The Year of the Hangman
is American author Gary L. Blackwood’s 2002 young adult novel that was a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year. It is an historical novel that takes place in 1777, the year referred to as the Year of the Hangman because there were a large number of hangings in England that year and, if taken backwards, the number seven represents the gallows in the old game hangman. The book imagines what might have happened had the Americans lost the Revolutionary War.
The story opens with Creighton Brown, who is the son of a London gentleman, returning home after incurring debts in an alcohol fueled game of cards. As a result of orders by his mother, Creighton is kidnapped and finds himself bound and gagged aboard a ship. It is there that he learns he is to be sent to live with his harsh Uncle Gower in South Carolina in the United States. While crossing on the Amity, he strikes up a friendship with Lieutenant Harvey Hale from whom he learns a lesson about honor. Creighton is told that words mean little when it comes to honor and that actions are the factors that determine honor.
Gower is appointed Lieutenant Governor of West Florida. Meanwhile, those aboard the Amity are attacked by a group of Patriots under the leadership of Benedict Arnold. So that he does not have to pay as large a ransom for Creighton, Gower has him pose as his bound servant. Next, on an American sloop called the Revenge, Creighton and Gower are taken to New Orleans, and Lieutenant Hale and Gower are put in prison in The Cabildo. At the same time, Creighton is cared for by a man named Peter and is taken to the house of Ben Franklin. At Franklin’s home, Creighton meets Sophie. Sophie is nice to him at first, but then changes once she finds out that he is British.
Upon meeting Ben Franklin, Creighton is challenged to a game of cards by Franklin. Should he beat Franklin, Creighton will be able to remain in the house without having to do any work. When he loses the game, however, Creighton must work in Franklin’s print shop. This is where Franklin publishes his rebel newspaper, The Liberty Tree
. One of Creighton's jobs is to lift the print trays to the printing press. During his first day working at the shop, Creighton accidentally drops half a day’s work. Rather than apologize for this error, he takes leave of the shop and wanders around New Orleans. He stops to eat and later chances upon The Cabildo, where he finds Hale and Gower. Gower instructs Creighton to spy on Franklin and to obtain a gun that Gower can use to facilitate an escape. After agreeing to the requests, Creighton steals Benedict Arnold’s most valued gun from Peter, which he then delivers, and Gower and Hale use it to escape. To prevent Creighton from going along with him, Gower inflicts an injury by hitting him on his head. When Creighton gets back to Franklin’s home, he fabricates a story of how he got the injury on his head.
Later on in the same month, Creighton changes the original opinion he had of Americans and begins to develop a positive feeling towards them. When one night he sees the printing shop being burned down, he goes in to save the prints. Franklin goes in as well but never reemerges. In spite of making an effort and going back into the shop, Creighton is unable to drag Franklin out and he faints. Peter arrives shortly thereafter and saves them. Creighton wakes up, but Franklin dies. Creighton learned from his mother that a gentleman never displays his emotions. This makes it surprising to him that at the funeral, Americans cry openly in front of others. Peter, Sophie and Creighton go to clean up the remains of the print shop.
Creighton is then asked by Benedict Arnold to serve as Gower’s assistant and become a spy. Peter and Creighton seriously consider the offer. Sophie cannot believe that they would even consider it, however, and drives them out. On their way to Tallahassee, Peter decides that he will not play a major role in the plan. Arnold and Creighton stay with the Lieutenant Governor of Florida. Arnold and Gower have a duel in which Gower is killed as he says, “Saint Marks, number four,” which turns out to refer to a prison. There is the thought that George Washington is there, but it turns out to be Creighton’s father, Harry Brown. Peter helps Creighton and Harry escape. Arnold does not move as quickly as the others and is left behind. When they return to Sophie, she is happy to see them and to have them be able to help her keep running the newspaper since Franklin has died.