The Hanging of Ephraim Wheeler by Irene Quenzler Brown
A Story of Rape, Incest, and Justice in Early America

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In 1806 an anxious crowd of thousands descended upon Lenox, Massachusetts, for the public hanging of Ephraim Wheeler, condemned for the rape of his thirteen-year-old daughter, Betsy. Not all witnesses believed justice had triumphed. The death penalty had become controversial; no one had been executed for rape in Massachusetts in more than a quarter century. Wheeler maintained his innocence. Over one hundred local citizens petitioned for his pardon--including, most remarkably, Betsy and her mother.

Impoverished, illiterate, a failed farmer who married into a mixed-race family and clashed routinely with his wife, Wheeler existed on the margins of society. Using the trial report to reconstruct the tragic crime and drawing on Wheeler's jailhouse autobiography to unravel his troubled family history, Irene Quenzler Brown and Richard D. Brown illuminate a rarely seen slice of early America. They imaginatively and sensitively explore issues of family violence, poverty, gender, race and class, religion, and capital punishment, revealing similarities between death penalty politics in America today and two hundred years ago.

Beautifully crafted, engagingly written, this unforgettable story probes deeply held beliefs about morality and about the nature of justice.


About Irene Quenzler Brown

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Irene Quenzler Brown, a historian, is Associate Professor of Family Studies, University of Connecticut. Richard D. Brown is Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of History, University of Connecticut, and Director, University of Connecticut Humanities Institute.
Published April 30, 2003 by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 408 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Health, Fitness & Dieting, History, Political & Social Sciences, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

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Wheeler was hanged two centuries ago, yet the authors effectively demonstrate that there were never uncomplicated solutions to the perennial problems of family violence and criminal justice.

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