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The statue of Jacob Leisler on North Avenue in New Rochelle, New York

Jacob Leisler (ca. 1640 – May 16, 1691) was a German-born American colonist. Beginning in 1689, he led an insurrection dubbed Leisler's Rebellion in colonial New York, seizing control of the colony until he was captured and executed in New York City for treason against William and Mary.

Contents

Biography

Leisler was born in Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, in March 1640, the son of Calvinist French Reformed minister Jacob Victorian Leisler. He went to New Netherland(New York)in 1660 as a soldier in the service of the Dutch West India Company. Leaving the company's employ soon after his arrival, he engaged in the fur and tobacco trade, and became a comparatively wealthy man.[1] He married Elsie Tymens, the widow of Pieter Cornelisz. van der Veen in 1663.[2] While on a voyage to Europe in 1678 he was captured by Moorish pirates, and was compelled to pay a ransom of 2,050 pieces of eight to obtain his freedom. Previous to this voyage he engaged in a theological dispute with the Rev. Nicholas van Rensselaer in [[Albany, New York|Albany], who had been appointed to the Reformed pulpit by James, duke of York. Leisler had also endeared himself to the common people by befriending a family of French Huguenots that had been landed on Manhattan island so destitute that a public tribunal had decided they should be sold into slavery in order to pay their ship-charges. Leisler prevented the sale by purchasing the freedom of the widowed mother and son before it could be held. Under Thomas Dongan's administration in 1683 he was appointed one of the judges, or “commissioners,” of the court of admiralty in New York, a justice of the peace for New York City and County, and a militia captain.[1]

The rebellion

The English Revolution of 1688 divided the people of New York into two well-defined factions. In general, the small shopkeepers, small farmers, sailors, poor traders and artisans allied against the patroons, rich fur-traders, merchants, lawyers and crown officers. The former were led by Leisler, the latter by Peter Schuyler (1657-1724), Nicholas Bayard (c. 1644-1707), Stephen Van Cortlandt (1643-1700), William Nicolls (1657-1723) and other representatives of the aristocratic Hudson Valley families. The Leislerians claimed greater loyalty to the Protestant succession.[2]

In 1688 Gov. Dongan was succeeded by Lieut-Gov. Francis Nicholson. In 1689 the military force of the city of New York consisted of a regiment of five companies, of one of which Leisler was captain. He was popular with the men, and probably the only wealthy resident in the province that sympathized with the Dutch lower classes. At that time much excitement prevailed among the latter, owing to the attempts of the Jacobite office-holders to retain power in spite of the revolution in England and the accession of William and Mary to the throne.[1] When news of the imprisonment of Governor Andros in Massachusetts was received, they took possession on May 31, 1689, of Fort James (at the southern end of Manhattan Island), renamed it Fort William, and announced their determination to hold it until the arrival of a governor commissioned by the new sovereigns.[2]

On a report that the adherents of King James were about to seize the fort and massacre their Dutch fellow-citizens, an armed mob gathered on the evening of 2 June 1689 to overthrow the existing government. The cry of “Leisler” was raised, and the crowd rushed to his house. At first he refused to lead the movement, but when the demand was reiterated by the men of his regiment he acceded, and within an hour received the keys of the fort, which had meanwhile been seized. Fortunately for the revolutionists, the fort contained all the public funds, whose return the lieutenant-governor in vain demanded. Four hundred of the new party signed an agreement to hold the fort “for the present Protestant power that reigns in England,” while a committee of safety of ten of the city freeholders assumed the powers of a provisional government, of which they declared Jacob Leisler to be the head, and commissioned him as “captain of the fort.” In this capacity he at once began to repair that work, and strengthened it with a “battery” of six guns beyond its walls, which was the origin of the public park that is still known as the Battery.[1] Thus began Leisler's Rebellion.[2]

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Leisler as acting lieutenant-governor

The aristocrats also favored the Glorious Revolution, but preferred to continue the government under authority from James II rather than risk the danger of an interregnum.[2] Nicholson and the council of the province, with the authorities of the city, headed by Stephanus van Cortlandt, the mayor, attempted by pacific means to prevent the uprising, but without effect. Finally, becoming alarmed for his own safety, Lieutenant-Governor Francis Nicholson sailed for England on the June 24. The mayor, with the other officials, retired to Albany.[1] A committee of safety was organized by the popular party, and Leisler was appointed commander-in-chief. Under authority of a letter from the home government addressed to Nicholson, “or in his absence, to such as for the time being takes care for preserving the peace and administering the laws in His Majesty's province of New York,” Leisler assumed the title of lieutenant-governor in December 1689, appointed a council and took charge of the government of the entire province.[2]

He summoned the first Intercolonial Congress in America, which met in New York on May 1, 1690, to plan concerted action against the French and Native Americans. Colonel Henry Sloughter was commissioned governor of the province on September 3, 1689, but did not reach New York until March 19, 1691.[2]

Leisler and the Huguenots

Acting on behalf of a group of Huguenots in New York, Leisler brokered the purchase of the land upon which they would settle. In 1689 John Pell, Lord of Pelham Manor, officially deeded 6,100 acres (25 km²) to Leisler for the establishment of a Huguenot community. In addition to the purchase money, Leisler and his heirs and assigns were to yield and pay unto John Pell and his heirs and assigns (Lords of the Pelham Manor) one "Fat Calf" yearly as acknowledgment of their feudal obligation to the Manor.[3] This site of this settlement is now occupied by the city of New Rochelle, New York.[1]

End of the rebellion

In November, Leisler sent Jacob Milbourne to Albany with an armed force to assist in its defence against the Indians. In Albany, the Jacobite office-holders still held control, and Milbourne was directed to withhold it unless Leisler's authority was recognized. This was refused, and Milbourne returned unsuccessful.[1] On January 28, 1691, English Major Richard Ingoldesby and two companies of soldiers landed and demanded possession of the fort. Leisler refused to surrender it, and after some controversy an attack was made on 17 March in which two soldiers were killed and several wounded.[2]

On Sloughter's own demand immediately upon his arrival in the following March, Leisler likewise refused to surrender the fort until he was convinced of Sloughter's identity and the latter had sworn in his council. As soon as the latter event occurred, he wrote the governor a letter resigning his command. Sloughter replied by arresting him and nine of his friends. The latter were subsequently released after trial, but Leisler was imprisoned, charged with treason and murder, and shortly afterward tried and condemned to death. His son-in-law and secretary, Milbourne, was also condemned on the same charges. These trials were manifestly unjust; the judges were the personal and political enemies of the prisoners, and so gross were the acts of some of the parties that Sloughter hesitated at signing the death-warrants, and it is said that he finally did so when under the influence of wine.[1]

On the 16 May 1691 Leisler and Jacob Milborne, who had become his son-in-law three months earlier, were executed.[2] By the English law of treason their estates were forfeited to the crown, but the committee of the privy council to whom the matter was referred reported that, although the trial was in conformity to the forms of law, they nevertheless recommended the restoration of the estates to their heirs. In 1695, by parliamentary act through the efforts of Leisler's son, Leisler's name was cleared and his estate restored to his heirs. Three years later the Earl of Bellomont, who had been one of the most influential supporters of the efforts of Leisler's son, was appointed governor of New York, and through his influence the assembly voted an indemnity to Leisler's heirs. The governor authorized the honorable reburial of Leisler and his son-in-law at the Dutch church.[1]

References

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Wikisource-logo.svg "Leisler, Jacob". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1892. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Wikisource-logo.svg "Leisler, Jacob". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911. 
  3. ^ New York - A Guide to The Empire State, Work Projects Administration of New York, p. 245.
  • Wikisource-logo.svg "Leisler, Jacob". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.  which in turn cites:
    • John Romeyn Brodhead, History of the State of New York (vol. 2, New York, 1871)
    • E. B. O'Callaghan, Documentary History of the State of New York (vol. 2, Albany, 1850) (for the documents connected with the controversy)
  • David William Voorhees, “The ‘Fervent Zeale’ of Jacob Leisler,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., LI (July 1994), 3: 447-472

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

JACOB LEISLER (c. 1635-1691), American political agitator, was born probably at Frankfort-on-Main, Germany, about 1635. He went to New Netherland (New York) in 1660, married a wealthy widow, engaged in trade, and soon accumulated a fortune. The English Revolution of 1688 divided the people of New York into two well-defined factions. In general the small shop-keepers, small farmers, sailors, poor traders and artisans were arrayed against the patroons, rich fur-traders, merchants, lawyers and crown officers. The former were led by Leisler, the latter by Peter Schuyler (1657-1724), Nicholas Bayard (c. 1644-1707), Stephen van Cortlandt (1643-1700),William Nicolls (16 57-- 1723) and other representatives of the aristocratic Hudson Valley families. The "Leislerians" pretended greater loyalty to the Protestant succession. When news of the imprisonment of Gov. Andros in Massachusetts was received, they took possession on the 31st of May 1689 of Fort James (at the southern end of Manhattan Island), renamed it Fort William and announced their determination to hold it until the arrival of a governor commissioned by the new sovereigns. The aristocrats also favoured the Revolution, but preferred to continue the government under authority from James II. rather than risk the danger of an interregnum. Lieutenant-Governor Francis Nicholson sailed for England on the 24th of June, a committee of safety was organized by the popular party, and Leisler was appointed commander-in-chief. Under authority of a letter from the home government addressed to Nicholson, "or in his absence, to such as for the time being takes care for preserving the peace and administering the laws in His Majesty's province of New York," he assumed the title of lieutenant-governor in December 1689, appointed a council and took charge of the government of the entire province. He summoned the first Intercolonial Congress in America, which met in New York on the 1st of May 1690 to plan concerted action against the French and Indians. Colonel Henry Sloughter was commissioned governor of the province on the 2nd of September 1689 but did not reach New York until the 19th of March 1691. In the meantime Major Richard Ingoldsby and two companies of soldiers had landed (January 28, 1691) and demanded possession of the fort. Leisler refused to surrender it, and after some controversy an attack was made on the 17th of March in which two soldiers were killed and several wounded. When Sloughter arrived two days later Leisler hastened to give over to him the fort and other evidences of authority. He and his son-in-law, Jacob Milborne, were charged with treason for refusing to submit to Ingoldsby, were convicted, and on the r 6th of May 1691 were executed. There has been much controversy among historians with regard both to the facts and to the significance of Leisler's brief career as ruler in New York.

See J. R. Brodhead, History of the State of New York (vol. 2, New York, 1871). For the documents connected with the controversy see E. B. O'Callaghan, Documentary History of the State of New York (vol. 2, Albany, 1850).


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