1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Nicolls, Richard

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NICOLLS, RICHARD (1624-1672), American colonial governor, was born probably at Ampthill, Bedfordshire, England, in 1624. He commanded a royalist troop of horse during the Civil War, and on the defeat of the king went into exile. Soon after the Restoration he became groom of the bedchamber to the duke of York, through whose influence he was appointed in 1664 on a commission with Sir Robert Carr (d. 1667), George Cartwright and Samuel Maverick, to conquer New Netherland from the Dutch and to regulate the affairs of the New England colonies and settle disputes among them. The expedition set sail from Portsmouth on the 25th of May 1664, and New Amsterdam was surrendered to Nicolls on the 8th of September. Under authority of a commission from the duke of York, Nicolls assumed the position of deputy-governor of New Netherland (New York) His policy was vigorous but tactful, and the transition to the new regime was made smoothly and with due regard to the interests of the conquered people. They were guaranteed in the possession of their property rights, their laws of inheritance, and the enjoyment of religious freedom. The English system of law and administration was at once introduced into Long Island, Staten Island and Westchester, where the English element already predominated, but the change was made much more slowly in the Dutch sections. 'A code of laws, known as the “ Duke's Laws, ” drafted by the governor with the help of his secretary, Matthias Nicolls[1] (c. 1650–1687), and dated the 12th of March, was proclaimed at Hempstead, Long Island, on the first of March 1665 and continued in force until 1683; the code was compiled from the codes of the New England colonies, and it provided for trial by jury, for proportional taxation on property, for the issuance of new patents for land and for land tenure only by licence from the duke. N icolls returned to England in the summer of 1668 and continued in the service of the duke of York. He was killed in the naval battle of Southwold Bay on the 28th of May 1672.

See J. R. Brodhead, History of the State of New York (2 vols., rev. ed., 1872). For the “Duke’s Laws” see Laws of Colonial New York, i. 6-100.

  1. Matthias may have been a cousin of Richard Nicolls; his family were of Islip, Oxford; he was secretary of the province, held various judicial positions, and was mayor of New York City in 1672. Matthias's son William (1657-1723), at lawyer, was a member of the New York Assembly from 1702 until his death and was speaker in 1702–1718; he received a royal patent for what is now the town of lslip on Long Island. Descendants of Richard and of Matthias Nicolls spell the name “ Nicoll."