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Early American Criminals: Advice from a Condemned Burglar

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Note: This post continues “The Execution of Levi Ames.”

Levi Ames died a penitent burglar and thief, and before his death he was particularly concerned with the legacy of his actions and their consequences. He expressed remorse for ignoring the pleas of his mother to stop stealing when he was a boy, and he admonished youth to listen to their parents and not follow his example.

Detail from “An Address to the Inhabitants of Boston (Particularly to the Thoughtless Youth) Occasioned by the Execution of Levi Ames” – Library of Congress

Detail from “An Address to the Inhabitants of Boston (Particularly to the Thoughtless Youth) Occasioned by the Execution of Levi Ames” – Library of Congress

The Root of His Troubles

Ames believed that the root of his troubles started early on and that he now had to pay the consequences as an adult. In his “Life, Last Words, and Dying Speech,” Ames asserts, “I am now made to feel the anger of GOD against me, for my disobedience to my parent! GOD will not let disobedient children pass unpunished.” He later devotes a good part of his autobiographical account to offering advice, both to help people protect themselves from other criminals like him and to avoid following in his footsteps:

And now as a dying man I mention the following things, viz.

1. To keep your doors and windows shut on evenings, and secured well to prevent temptation. And by no means to use small locks on the outside, one of which I have twisted with ease when tempted to steal. Also not to leave linen or clothes out at night, which have often proved a snare to me. Travellers I advise to secure their saddle bags, boots, &c. in the chambers where they lodge.

2. Parents and masters I entreat you who have any concern for, and connection with children, to have an eye over their actions, and to take special care for their precious and immortal souls.

3. All Persons whether old or young, who may see these lines, spoke as it were by a poor, dying sinful man, now bound in chains, and who has but a short space of time before he must launch into an endless eternity; guard against every temptation to sin. If at any time you are tempted to do any thing like the poor soul who now speaks to you, earnestly pray to GOD for strength to resist the temptation, as well as for repentance for your past sins.

The youth more especially I would solemnly caution against the vices to which they are most inclined—Such as bad women, who have undone many, and by whom I also have suffered much; the unlawful intercourse with them I have found by sad experience, leading to almost every sin. I also warn them to guard against the first temptation to disobedience to parents. Had I regarded the many kind intreaties and reproofs of my tender Mother, I had never come to his shameful and untimely death.

Profane cursing and swearing I also bear my dying testimony against, as a horrid sin, and provoking to GOD.

Nor must I omit to mention gaming, to which young people are much inclined, and which at this day prevails to the ruin of many. For when a youth hath gamed away all his money, he will be tempted even to steal from his master or parents, in order to get at it again. Besides, this sin leads to drunkenness another dreadful vice.

There is one sin more that I must warn all persons against, and that is a profanation of the Lord’s day, and of public worship. Oh! How many such days have I despised, and while others have been engaged in serving GOD, I have been employed in wickedness, which I now confess with grief of heart.


Forty-four years after his death, the story of Levi Ames appeared in a pamphlet entitled Evil and Natural Consequences of Idleness (1817). Here, Ames’s case is briefly told with some slight change in emphasis and facts to illustrate the author’s point about idleness. In this account, Ames’s downfall came when he was “one day loitering about idle in Boston market, (as is the practice with many boys at the present day, but which we hope those whose duty it is will shortly put a stop to)” and met the wicked Atwood. Seizing on the opportunity presented by Ames’s loafing, Atwood lured him into committing the burglary that eventually led to Ames’s downfall.

The author continues by summarizing Ames’s list of warnings and concludes,

Thus died at the age of 21 years, this truly unfortunate young man, who if it had not been for giving way to the temptations which idleness exposed him to, might have lived respectably, and died happy.

Ames might have been comforted to know that, years after his death, his case continued to serve as a negative example for parents and children alike.

Note: The story of Levi Ames will conclude with “The Fate of Joseph Atwood, Levi Ames’s Accomplice.”


  • Ames, Levi. The Last Words and Dying Speech of Levi Ames. Boston: Printed and Sold at the Shop Opposite the Court House in Queen Street, [1773]. Database: Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans (1639-1800), Readex/Newsbank.
  • —. The Last Words and Dying Speech of Levi Ames. Salem[, MA]: Printing Office, [1773]. Database: Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans (1639-1800), Readex/Newsbank.
  • Evil and Natural Consequences of Idleness. Boston: Farnham & Badger, 1817. Database: Early American Imprints, Series II: Shaw-Shoemaker (1800-1819), Readex/Newsbank.
  • Mather, Samuel. Christ Sent to Heal the Broken Hearted . . . To Which is Added, His Life [Ames] Written by Himself. Boston: William M’Alpine, 1773. Database: Early American Imprints, Series I: Evans (1639-1800), Readex/Newsbank.

Read more about burglary in Early American Crime.

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