Date: [October 22] 1773
[William Eustis to Dr. 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, Dr. Jeffries, it was delivered by the Sheriff [Stephen Greenleaf] 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 [Reverend Dr.] 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 [Dr. James] 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 [Jonathan] Norwood, David [Townsend], One [Ebenezer? later a minister] 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 [Thomas] Brackett’s [Kings Arms tavern], 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 [tavern in Brookline], 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 ________ [corpse] from another place, so [Dr. Benjamin Jr.] 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.”
Source: A transcript of the full letter appears in: Matthews, Albert “Notes on Early Autopsies and Anatomical Findings” Publications of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, Vol. 19, 273-290, 1917. J.L. Bell provides the text of most of this letter, as well as location identifications and insightful commentary. See his February 2, 2009 blog entry in Boston1775: http://boston1775.blogspot.com/2009/02/difficulties-of-medical-training-in.html. Long extracts of the letter can also be found in: Hartwell, Edward Mussey “The Study of Anatomy, Historically and Legally Considered: A Paper Read at the Meeting of the American Social Sciences Association, September 9, 1880” Boston: Tolman and White, 1881; Hartwell, Edward Mussey “The Progress of Anatomical Study in Massachusetts, with Remarks Upon Its Legal Status.” Annals of Anatomy and Surgery Vol. III, 266-273, Jan – Jun 1881; and in Edward Warren’s The Life of John Warren MD Boston: Noyes, Holmes, and Company, 1874, pp. 228-229. I believe the original ms is in The John Collins Warren Papers, Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society.
For those interested in Levi Ames and the contemporaneous sermons, see Bill West’s blog entries on “Levi Ames,” Parts 1, 2, and 3. West in New England. http://westinnewengland.blogspot.com/search/label/Ames%20Levi. Bill quotes from primary sources: Mather, Samuel. Christ Sent to Heal the Broken Hearted . . . To Which is Added, His Life [Ames] Written by Himself. Boston: William M’Alpine, 1773; and Stillman, Samuel. Two Sermons . . . Delivered the Lord’s Day Before the Execution of Levi Ames . . . to Which is Added, at the Request of Many, an Account of the Exercise of his Mind, from the Time of his Condemnation, until He Left the World.
Commentary: William Eustis describes an adventure of the Spunker’s club, a group of Harvard resurrectionists and aspiring physicians. Most were Joseph Warren’s apprentices. There are two other rival groups seeking the body of the executed serial burglar Levi Ames, presumably for anatomic study. One is a Harvard alumnus and aspiring physician John Clarke (who later served the British army as a physician), who is aligned with experienced physicians Lloyd and Jeffries. The Spunkers expect their elusive trophy to be prosected by Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr. Given the Loyalist affinities of the Clark group and the Patriot affinities of the Spunkers, I speculate that the Harvard anatomical club was divided politically in the early 1770s. The third group was headed by Reverend Samuel Stillman. Stillman gained the trust of Levi Ames while alive, and apparently went to lengths to honor a pledge to keep Ames’ corpse from the resurrectionists. I believe that Dr. Joseph Warren was the guiding hand behind the Spunkers, though his name does not appear in any of the few surviving primary documents.
William Eustis addresses his friend as “BROTHER.” It is unclear whether those fraternal bonds referred to both being Warren’s medical apprentices, Masons, lambs of the Spunkers Club, or all in combination.
Levi Ames was executed on October 21, 1773 for serial burglaries. English and colonial society treated property crimes harshly. Just two months later a number of Massachusetts citizens destroyed 92,600 pounds of tea. What would be a proper punishment for that transgression?
William Eustis left medicine for politics by the late 1780s and went on to become Secretary of War during the War of 1812 and later governor of Massachusetts. John Warren served as Continental Army physician, is considered the founder of Harvard Medical School, and a co-founder of the Massachusetts Medical Society.