The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Leisler, Jacob

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The American Cyclopædia
Leisler, Jacob
Edition of 1879. See also Jacob Leisler on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

LEISLER, Jacob, an American adventurer, born in Frankfort, Germany, executed in New York, May 16, 1691. He came to America in 1660 as a soldier in the service of the Dutch West India company. Leaving the army soon after his arrival, he engaged in the Indian trade, and became a comparatively wealthy man. In 1674 he was appointed a commissioner of the forced loan imposed by Colve. 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. Previous to this voyage he was a resident of Albany, and had been involved in the ecclesiastical difficulties of that city in 1676, in which he suffered both in character and purse, having been mulcted in the entire cost of the litigation which was instituted by him and Jacob Milborne, who afterward became his son-in-law as well as his secretary and fellow sufferer. Under Dongan's administration in 1683 he was appointed one of the judges, or “commissioners” as they were styled, of the court of admiralty in New York. In 1688 Gov. Dongan was succeeded by Lieut. Gov. Francis Nicholson, who was in command of the colony when Jacob Leisler, supported by the mass of the lower orders of the inhabitants, seized the fort and the public funds on the last of May, 1689, for “the preservation of the Protestant religion.” On June 2 Leisler with his own train band of 49 men took possession of the fort, and resolved, as he expressed it himself, not to leave until he had brought all the train bands fully to join with him. On the next day he declared for the prince of Orange. A committee of safety was then formed, who on June 8 commissioned Leisler as “captain of the fort.” In this capacity he at once began to repair the fort, and strengthened it with a “battery” of six guns beyond its walls, which was the origin of that public park still known as the Battery. Nicholson and the council of the province, with the authorities of the city, headed by Stephanus van Cortlandt the mayor, attempted by pacific means to prevent the uprising, but without effect. Becoming finally alarmed for their own safety, the lieutenant governor sailed for England, and the mayor with the other officials retired to Albany. On Aug. 16 the committee of safety appointed Leisler “commander-in-chief of the province,” with the full power of a governor in all matters civil and military. He now attempted to reduce Albany and the northern parts of the colony, which from the first had refused to recognize his authority, although that city, as well as the whole province, had acknowledged William and Mary immediately on the arrival of the news of the great revolution in England. Milborne was sent in November with an armed force to Albany, to assist in its defence against some Indian hostilities which were threatened, but directed by Leisler to withhold it unless his own authority was recognized. This was refused, and Milborne returned unsuccessful. In December arrived a despatch from William and Mary directed “to Francis Nicholson, Esq., 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.” This Leisler construed as an appointment of himself as the king's lieutenant governor. He therefore dissolved the committee of safety, swore in a council, and assumed the style of a royal lieutenant governor and commander-in-chief. After the massacre at Schenectady in February, 1690, he engaged with great vigor in the expeditions against the French, and equipped and despatched against Quebec the first fleet of men-of-war sent forth from the port of New York. A few months later Major Ingoldesby arrived with the news of Sloughter's appointment as governor, and demanded possession of the fort, which Leisler refused. On Sloughter's own demand immediately upon his arrival in March, 1691, he likewise refused to surrender it, until he was convinced of Sloughter's identity, and the latter had sworn in his council. Leisler was immediately imprisoned, charged with treason and murder, and shortly after tried and condemned to death. His son-in-law and secretary Milborne 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. 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 of the culprits to their heirs. In 1695 Leisler's son succeeded in procuring the passage of an act of parliament reversing his father's attainder. In 1698 the earl of Bellamont, 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 bones of Leisler and Milborne were taken up and honorably interred in the Dutch church.