Attend

Tickets are not available for purchase at this time. To watch the production for a limited time on YouTube, click here.

About Jamestown Settlement

Jamestown Settlement, administered by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, features world-class exhibitions, immersive galleries and films, and living-history experiences in re-creations of a Paspahegh town, three 1607 ships and a 1610-14 fort. The museum connects visitors with the lives of the Powhatan, English and west central African cultures that converged at 17th-century Jamestown. For more information, call (757) 253-4838.