Benjamin Fletcher

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This article is about the colonial governor. For the IWW organizer, see Ben Fletcher.

Benjamin Fletcher (1640–1703) was colonial governor of New York from 1692 to 1697.

"Sea Robbers of NY" -Howard Pyle: Harper's Magazine, November,1894

Under Col. Fletcher, piracy was a leading economic development tool in the city’s competition with the ports of Boston and Philadelphia. New York City had become a safe place for pirates.

Fletcher was known for the Ministry Act of 1693, which secured the place of Anglicans as the official religion in New York. He also built the first Trinity Church in 1698.[1][2]

Fletcher was eventually fired for his association with piracy.[3]

Freebooters and commerce[edit]

Since the 1680s, New York City had had to deal with a new, nearby, maritime rival, Philadelphia, which had boomed since its founding. As added attractions, Philadelphia had "the purest bread and strongest beere in America." Despite such appeal, the pirates preferred the safe confines of New York City and brought considerable wealth into the port of New York, whose commerce had been endangered by the fighting of King William's War. Because of these circumstances, New Yorkers, from the governor on down, willingly turned a blind eye to the obvious criminals in their midst. Most of New York City eagerly dealt with the various pirates who entered its harbor. The local merchants, along with Fletcher, saw the freebooters as men who carried real money into the impoverished colony.[4]

A good many of the citizens took to cheating the revenue laws by smuggling, some of them sent out ships to trade with pirates for stolen goods, and some of them fairly became pirates themselves.[5] One of the most successful privateers of the era was Captain William Kidd, later hanged in England after being convicted of piracy. Kidd used some of his wealth to build a fine home and helped establish the first Trinity Church. Other financiers of piracy, whose names endure in various forms around New York, were Frederick Philipse, Stephanus Van Cortlandt, Peter Schuyler and Thomas Willet.[6]

Though very strict in religious observances he was fond of luxury, and of extravagant habits, and continually in want of money. Both Fletcher and some of his council were in the habit of receiving valuable gifts—amounting to blackmail—from the different pirate ships.[7]

Gov. Fletcher granted "trading licenses to ships which everybody knew were to engage in "the Red Sea trade," as trading with the pirates politely was called; privateering commissions were given to ships which everybody knew were going to sea as pirates; under his government smuggling was carried on by the leading merchants of the city and he granted the licenses and he permitted the smuggling because he was bribed".[5] Fletcher had gotten payments from pirates—mostly small sums except when some grateful buccaneers gave the governor their ship, which netted him £800. Edward Randolph, the Crown's agent overseeing trade, amassed evidence that doomed Fletcher's tenure and helped anoint Lord Bellomont as the new governor of New York.[4]

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Government offices
Preceded by
Richard Ingoldesby (acting)
Governor of the Province of New York
1692-97
Succeeded by
Earl of Bellomont