Earlier today Beverly and I went hiking in the woods near Gallows Lane in New London. She was setting out flags and prizes hidden in the woods for the thirty children who will be coming to her Map & Compass activity on Saturday. The children have to use a map of the woods and a compass to locate eight places marked by the flags. Each location has a plastic box filled with a little treasures. They bring back one treasure from each box to prove they found each of the flags. (They get to keep the treasures…) I think the first kid back from the expedition gets another prize, too. It took us a couple of hours to set it all up, so they’ll be having a long walk and an adventure, too, if they manage to find them all!
One might wonder how a road would come to be designated with such a morbid name. Gallows Lane. Well, it was a terrible thing that happened there. A servant woman named Sarah Bramble was executed by hanging off the cliff here in 1753. She had been convicted of murdering her illegitimate newborn daughter. So far I haven’t found out too much about her, but what I have found out makes me more curious than ever about her life.
November 21st, 1753, Sarah Bramble was executed in a cross highway that leads out of the main road to Norwich, about two miles north of the town plot. This path has ever since been known as Gallows Lane. It is a rugged, wild and dreary road, even at the present day. The fearful machine was erected in the highest part of the road, and all the hills and ledges around must have been covered with the spectators. It was computed that 10,000 assembled on this occasion; some of them probably came twenty or thirty miles to witness this repulsive exhibition. The gloom of the weather added another dismal feature to the scene, a drizzly rain continuing most of the day.
This is the only public execution of any white person that ever took place in New London. The crime of the unhappy woman was the murder of her infant illegitimate child, on the day of its birth. It was committed in April, 1752, and she was tried by the superior court the next September. But the jury disagreeing in their verdict, she was kept imprisoned another year, and sentenced October 3d, 1753. She declined hearing the sermon intended for her benefit, which was preached by Rev. Mr. Jewett, before the execution.
Frances Manwaring Caulkins, History of New London, Connecticut: From the First Survey of the Coast in 1612, to 1852, (Hartford, Connecticut: Press of Case, Tiffany & Company, 1852), 468
[September 28, 1753] “at the meeting house to hear the Tryal of Sarah Bramble for murdr of her Bastard Child in March 1752. Court Sat by Candle light.”
[October 1, 1753] “the Jury brot in their verdict & found Sarah Bramble Guilty of Murdering her Bastard Child a female in march 1752.”
[October 3, 1753] “Sarah Bramble Received Sentance of Death ys Day”
[October 24, 1753] “went to Lectureto hear Mr Jewit who pr to Sarah Bramble &c.”
[November 7, 1753] “in the aftern att Lecture. Mr Jewit preacht. the Sermon Composed to be pr to Sarah Bramble, but she declined Coming to hear itt, a Large Congregation.”
[November 21, 1753] “Misty & Rain moderately. S: Bramble. I was at home foren. in the aftern I Rid up to the Cross Highway abve Jno Bolles to See Sarah Bramble Executed for the Murdering her Bastard Child in march last was a year Since. She was hanged at 3 Clock. a Crowd of Spectators of all sexes & nations yt are among us from the neighbouring Towns as well as this. Judged to be Ten Thousand. it Rained moderately most of the day.”
Joshua Hempstead, Diary of Joshua Hempstead of New London, Connecticut (New London, Connecticut: New London County Historical Society, 1901), 616-619
It strikes me how matter-of-fact and unemotional Hempstead is about this woman’s trial and execution. He doesn’t say one way or the other what he thinks about the matter. Why did the jury disagree on a verdict? Who was the father of Sarah Bramble’s child? Didn’t he have some responsibility for what happened? Was the father possibly her employer? I can’t help feeling she was probably abandoned and forced to bear the blame for the “fornication.” And why did she murder her baby, if she did? Did she want to spare it the pain of a lifetime of being referred to and excluded as a Bastard? Did she feel cornered, like there was no other way out? Honestly, I could see myself reasoning that way if I had found myself in that situation in that time period. Maybe she was suicidal…
There’s a lot of history in these woods, which are still claiming back the land the early settlers turned into farms and then abandoned when they moved westward. Today we found a pen made of stones for ewes and their lambs. The rocks were low enough for the mother sheep to leave to find food and return, but high enough to keep the lambs safe inside. Amazing how shepherds knew to build such an enclosure and how the sheep made use of it, instinctively knowing it was just what they needed for a perfect nursery!
We also found a pretty little princess pine forest…