Levi Weeks

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Auburn Mansion

Levi Weeks (1776–1819) was the accused in the infamous Manhattan Well Murder trial of 1, the first murder trial in the United States for which there is a recorded transcript.[1][2] 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 most successful builders of the time.

Early life[edit]

Levi Weeks was born in 1776 in Greenwich, Massachusetts. He moved to New York City in 1798 to work for his older brother Ezra.[3]

Murder trial[edit]

Weeks was accused of murdering Gulielma "Elma" Sands, a young woman whom he had been courting.[4] 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,[5] located in today's SoHo near the intersection of Greene and Spring Streets.[6] 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.[4]

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.[7][8] 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,[9] Weeks was acquitted after only 5 minutes of jury deliberation.[10]

Post-trial life[edit]

The Briars, Natchez vic., photographed by Frances Benjamin Johnston, 1938. Built for Judge John Perkins Perkins. Architect: Levi Weeks. Bought by Judge James Kemp and given to his daughter in 1823 as a wedding gift when she married Wm. Burr Howell. Their daughter Varina married Jefferson Davis in this house in 1845

The public strongly disagreed with the verdict, and Weeks was ostracized by the citizens of the city, forcing him to leave New York.[6] He eventually settled in Natchez, Mississippi, where he became a well-respected architect and builder. He married Ann Greenleaf in Natchez and they had four children.[3] Weeks died in Natchez in 1819, at the age of 43. A house in Natchez designed by Weeks, Auburn Mansion, is a National Historic Landmark.

In popular culture[edit]


  1. ^ Kleiger, Estelle (1989). The Trial of Levi Weeks Or the Manhattan Well Mystery. The Story of the First Recorded Murder Trial in U.S. History, New York, 1800. New York: Academy Chicago Publishers.
  2. ^ *Lawson, John Davison; Howard, Robert Lorenzo (1914). 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 Company.. Refer to the first chapter, "The Trial of LEVI WEEKS for the Murder of GULIELMA SANDS, New York City, 1800", pages 1–40.
  3. ^ a b "Fascinated by history of Auburn, McGehee compiles house's history", The Natchez Democrat, Natchez, MS, May 4, 2006
  4. ^ a b 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 (PDF). New York: John Furman. 1800. ISBN 978-1275486478. Court proceedings of the trial taken by the clerk of the court. The Evans Early American Imprint Collection of the University of Michigan also provides an online version of the full text.
  5. ^ Serratore, Angela (September 15, 2014), "The Well on Spring Street", The Paris Review, New York, NY. This article includes both a painting and sketch of Lispenard Meadows during the time period of the murder.
  6. ^ a b Carr, Nick (October 24, 2011), "In SoHo, a Historied Haunt", Metropolis, New York, NY. This article includes a photo of the brickwork of the well, still extant in the basement of 129 Spring Street.
  7. ^ Chernow, Ron (2004). Alexander Hamilton. New York: Penguin. ISBN 978-1594200090. Refer to Chapter 35, "Gust of Passion". Several years later Burr killed Hamilton during the most famous duel in American history.
  8. ^ *Simeone, Joseph (May 27, 2003). "The strange alliance of two American historical figures, Part I". St. Louis Daily Record & St. Louis Countian. St. Louis, MO.
  9. ^ "Weeks' trial sheds light on early procedure", History.com, 2009
  10. ^ Lane, Doris (April 29, 2009), "The Original "Dream Team"", Crime Magazine

External links[edit]