Thursday, November 06, 2008


Late on the afternoon of 21 Oct 1773 a group of horsemen rode towards
Dorchester Point in pursuit of a boat rowed by a dozen men.

British troops in pursuit of colonial conspirators?

No. Men of science in pursuit of knowledge, which in this case was embodied
in the mortal remains of the executed Levi Ames.

Let me back up a bit. When I decided to post an entry about Levi Ames and
whether or not he was a family relation, I did a Google search using his name
and the word "execution." When that failed, I tried Google Books and found this
from "The Life of John Warren M.D." written by Edward Warren and published
in Boston in 1874 by Noyes, Holmes, and Company. It is a letter written by
Dr. William Eustis to John Warren:

"DEAR BROTHER, — This may serve to inform
you, that as soon as the body of Levi Ames was
pronounced dead by Dr. Jeffries, it was delivered
by the Sheriff to a person who carried it in a cart
to the water side, where it was received into a boat
filled with about twelve of Stillman's crew, who
rowed it over to Dorchester Point. "

It seems Stillman was very great with Ames,
upon whose signifying his desire to be kept from
the doctors, Stillman promised that he would get
his people to secure him. "

Our determination to have him was fixed as
the laws of the Medes and Persians. We had
heard it surmised that he was to be taken from the
gallows in a boat, and when we saw him carried to
the water, we concluded it was a deep laid scheme
in Jeffries. "

"I'm before my story. You must know that
Jeffries (as we heard) had applied to the Governor
for a warrant to have this body. The Governor
told him if he had come a quarter of an hour
sooner, he would have given it, but he had just
given one to Ames' friends, alias Stillman's gang.
So it seems there was a scheme with Lloyd, Jeffries,
Clark, etc., to have him, and we imagined, as
we knew they were after him, they might spread
these reports to baffle us. "

However, when we saw the Stillmanites, we
were satisfied Jeffries had no hand in it. When
we saw the boat land at Dorchester Point, we had
a consultation, and Norwood, David, One Allen and
myself, took chaise and rode round to the Point,
Spunker's like, but the many obstacles we had to
encounter made it eleven o'clock before we reached
the Point, where we searched and searched, and rid,
hunted, and waded ; but alas, in vain ! There was
no corpse to be found. "

Discontented, we sat us down on the beach and
groaned, etc., etc. Then rode to Brackett's, on the
Neck, and endeavored to 'nock 'em up, to give us
a dish of coffee; but failing, we backed about to the
Punch Bowl, where, after long labors, we raised the
house and got our desires gratified, and got home
about four o'clock in the morning. Hadn't much
sleep, of course, so we are very lame and cross today, —
moving, and altogether. Neptune continues
very bad as yet ; the chance is very much against
him. Else, we are all well. Mr. Rea will have
your clothing done by Wednesday. One Allen
makes a figure, I assure you. We have a ________
from another place, so Church shan't be disappointed.
Write very soon. "P. S.
If you can understand me, I shall be
much mistaken, but more pleased ; half dead, your______ .

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." (pp228-229)

This was period when the advancement of medical
knowledge was struggling with the laws and morality
of the day. Bodies for dissection were not easily come by
and executed criminals were the main source for medical
students in search of cadavers. In fact, at times the judges
would actually add dissection as part of the sentence when
condemning the criminal to death. So what we have here is
not one but two groups of physicians trying to obtain Levi Ames'
body. One included a Dr. John Clark, hence the "Clark
& Co." The others were members of a medical society at
Harvard University called "The Spunkers Club" and
included members of some of colonial Boston's most
prominent families. The "Adams" mentioned in the letter
was the son of Samuel Adams the firebrand of the Revolution
and John Warren was the brother of Dr. Joseph Warren who
died later at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The "Church"
mentioned in the letter was Dr. Benjamin Church who later
spied on the Boston rebels for the British.

So Reverend Stillman had kept his promise to Levi Ames
and ensured that his body was not used for dissection, for
once buried, the cadaver could not be exhumed legally.

But there is still my own question of whether or not Levi
Ames was a relative of my own Ames ancestors. We'll discuss
that next.


Judith Richards Shubert said...

The name Ames drew me in to read your post about Levi. One of my great-aunts married an Edgar Ames, of Parker County, Texas. I'm close to her daughters but don't know much about their Ames ancestry. They do have an Ames cousin that is their "family historian."

Anyway, I enjoyed reading about Levi and the pursuit of his body.

Taylorstales-Genealogy said...

Good Morning Bill, I recently read a book "The Bone Garden" by Tess Gerritsen where the plot included people being paid to steal recently deceased human beings from their "final" resting place for dissection. All in the name of "science" of course. Your post is a great read. Thanks for sharing!

Nikki-ann said...

An interesting post! :) I never knew people would want a dead body that much!