Gallows Hill lies east of the neighborhood of Lime Rock in the Town of Salisbury Connecticut, overlooking the confluence of Salmon Creek with the Housatonic River and just across the water from Falls Village. It is a place of high bluffs and twisted stone, a lonely spot with a lonely name.
I have often wondered about how it came by that name, naturally assuming that perhaps it had been a place of execution. Instead, this eminence seems to have a darker history, for either a suicide or a lynching once took place there, and still remains shrouded in mystery.
An 1883 guide entitled New England: A Handbook for Travellers offers a brief explanation:
"W. of [Falls Village] is the far-viewing Gallows Hill, where according to the tradition, the corpse of a negro was once found hanging from a tree, and no one ever knew how he came there, or who he was."
Another 1896 text repeats the story, adding that "a strange black man was found hanging, dead, to a tree near its top one morning." Strange fruit indeed, but by whose hand it came to be there has been left unsolved and the event itself has passed into forgotten local lore. An 1853 map of the Town of Salisbury contains the name "Gallow's Hill", but an extensive 1898 article in Connecticut Quarterly magazine fails to mention Gallows Hill by this or any other name in its breathless enumeration of the Town's many points of interest.
The hanging would have taken place sometime in the first century of Salisbury's settlement. All but the steepest hillsides would have been denuded for charcoal to fuel the iron furnaces that made the region prosper even as they fouled the air. There would have been trees, though, in the dark hollows and sheer cliffs of Gallow's Hill. The place lay at the very margin of the community, and like all frontiers held both risks and attractions to those marginalized by society.
In 1756, a Colonial census enumerated just 31 negroes in Litchfield County and none in Salisbury. Connecticut's slave codes severely restricted the mobility of even free blacks and slavery was not completely abolished until 1848. The state vigorously prosecuted fugitive slaves. Even in the first half of the 19th century, a lone black man might have chosen to skirt around a rural Connecticut village rather than pass directly through town.
Today the place is locally known as Brinton Hill, and indeed Brinton Hill road passes just to the north and about 200' below the summit. It follows a saddle between the Hill and Falls Mountain, and would have been the logical route for the unknown black man to have taken, either from Falls Village or Lime Rock (in early days simply known as The Hollow), to the spot where he met his end. Whether by choice or compulsion one can only guess.