Jacob Leisler


Public life


NA/Mid-Atlantic region


Anglo-American Atlantic World (1641-1750)








Merchant and de facto lieutenant governor of New York�

Shortly after his arrival in New Amsterdam, Leisler entered into the fur and tobacco trade. He later added salt, grain products, fish, whale oil, and horses to his export trade and spices, human cargoes (indentured and slave), finished cloth, and trade goods to his import business�

When in July 1688 James II annexed New York to the Dominion of New England, New Yorkers' simmering discontent with the Catholicizing and centralizing tendencies of the Stuart monarchy intensified. The province was therefore ripe for rebellion when word arrived the following winter that William, the Protestant Prince of Orange, had invaded England. While it does not appear that Leisler instigated rebellion in New York, he apparently knew in advance of the Prince of Orange's plans� indications are that Leisler was kept well informed of European events. Boston's April 1689 overthrow of James II's dominion governor, Sir Edmund Andros, left New York lieutenant governor Francis Nicholson to continue alone. Nicholson appointed Leisler to an expanded council to protect New York from foreign invasion in the wake of the unrest. Leisler's subsequent discovery that Nicholson was continuing to receive directives from the imprisoned Andros caused him to withdraw his allegiance from Nicholson, but he did not join with the rebels.

On 31 May 1689, the New York militia revolted and seized Fort James. Leisler's role in the revolt is unclear, but two days later he emerged as the leader of the Orangist faction. Nicholson's subsequent flight from the province and the continuing reluctance of James II's three New York dominion councilors� to declare for the new Protestant monarch left a governmental vacuum� On 28 June the committee designated Leisler captain of the fort and on 16 August appointed him commander in chief of the province�

The arrival in June 1690 of news that Nicholson had been appointed lieutenant governor of Virginia gave encouragement to Leisler's enemies, and a riot ensued in New York City in which Leisler was personally attacked�.

Administrative difficulties delayed the sailing of Henry Sloughter and two companies of regular soldiers. The latter, separated from Sloughter, arrived in New York in January 1691 under Captain Richard Ingoldesby. Ingoldesby, with no authority other than a military commission, demanded that Leisler turn over the fort, which Leisler refused to do without proper orders. For nearly two months New York hovered on the brink of civil war, with Leisler's adherents in the fort and Ingoldesby's soldiers, joined by Leisler's enemies, in the town� When [Leisler finally] surrendered� Sloughter had him arrested. A court consisting of Leisler's enemies was hastily convened, and Leisler along with his council were brought to trial. Leisler refused to plead during the trial until the question of his authority was settled. Thus, tried as a mute, he was found guilty of treason and on 16 May 1691 hanged and then beheaded.

Related Images

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