Jacob Leisler

The Dutch inhabitants of New York, as well as the Protestant republicans, were disappointed by the royal birth, for they had looked forward with hope for the accession of Mary, the wife of their own Prince of Orange, to the throne of England. This event intensified the general discontent because of the consolidation of New York with New England and the abridgment of their rights, and the people were on the verge of open rebellion when a revolution in England changed the whole aspect of affairs there and in America, and satisfied the aspirations of the Dutch at New York by seating William and Mary on the throne. The general result of that revolution has been recorded at near the close of the Second Chapter of the Third Book.

The effect of the accession of William and Mary, in New England, will be noticed hereafter. Andros and his political associates were seized at Boston, and sent to England. This act was followed in New York by the seizure of Fort James. In this movement Jacob Leisler, an influential merchant and commander of militia, took a leading part. He was a German colonist; a Presbyterian in church-fellowship; an enthusiastic admirer of William of Orange, but with democratic tendencies. About five hundred men in arms rallied around him at the fort, whence he issued this declaration: "As soon as the bearer of orders from the Prince of Orange shall have let us see his power, then, without delay, we do intend to obey, not the orders only, but also the bearer thereof."

Leisler refused to proclaim the accession of William and Mary, until he should be officially certified of the fact. At his request, delegates from a few towns assembled in convention, formed a Committee of Safety of ten, and proceeded to organize a provisional government. They commissioned Leisler commander of the province, when Nicholson, whose time-serving policy had alienated from him-self the confidence of the people, fearing the populace, fled on board a vessel and sailed for London. This flight gave Leisler and his adherents an unexpected advantage. The people consented that he should act as governor in the absence of regularly constituted authority. The aristocracy were offended because an "insolent foreigner and plebeian" was in the high seat of power. They bitterly opposed him, but he managed public affairs so well that his enemies were compelled to praise him. Van Cortlandt, Bayard and other leaders of the aristocracy retired to Albany, where a convention of the people acknowledged allegiance to William and Mary, defied the power of Leisler, and denounced him as a treasonable usurper. Their influence in the province was great, and the communities on the Hudson generally disapproved of the mutinous proceedings in New York.

When, late in the year (1689), royal letters were received addressed to the governor, or, in his absence, to "such as, for the time being, take care for preserving the public peace and administering the law in New York," Leisler considered that his own authority had received the royal sanction. He now, with clouded judgment and inconsiderate rashness, determined to bring into obedience the aristocratic party, whose focus of strength was at Albany under the lead of Peter Schuyler, the mayor of that city. He sent his son-in-law, Jacob Milborne, with a few troops to enforce that obedience. He was resisted by argument and physical force until the awful destruction of Schenectady by the Indians in February, 1690, spread universal alarm and pointed to the necessity for uniting for the common defence. The authority of Leisler was acknowledged, for the people of the north sorely needed his help. Another year passed by. Meanwhile the ears of the monarchs had been filled with reports of Leisler's usurpation and disloyalty, and they appointed Henry Sloughter governor of New York, who sent forward his lieutenant, Ingoldsby, to take possession of the province. When that officer arrived early in 1691, he haughtily demanded of Leisler the surrender of the fort. He did not deign to show his credentials, and Leisler properly refused compliance with his demands, at the same time treating Ingoldsby, and the few soldiers whom he brought with him, with respect. The aristocratic party were enraged by Leisler's refusal, and for several weeks the city was fearfully excited by the violence of factions. And when, in March, Governor Sloughter arrived, and Leisler sent him a letter loyally tendering to him the fort and province, that functionary, under the influence of the aristocratic leaders, answered it by sending an officer to arrest the "usurper" and Milborne, and six of the "inferior insurgents," on a charge of high treason. They were taken to prison, and when they were arraigned, the two principal offenders, denying the authority of the court, refused to plead, and appealed to the king. They were condemned, and sentenced to death (as were, also, the other six); but Sloughter, who, in his sober moments, was just and honest, refused to sign the death-warrant until he should hear from the king. The implacable enemies of the "usurper," determined on causing his destruction, invited the governor to a dinner party on Staten Island on a bright day in May. One of them carried to the banquet a legally drawn death-warrant, and when the governor had been made stupid by liquor, he was induced to sign the fatal paper. It was sent to the city that evening, and on the following morning Leisler and Milborne were summoned to prepare for execution. Leisler sent for his wife, Alice, and their older children, and after a sorrowful parting with them, he and his son-in-law were led to the gallows in a drenching rain. They confessed their errors of judgment, but denied all intentional wrong-doing. The blamelessness of their lives confirmed their declarations of innocence. Before Sloughter was permitted to recover from his debauch, they were hanged. It was a foul murder. The governor was tortured with remorse for his act, and died of delirium tremens three months afterward.

Leisler's appeal to the king was not sent. His son repeated it. The result was the return to the families of Leisler and Milborne of their confiscated estates, and before four years had passed, the British Parliament declared them innocent of treason, by reversing the attainder. Their death created a deep feeling of sympathy for the cause of popular sovereignty, of which they were representatives and proto-martyrs. From that hour republicanism had a very vigorous growth in the province of New York, and gave future royal governors a great deal of trouble.

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