The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Leisler, Jacob

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LEISLER, līs'lėr, Jacob, American colonial political leader: b. Frankfort-on-the-Main, Germany; d. New York, 16 May 1691. He came to America as a private soldier in the service of the Dutch West India Company, and was for a time engaged in trade at Albany, and later settling in New York, was appointed in 1683 one of the “commissioners” (judges) of the Court of the Admiralty. In 1689 he was the leader of the insurrection against Governor Nicholson, supported mostly by the militia and the lower classes; the fort and the public funds were seized on the 31st of May, and Leisler a few days later declared for William and Mary, asserting his acts to be necessary for the “preservation of the Protestant religion.” A committee of safety was formed, who on 8 June 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 the public park still known as the Battery. Nicholson and the council of the province, with the authorities of the city, 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 16 August 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 next attempted to reduce Albany and the northern parts of the colony, which from the first had refused to recognize his authority, but was for some time unsuccessful; Albany finally submitted to him after the Indian attack on Schenectady (1690). 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 he engaged with great vigor in the expeditions against the French, and equipped and despatched against Quebec the first fleet of men-of-war ever sent from the port of New York. A few months later Major Ingoldsby 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 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 Sloughter for some time hesitated to sign the death warrants. Leisler's son secured from the English Parliament the reversal of the bill of attainder in 1695; and the confiscated estates were also returned to the heirs. Consult Hoffman, ‘The Administration of Jacob Leisler (in Jared Sparks, ‘Library of American Biography,’ Vol. XIII, Boston 1844); Brodhead, ‘History of New York’ (New York 1853-71); ‘Documentary History of New York’ (Albany 1842-51), and E. S. Brooks, ‘In Leisler's Times’ (a historical story).