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In a forceful reminder of just how long Americans have debated the morality of capital punishment, two gifted historians revisit a post-Revolutionary Massachusetts community struggling to adjudicate the ugly case of a dissolute sailor and farmhand—one Ephraim Wheeler—accused of raping his daughter. Careful scrutiny of the evidence leaves little doubt about Wheeler's guilt. Still, a community anxious to distance itself from the bloody rigor of contemporary British jurisprudence was troubled about the justice of ending an almost 30-year hiatus of executions for rape...[Brown and Brown] illuminate sufficient humanity to account for the petitions from 103 local residents for clemency. But the governor refused to intervene. And so the taut narrative of Wheeler's last moments—the sudden release of the supporting plank, the jerk of the rope, the frantic death struggle of the suspended man—leaves modern readers wrestling with the same questions that troubled nineteenth-century witnesses of the harrowing event.
— Bryce Christensen