Gallows Road: the Hidden History

March 1, 2022

My first novel, Gallows Road, is now available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the publisher Elm Grove Press; soon it will be in a few local bookstores. Friends have often asked me, “Is this a true story you’re writing, Lisa?” Although certain plot elements and characters were products of my imagination, the novel was inspired by actual events in New London, Connecticut in the early 1750s.

Wally Lamb, the Connecticut-based author of six N.Y. Times bestselling novels including I Know This Much Is True, read my manuscript and shared his endorsement for the cover:

“Traversing the same rocky footpaths as Nathaniel Hawthorne’s quintessential New England novel, The Scarlet Letter, Lisa Hall Brownell’s Gallows Road tells an 18th-century story of love, sex, heartache, and hypocrisy. Yet Brownell’s Mercy Bramble is no opaque and respectful Hester Prynne. Mercy is a feisty, unschooled, and outspoken heroine who challenges the morals and mores of the staid, self-satisfied community that seeks to victimize her. I felt a near-magnetic pull into the pages of this humane, character-driven novel. I suspect you will, too.”

So, what first pulled me to this story? Years ago, I’d read about a young servant named Sarah Bramble who was imprisoned, placed on trial twice, and condemned to death for a crime that she swore she didn’t commit. Her newborn’s mysterious death put the teenaged mother’s life in the hands of a jury while three clergymen — and a group called Children of God — all fought to save her soul.

As a New London native, I’d been haunted by this incident, but I’m a storyteller, not a historian. I wanted to explore possible motives, emotions, and a certain “what if?” factor. Gallows Road takes place in a time so unlike our era of sharing and selfies. With notable exceptions, few people kept journals, and many girls, like my protagonist, were not taught to read or write. New London did not even have a newspaper until 1758.

Ultimately, can any of us know exactly what happened one night, hundreds of years ago, in a remote Connecticut farmhouse? We do know that on November 21, 1753, Sarah Bramble was executed in New London; some accounts say that thousands watched. It’s also true that more than 250 years later, I sat in the State Archives, carefully unfolded her original death warrant, and saw the sheriff’s description of her execution. That’s when I decided to write a story to give forgotten women like Sarah Bramble a voice; my character Mercy Bramble was born that day. The rest, as they say, is history. — Lisa Hall Brownell

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