Those who keep up with our many events may have seen myself, along with Executive Director Erica McAvoy and Board Member Paul O’Shaughnessy, at the recent reenactment of British troops landing in Boston in 1768. This event was put on by Revolution250, a consortium of museums and other organizations who are planning Sestercentennial (that’s 250 years!) reenactments and events relating to the American Revolution in Massachusetts. The group organizers have also been sharing tidbits about other Revolutionary events to keep the interest going.
A couple of days ago, Rev250 posted on their Facebook page that it was the anniversary of Levi Ames’s hanging. That was a name I did not expect to see, and one with a Lexington connection at that!
Ames was a rather infamous cat burglar in the 1760s and 70s. Only a teenager, he was able to not only sneak into people’s homes undetected, but after being caught and released, his reputation was apparently so great that people were hiring him to rob their relatives and enemies. It wasn’t until May 22nd of 1773 that Ames made it to Lexington. He went straight for homes with money, starting with Reverend Jonas Clarke. While the family was asleep, recovering from a measles outbreak, Ames broke into the home and stole Lucy Clarke’s wedding silver, including a tankard, pepper box, and sugar tongs. The spree continued over the next few months, until the burglar was caught in August with stolen goods belonging to a man named Martin Bicker.
The first time he was caught, Ames was charged with simple theft and branded. This time he wasn’t so lucky. Justice Peter Oliver charged him with the capital crime of burglary and sentenced him to hang. Ames was only 21 years old.
After hearing of the sentencing, Reverend Clarke travelled to Boston to convince Ames to repent before his execution. We now know Clarke as a dynamic public speaker, but this was one of his greatest achievements – not only did he convince Ames to confess to stealing the family silver, but Ames also revealed where it was hidden, and Clarke happily returned home with his stolen goods that same day.
The execution took place on October 20th, which Clarke recorded briefly in his diary (“Levi Ames executed!”). Perhaps he also purchased a copy of one of the broadsides printed for the occasion, purporting to tell of Ames’s poetic last words eschewing all evil and preaching to the crowd to avoid his terrible fate.
Two of these broadsides are currently held in the Library of Congress, one titled “The Dying Groans of Levi Ames”, and the other, “An Address to the Inhabitants of Boston (Particularly the Thoughtless Youth)." (More on these items). Whether or not Clarke shared either of these to his children to scare them straight is sadly lost to history.
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager