Jacob Leisler

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Jacob Leisler
01 Jacob Leisler.JPG
8th Colonial Governor of New York
In office
1689 – 1691 in rebellion
Preceded by Francis Nicholson
Succeeded by Henry Sloughter
Personal details
Born ca. 1640
Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany
Died May 16, 1691
New York
Profession Lieutenant governor of New York
Religion Calvinist

Jacob Leisler (ca. 1640 – May 16, 1691) was a German-born American colonist. He helped create the Huguenot settlement of New Rochelle in 1688 and later served as the acting Lieutenant Governor of New York. 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 for William and Mary.


Leisler was born in the village of Bockenheim, now a central part of Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in March 1640, the son of Calvinist French Reformed minister Jacob Victorian Leisler. After his father's death in 1651, Leisler was sent to military school.[1] 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.[2] New York tax records from 1676 list Leisler as the third wealthiest man in the city.[3] He married Elsie Tymens, the widow of Pieter Cornelisz. van der Veen in 1663.[4]

In 1674, he was one of the administrators of a forced loan imposed by Anthony Colve.[5] While residing in Albany, in 1676 Leisler engaged in a theological dispute with the Rev. Nicholas van Rensselaer, who had been appointed to the Reformed pulpit by James, Duke of York (later King James II).[2] His finances and reputation both suffered from this encounter, as he and Jacob Milborne were forced to pay all the costs of a lawsuit they had originated in the dispute.[5] 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.[2]

Leisler had endeared himself to the common people by befriending a family of French Huguenots that had been landed on Manhattan island. They were 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 the sale 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.[2]

The rebellion[edit]

Main article: Leisler's 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 (landholders), rich fur-traders, merchants, lawyers and crown officers. The former were led by Leisler, the latter by Peter Schuyler, Nicholas Bayard, Stephen Van Cortlandt, William Nicolls and other representatives of the aristocratic Hudson Valley families. The Leislerians claimed greater loyalty to the Protestant succession.[4]

In 1688, Governor Dongan was succeeded by Lieutenant-Governor Francis Nicholson. In 1689, the military force of the city of New York consisted of a regiment of five companies, with Leisler as one of the company captains. He was popular with the men and was probably the only wealthy resident in the province who 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.[2] When news of the imprisonment of Governor Sir Edmund Andros in Boston was received, the Leislerians 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.[4]

On a report that the adherents of King James II 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 revolutionaries, the fort contained all the public funds, whose return Lieutenant Governor Nicholson demanded in vain. 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.[2] Thus began Leisler's Rebellion.[4]

Leisler as acting lieutenant-governor[edit]

The aristocrats also favored the deposition of James, but preferred to continue the government established by his authority rather than risk the danger of an interregnum.[4] Nicholson and the council of the province, with the authorities of the city, headed by Mayor Stephen van Cortlandt, attempted by pacific means to prevent the uprising, but without effect. Finally, becoming alarmed for his own safety, Lieutenant-Governor Nicholson sailed for England on the June 24. The mayor and other officials retired to Albany.[2]

Albany held out against Leisler's authority for a time. In November, Leisler sent Jacob Milbourne to Albany with an armed force to assist in its defence against the Indians. Milbourne was directed to withhold aid unless Leisler's authority was recognized. This was refused, and Milbourne returned unsuccessful.[2] But after the destruction of Schenectady on February 19, 1690, by the French and Indians, Albany submitted to Leisler's authority.[6]

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 had assumed the title of lieutenant-governor in December 1689. He dissolved the committee of safety, appointed a council, and took charge of the government of the entire province.[4][7]

Leisler 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 in the ongoing conflict.[4] The congress planned an expedition against Canada. It equipped and despatched against Quebec the first fleet of men-of-war ever sent from the Port of New York. However, the expedition was unsuccessful.[6][7] Colonel Henry Sloughter was commissioned governor of the province by William and Mary on September 3, 1689, but he did not reach New York until March 19, 1691.[4]

Leisler and the Huguenots[edit]

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. On September 20, 1689, Leisler donated a third of this land to Huguenot refugees.[8] 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.[9] This site of this settlement is now occupied by the city of New Rochelle, New York.[2]

End of the rebellion[edit]

Howard Pyle's depiction of Governor Sloughter signing Leisler's death warrant

On January 28, 1691, English Major Richard Ingoldesby, who had been commissioned lieutenant governor of the province, and two companies of soldiers landed and demanded possession of the fort. Leisler refused to surrender the fort without an order from the king or the governor, and after some controversy an attack was made on 17 March in which two soldiers were killed and several wounded.[4]

On Governor Sloughter's arrival in New York the following March, he immediately demanded Leisler's surrender. 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.[2]

On the 16 May 1691 Leisler and Milbourne were executed.[4] The court had sentenced them to be hanged "by the Neck and being Alive their bodyes be Cutt downe to Earth and Their Bowells to be taken out and they being Alive, burnt before their faces. . ." 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.[2]


  1. ^ Voorhees, David (July 1994). "The 'fervent zeale' of Jacob Leisler". The William and Mary Quarterly 51 (3): 455. doi:10.2307/2947438. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Wikisource-logo.svg Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1892). "Leisler, Jacob". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton. 
  3. ^ Voorhees, David (July 1994). "The 'fervent zeale' of Jacob Leisler". The William and Mary Quarterly 51 (3): 457. doi:10.2307/2947438. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Chisholm 1911, p. 402
  5. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg "Leisler, Jacob". The American Cyclopædia. 1879. 
  6. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg "Leisler, Jacob". New International Encyclopedia. 1905. 
  7. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Leisler, Jacob". Encyclopedia Americana. 
  8. ^ Voorhees, David William (July 1994). "The "fervent Zeale" of Jacob Leisler". The William and Mary Quarterly 51 (3): 465. doi:10.2307/2947438. 
  9. ^ New York - A Guide to The Empire State, Work Projects Administration of New York, p. 245.


  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Leisler, Jacob". Encyclopædia Britannica 16 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 402.  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)

Further reading[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Edmund Andros
Francis Nicholson

as Governor and Lieutenant Governor of the Dominion of New England
Governor of the Province of New York (in rebellion)
December 1689-January 28, 1691
Succeeded by
Henry Sloughter