Set in the Colony of Connecticut in the 1750s and inspired by true events, this is the tale of Mercy Bramble, whose short life is to be ended with a noose on the morrow. She has been jailed for an unusually long period of time, convicted of killing her newborn baby. The townspeople are gathering to enjoy their own sense of righteousness as they witness the hanging.
An unloved child, Mercy had been apprenticed at the age of seven to work fourteen hours a day as everything from scullery maid to farmhand. Traded to another family, she falls in love with her master, and their relationship not only enrages his wife but ends with Mercy’s pregnancy. When the child is born, the wife takes it. It is never seen again. Mercy is accused of having killed it.
In jail Mercy is visited only by people wanting to save her soul. One of these is a young clergyman who becomes her friend. It is here that the author drives home her point about the hypocrisy of the townspeople, compared to Mercy’s honest simplicity. The other major contrast is the growing freedom of Mercy’s mind as she is taught to read while she is confined to a tiny dark cell.
The author reveals with great clarity the conditions of the time, especially for servants and slaves. She unstintingly defines the attitudes of the outwardly religious but inwardly cruel church people of New London. Her theme focuses on the early life and character of Mercy Bramble, making this a character-driven novel, and one that draws the reader to feel great empathy for Mercy. The sense of place is strong throughout the story; one senses the author’s extensive knowledge and keen perception of the nuances of 18th-century Connecticut.