Jacob Leisler

 

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Leisler, JACOB, military officer; born in Frankfort, Germany; was of Huguenot descent, and came to America in 1660. Settling first in Albany, he soon became a trader in New York City. While on a voyage to Europe in 1678, he, with seven others, was captured by Turkish corsairs, and they were ransomed at a high price. In 1683 he was appointed a commissioner of the court of admiralty in New York City. Democracy had then taken firm root among the people in New York, and when news of the accession of William and Mary reached the city the people were much excited by it. The military force of the city consisted of five military companies, of which Nicholas Bayard, a member of the governor's council, was colonel, and Leisler was senior captain. The people were zealous Protestants. A Roman Catholic collector appointed by King James had been retained in place, and a rumor spread of a horrible plot and intended massacre by the opponents of the deposed monarch. A crowd of citizens, followed by the five militia companies, surrounded the house of Leisler and induced him to lead a movement for the seizure of the fort. Bayard attempted to disperse them, but was compelled to fly for his life. A distinct line was soon drawn between the aristocrats, headed by Bayard, Livingston, and others, and the democrats, led by Leisler. The fort was seized, with the public money in it. Nicholson, Andros's lieutenant, demanded the money and was treated with disdain.

A committee of safety of ten members —Dutch, Huguenots, and English—constituted Leisler " captain of the fort," and invested him with the power of commander-in-chief until orders should arrive from the new monarchs. He was, indeed, the popular governor of the province. The New Englanders applauded the movement. Leisler proclaimed William and Mary at the sound of the trumpet, and sent a letter to the King giving an account of his doings. Nicholson, perceiving the support which the people of New York and New England gave to Leisler, departed for England; and the members of his council withdrew to Albany, where, acknowledging allegiance to William and Mary, they claimed to be the true governors of the colony, and denounced Leisler as an " arch-rebel." Leisler's son-in-law, Jacob Milborne, had just returned from Holland, and was sent to Albany with some soldiers to defend the place against an expected attack from Canada; but the old council there refused to give up the fort to Milborne. The people of Albany obtained aid from Connecticut, Milborne having withdrawn to avoid bloodshed. Soon after this a letter, addressed to " such as for the time being administer affairs," was received at New York, enclosing a commission as governor for Nicholson. As the latter was on the ocean, Leisler assumed the title of lieutenant-governor, construing the King's letter as a confirmation of his authority. He called an assembly to provide means for carrying on war with Canada.

Leaving Leisler's letter unanswered, King William commissioned Colonel Henry Sloughter governor of New York, and sent an independent company of regular soldiers, under Captain Ingoldsby (January, 1691), for the defense of the province. Influenced by the enemies of Leisler, Ingoldsby claimed the temporary administration of affairs, and the possession of the fort, by virtue of his commission from the King. Leisler refused compliance with the demand, but proclaimed Sloughter's appointment, and ordered Ingoldsby's troops to be quartered in the city. There was great excitement in the city between the aristocracy and democracy. Bayard and others of the old council were in prison. Leisler was, for a time, besieged in the fort, and some lives were lost; and because he refused to give up the fort at the first summons of Ingoldsby, Sloughter, on his arrival, instigated by the friends of Bayard and others, caused the democratic governor and his council to be arrested.

Bayard and others of the old council, having been released, were sworn members of Sloughter's council, and a special court was organized to try the prisoners. Leisler and Milborne, denying the jurisdiction of the court, refused to plead. They were tried, nevertheless, and found guilty; but Sloughter hesitated to order their execution, preferring to await the King's decision in the matter. Leisler's enemies burned with a desire for revenge. The Assembly, also composed of his enemies, refused to recommend a temporary reprieve. At a dinner-party given for the purpose, Sloughter, made drunk with liquor, was persuaded to sign the death-warrant. The revel was continued until morning for fear Sloughter, sober, might recall the warrant; and before he had recovered his senses Leisler and Milborne were taken from their weeping wives and children (May 16, 1691) and hurried to the scaffold, erected near the lower end of the present City Hall Park. A drizzly rain was falling. A sullen crowd of citizens were spectators of the sad scene. Among them were Robert Livingston and others of Leisler's bitter enemies. The prisoners protested their loyalty and innocence of the charge to the last. Milborne said on the scaffold, " Robert Livingston, for this I will implead thee at the bar of God!" It was nothing less than a judicial murder. Some years afterwards the attainder which the crime with which they were charged had placed upon the victims was reversed by act of Parliament, and their estates were restored to their families.

 

 

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