Levi Weeks

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Levi Weeks (1776–1819) was the accused in the infamous Manhattan Well Murder trial of 1800, the first recorded murder trial in the United States.[1] At the time of the murder, Weeks was a young carpenter in New York City. He was the brother of Ezra Weeks, one of New York's more successful builders of the time.


Levi Weeks was born in 1776 in Greenwich, Massachusetts and died in Natchez, Mississippi in 1819 at the age of 43. He married Ann Greenleaf in Natchez and they had four children.[2]

Murder trial[edit]

Weeks was accused of murdering Gulielma "Elma" Sands, a young woman whom he had been courting.[3] Elma disappeared on the evening of December 22, 1799. Some of her possessions were found two days later near the recently created Manhattan Well in Lispenard Meadows, located in today's SoHo near the intersection of Greene and Spring Streets. Her body was recovered from the well on January 2, 1800. Before leaving her boarding house on the 22nd, Elma told her cousin Catherine Sands that she and Levi were to be secretly married that night.

The trial, which took place on March 31 and April 1, 1800, was sensational. Through his brother's connections and wealth, Weeks retained three of New York's most prominent attorneys, Henry Brockholst Livingston, Aaron Burr, and Alexander Hamilton.[4] Chief Justice John Lansing, Jr. presided on the bench, and future Mayor of New York Cadwallader David Colden was the prosecutor.

Although Elma was seen leaving with Weeks and a witness claimed to have seen Weeks making measurements at the well the Sunday before the murder,[5] Weeks was acquitted after only 5 minutes of jury deliberation,[6] The public strongly disagreed with the verdict, and Weeks was ostracized by the citizens of the city, forcing him to leave New York. He eventually settled in Natchez, Mississippi, where he became a well-respected architect and builder.

See also[edit]


  • Estelle Fox Klieger, The Trial of Levi Weeks: Or the Manhattan Well Mystery (Linacre Centre for Health Care Ethics, 2007), ISBN 978-0-89733-492-1.
  • John Davison Lawson and Robert Lorenzo Howard, American State Trials: A Collection of the Important and Interesting Criminal Trials which Have Taken Place in the United States, from the Beginning of Our Government to the Present Day with Notes and Annotations, Volume 1, (St. Louis: Thomas Law Book Co., 1914). Refer to the first chapter, "The Trial of LEVI WEEKS for the Murder of GULIELMA SANDS, New York City, 1800", pages 1–40.
  • Report of the trial of Levi Weeks on an indictment for the murder of Gulielma Sands, on Monday the thirty-first day of March, and Tuesday the first day of April, 1800, (New York: John Furman, 1800). Court proceedings of the trial taken by the clerk of the court.
  • Joseph Simeone, The strange alliance of two American historical figures, Part I, St. Louis Daily Record & St. Louis Countian, May 27, 2003.


  1. ^ Klieger, cover
  2. ^ Fascinated by history of Auburn, McGehee compiles house’s history, The Natchez Democrat, March 4, 2006.
  3. ^ R. Chernow, Chapter 35.
  4. ^ Several years later Burr killed Hamilton during the most famous duel in American history.
  5. ^ D. Lane
  6. ^ Weeks' trial sheds light on early procedure Today in history: April 1, History Channel Online.