J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Fate of Levi Ames’s Body

Last month I took another look at the crimes and execution of Levi Ames, but I neglected the important topic of what happened to his body.

Back in 2009 I discussed how groups of medical students competed to seize Ames’s body for dissection. In a postscript to his letter describing the chase, William Eustis wrote:
By the way, we have since heard that Stillman’s gang rowed him back from the Point up to the town, and after laying him out in mode and figure, buried him—God knows where! Clark & Co. went to the Point to look for him, but were disappointed as well as we.
“Stillman” was the Rev. Samuel Stillman, minister of Boston’s second Baptist meeting. Ames had begged him to preserve his body from the anatomists, and he succeeded.

So what happened to the corpse? The printer John Boyle left us an answer: “His Body was carried to Groton after his Execution to be bury’d with his Relations.”

Levi Ames was the son of Jacob Ames, Jr., and Olive Davis of Groton. They married in Westford in 1749. Levi was their second child, born on 1 May 1752. In his confession, Levi Ames said his father died when he was two years old., though there are no vital records to confirm that.

On 9 Oct 1765, Olive Ames married Samuel Nutting in Groton. Nutting was a Waltham widower with children born from 1752 to 1761. Levi Ames and his little brother Jacob thus became part of a blended family—presumably in Waltham, where Samuel and Olive Nutting had a little girl named Olive in 1770.

In his dying speech, Ames described committing some minor thefts in his childhood and promising his mother he would stop. At some point in his teens he was apprenticed into a household he didn’t identify and didn’t like. He stated:
Having got from under my mother’s eye, I still went on in my old way of stealing; and not being permitted to live with the person I chose to live with, I ran away from my master, which opened a wide door to temptation, and helped on my ruin; for being indolent in temper, and having no honest way of supporting myself, I robbed others of their property.
Ames robbed “Mr. Jonas Cutler, of Groton” and “Jonathan Hammond, of Waltham,” as well as householders in other towns where he didn’t have family.

Levi Ames’s corpse was buried among his Groton relatives in 1773. There was no marker.

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