Friday, June 25, 2010

Leisler's Rebellion

The Dominion of New England in America was a administrative union of the New England colonies (at that time including Massachusetts/Maine, Plymouth Colony, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York and New Jersey) instituted by King James II, which lasted from 1686-1689. When the Glorious Revolution of 1688 took place in England, it had repercussions across the pond. Dominion Governor Edmund Andros had not endeared himself to the Puritan colonial citizens by his promotion of the Church of England (he revoked the Puritan ban on celebrating Christmas, for example) and other expressions of centralized power. Soon after the overthrow of James II and the assumption of power by William and Mary, Andros was arrested in Boston on May 18, 1689, and shipped back to England as prisoner. The following month, his Lieutenant Governor, Francis Nicholson, was deposed in New York City by what became known as Leisler's Rebellion.

Jacob Leisler was the German-born son of a French Huguenot minister. After serving as a soldier, taking up the fur and tobacco trade, being captured by Moorish pirates, and paying a significant ransom to be freed, freeing a Huguenot family in New York which was about to be sold into slavery, and brokering the settlement of the French Huguenot colonial settlement of New Rochelle, New York, he was appointed a judge, or commissioner, of the court of admiralty in New York, a justice of the peace for New York City and County, and a militia captain. When William and Mary assumed the throne, the aristocratic Jacobite party attempted to retain power in the New England colonies, but with Andros arrested, and upon request by an angry mob, as captain of the militia, Leisler took control of Fort James in Manhattan, renamed it Fort William, and Lt. Gov. Nicholson having fled to England, Leisler assumed his title, and was to rule the Province of New York from 1689-1691. His tenure was opposed by the largely upper class and Jacobite Albany Convention. He advocated the Protestant succession and direct rule. He initiated the first intercolonial congress in the American colonies, on May 1, 1690, an effort to take joint action against the French and Indians.

But although he fought for his Protestant king, William sent Henry Sloughter to govern New York, having appointed him in 1689, though he did not arrive until 1691. His emissary, Richard Ingoldesby, tried unsuccessfully to retake Leisler's fort, with casualties, but Leisler eventually surrendered to Sloughter, after confirmation of his identity, who then took Leisler prisoner upon charges of treason and murder. He and his son-in-law were tried, found guilty and condemned to death. They were hanged, and then behead, while alive, on May 16, 1691. It appears to have been a gross miscarriage of justice. The British Parliament later rescinded the attainder against Leisler, and his estate, forfeited to the crown upon the conviction of treason, was restored to his heirs. His name was cleared, and his bones were reinterred in the cemetery of the Dutch Reformed Church, but Leisler, though vindicated, has remained both a controversial, and yet largely-forgotten, figure in a chapter of American history with important consequences for the ongoing colonial American fight against tyranny. His statue in New Rochelle remains as a witness to the Huguenot governor who ruled New York and fought for "for the present Protestant power that reigns in England," until his death at the hands of servants of the same crown.

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