1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Leisler, Jacob

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5567601911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 16 — Leisler, Jacob

LEISLER, JACOB (c. 1635–1691), American political agitator, was born probably at Frankfort-on-Main, Germany, about 1635. He went to New Netherland (New York) in 1660, married a wealthy widow, engaged in trade, and soon accumulated a fortune. The English Revolution of 1688 divided the people of New York into two well-defined factions. In general the small shop-keepers, small farmers, sailors, poor traders and artisans were arrayed against the patroons, rich fur-traders, merchants, lawyers and crown officers. The former were led by Leisler, the latter by Peter Schuyler (1657–1724), Nicholas Bayard (c. 1644–1707), Stephen van Cortlandt (1643–1700), William Nicolls (1657–1723) and other representatives of the aristocratic Hudson Valley families. The “Leislerians” pretended greater loyalty to the Protestant succession. When news of the imprisonment of Gov. Andros in Massachusetts was received, they took possession on the 31st of May 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. The aristocrats also favoured the Revolution, but preferred to continue the government under authority from James II. rather than risk the danger of an interregnum. Lieutenant-Governor Francis Nicholson sailed for England on the 24th of June, a committee of safety was organized by the popular party, and Leisler was appointed commander-in-chief. 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,” he assumed the title of lieutenant-governor in December 1689, appointed a council and took charge of the government of the entire province. He summoned the first Intercolonial Congress in America, which met in New York on the 1st of May 1690 to plan concerted action against the French and Indians. Colonel Henry Sloughter was commissioned governor of the province on the 2nd of September 1689 but did not reach New York until the 19th of March 1691. In the meantime Major Richard Ingoldsby and two companies of soldiers had landed (January 28, 1691) and demanded possession of the fort. Leisler refused to surrender it, and after some controversy an attack was made on the 17th of March in which two soldiers were killed and several wounded. When Sloughter arrived two days later Leisler hastened to give over to him the fort and other evidences of authority. He and his son-in-law, Jacob Milborne, were charged with treason for refusing to submit to Ingoldsby, were convicted, and on the 16th of May 1691 were executed. There has been much controversy among historians with regard both to the facts and to the significance of Leisler’s brief career as ruler in New York.

See J. R. Brodhead, History of the State of New York (vol. 2, New York, 1871). For the documents connected with the controversy see E. B. O’Callaghan, Documentary History of the State of New York (vol. 2, Albany, 1850).