The founding of Pennsylvania helped to accelerate the political revolution which had been preparing in New York ever since the first arrival of Andros. During the spring of 1680 many complaints against that energetic governor found their way across the ocean. Not only was fault found with his treatment of New Jersey, but it was said that he showed too much favour to Dutch shipping, and especially that he allowed Boston people to trade in furs with the Mohawks. These rumours led the duke to summon Andros to London in order to justify himself. The governor sailed in January, 1681, expecting to return so soon that he left Lady Andros in New York. He had little difficulty in satisfying the duke as to his official conduct, but during his absence serious troubles broke out in New York, which had been left in charge of Brockholls, the lieutenant-governor. The duke's customs' duties, which had been imposed in 1677 for three years, expired in November, 1680, and by some oversight Sir Edmund neglected to renew them by special ordinance. After he had gone, divers merchants refused to pay duties, and Brockholls did not feel sure that he had sufficient authority to renew them, a squeamishness for which the duke was far from thanking him. As soon as the merchants came to realize the weakness of the situation in which Brockholls was placed, the discontent which had smouldered during long years of autocratic rule burst forth in an explosion that had momentous consequences.
William Dyer, the duke's collector of customs at the port p156 of New York, detained sundry goods for non-payment of duties. He was promptly indicted for high treason in taking upon himself "regal power and authority over the king's subjects" by demanding the payment of taxes that were not legally due. Brought to trial before a special court, he began by pleading "not guilty," but after a while called in question the competency of the court. The case was a somewhat novel exhibition of legal ingenuity, which puzzled the judges, and it was decided to send Dyer over to England for trial. He was examined in London by the king's legal advisers, who found that he had "done nothing amiss," and presently he returned to New York to be "surveyor-general of his Majesty's customs in the American Plantations."
The excitement over Dyer's case found vent in a clamorous demand for a legislative assembly. People wagged their heads as they asked whether the arbitrary rule of a lord proprietor was any better than the arbitrary rule of a mercantile company. The old English and Dutch principal of "taxation only by consent" was loudly reiterated. At this juncture the duke's release of the Jerseys and the founding of Pennsylvania seemed to bring things to a crisis. Here, said the men of New York, in these new colonies, almost at their very door, no laws could be made and no taxes levied except by a colonial assembly of freemen. Why could not James Stuart conduct the business of government upon as liberal principles as his friends, Philip Carteret and William Penn? A petition was accordingly soon sent to the duke, in which the want of a representative assembly was declared an intolerable grievance. The document reached him at a favourable moment. He had been complaining that it was hard to raise a sufficient revenue in his province of New York, that his officers p158 there were in difficulties and the air was full of complaints, so that he had half a mind to sell the country to anybody who would offer a fair price for it. "What," cried William Penn, "sell New York! Don't think of such a thing. Just give it self-government and there will be no more trouble." James concluded to take the advice. Andros was made a gentleman of the king's chamber and presented with a long lease of the island of Alderney. In his place James sent a new governor to New York, with instructions to issue the writs for an election of representatives. With all his faults and in spite of his moroseness, this Stuart prince had many excellent men attached to him; and the new governor for New York was one of the best of them, Colonel Thomas Dongan, an Irishman of broad statesmanlike mind and all the personal magnetism that the Blarney stone is said to impart. His blithe humour veiled a deep earnestness of purpose, long experience with Frenchmen had fitted him to deal with the dangers that were threatening from Canada, and while he was a most devout Catholic none could surpass him in loyalty to Great Britain and its government.
The arrival of Governor Dongan in New York, with the news of his errand, was hailed with vociferous delight. The assembly was duly elected and held its first meeting in Fort James on the 17th of October, 1683. Its composition forcibly reminds us of what places the Duke of York's province consisted. The places represented were Schenectady, Albany, Rensselaerwyck, Esopus, Harlem, New York, Staten Island, Long Island (under the name of Yorkshire in three districts called "ridings"), Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, and distant Pemaquid. There were in all eighteen representatives.1 Several p159 wholesome laws were passed, and an admirable charter was drawn up and sent to England for the duke's approval. All this took some time, and before he had signed the charter an event occurred which wrought many changes. In February, 1685, a stroke of apoplexy carried off Charles II, and the duke became king. His proprietary domain of New York thus became a royal province, one among a group of colonies over which he now exercised similar and equal control, and his policy toward it was altered. He did not sign the charter, but let it lie in abeyance while he was turning over in his mind an alternative scheme the outcome of which we shall presently see.
Meanwhile the sagacious Dongan had his hands full as they could hold of French and Indian diplomacy. Happily the determining feature of the situation was in his favour. We have seen how the pivotal fact in p160 early American history was the alliance between the Five Nations and the white men on the Hudson River, first Dutch, afterwards English. We have seen how they dealt with the Dutch, exchanged peltries for muskets, and then entered upon a mighty career of conquest. How they destroyed the French missions in the Huron country in 1649 is one of the most lurid chapters in history. By Governor Dongan's time they had reduced to a tributary condition nearly all the tribes east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio and Potomac. They had lately wiped out of existence the formidable Susquehannocks, and now guaranteed the safety of Penn's new colony. We have seen how in 1675 they bestowed upon Andros the title of "Corlear," and promised to befriend the English as they had befriended the Dutch. Were they ready to go further, if need be, and attack Onontio himself, the Great White Father, in his strongholds upon the St. Lawrence? It was more than they had yet undertaken, and these dusky warriors of the Stone Age well knew the prowess of the soldiers of France. Dongan with a statesman's foresight knew that a deadly struggle between France and England for supremacy in this wilderness must soon begin, and his military eye saw that the centre of the fight must lie between the Hudson and the St. Lawrence. Either Louis XIV must be checkmated in Canada or he would drive the English from New York. So Dongan's hands were full of Indian diplomacy as he sought to fan the fires of hatred in the Mohawk valley. His opponent, the Marquis Denonville, viceroy of Canada, was also an astute and keen-witted man, as one had need to be in such a position. No Russian game of finesse on the lower Danube was ever played with more wary hand than the game between those two old foxes. While their secret emissaries prowled and intrigued, their highnesses exchanged official letters, usually polite in form, but sometimes crusty, and always lively enough, despite the dust of these two hundred years. On one occasion the Frenchman lectures Dongan for allowing West India rum to be sent to p161 the Long House. "Think you that religion will make any progress, while your traders supply the savages in abundance with the liquor which, as you ought to know, converts them into demons and their wigwams into counterparts of hell?" One seems to see the Irishman's tongue curl under his cheek as he replies, "Methinks our rum doth as little hurt as your brandy, and in the opinion of Christians is much more wholesome." But presently the marquis gets a chance for a little fling. Dongan writes at the end of a letter, "I desire p162 you would order Monsieur de Lamberville2 that soe long as he stays among those people of the Five Nations he would meddle only with the affairs belonging to his priestly function. Sir, I send you some oranges, hearing that they are a rarity in your parts." In Denonville's reply the polite attention is thus acknowledged: "Monsieur, I thank you for your oranges. It is a great pity that they were all rotten."3
In this diplomatic duel the Blarney stone prevailed, and a black and grewsome war-cloud began gathering over Canada. Meanwhile in a chamber of the palace at Versailles the king was maturing his counterplot with the aid of a greater than Denonville, the wily and indomitable Frontenac. That picturesque veteran, now more than seventy years of age, was coming back to Canada, to undertake what could be entrusted to no one less fertile in resources. In a word, he was to surprise New York and wrest it from the English, as the English had wrested it from the Dutch. A force of 1000 French regulars with 600 Canadian militia was to pounce upon Albany and there to seize boats, canoes, and small sloops wherein to glide merrily down the river. In New York harbour a French fleet would arrive in season to meet this force, which no defences there were fit to resist. With the capture of New York the supply of firearms to the Long House would cease. The French could then overcome that barbaric confederacy, afterwards their hands would be free to undertake the conquest of New England. Such was the ambitious scheme of the Most Christian King, but before coming to the latter part of it, New York, the first conquest, must be purged of its damnable heresies. The few Catholic inhabitants must swear allegiance to Louis XIV, and would then be protected from harm. Huguenot refugees were to be sent back to France. All the rest of the people were to be driven to the woods to shift for themselves. Their houses and lands were to be parcelled out p163 among the French troops; all their personal property was to be seized and a certain amount of it divided among the troops; the rest was to be sold at auction and the money paid over into the French treasury.4
With these amiable instructions Frontenac was sent to Canada, but when he arrived, in October, 1689, he found things not as he had expected. It was indeed already known in France that the black war-cloud had burst over the colony, but the horrors of that summer had not yet been told. In all directions the ruins of smoking villages bore witness to the frightful ravages of the Iroquois. The environs of Montreal were a scene of mournful desolation, the town itself had barely escaped capture, and the inhabitants, who had looked out upon friends roasted and devoured before the very gates, were sick with terror. It became necessary for Frontenac to send a force at once to Lake Ontario, where the French had abandoned Fort Frontenac after an unsuccessful attempt to destroy it, so that the Iroquois had forthwith occupied it and got hold of more muskets and ammunition than the red man's boldest fancy had ever dreamed of. The fur trade from the upper lakes had been cut off for two years, and so great had been the destruction of property that a military expedition down the Hudson was utterly out of the question.
Thus it was that the scheme of Louis XIV against New York collapsed at the outset, and thus it soon sank into oblivion, so that we are liable to forget how much we owe to those dreadful Iroquois. Meanwhile in these six years how had it fared with the knightly Irishman and his fair province? James, as we have seen, had undertaken to grant constitutional government to New York, and was about ready to sign a charter, when suddenly he became king and changed his mind. This change of purpose had a military reason. p164 In order to oppose a more solid front to Canada, James wished to unite all his northern colonies under a single military governor. Circumstances seemed to favour him. Massachusetts, the most populous and powerful of the colonies, had sustained a bitter quarrel with Charles II during the whole of that king's reign, until just before his death he had succeeded in getting a chancery decree annulling the charter of Massachusetts. In 1686 James II sent Sir Edmund Andros to Boston to assume the government over all New England. Poor little Plymouth had never had a charter, and those of Connecticut and Rhode Island might be summarily seized. As for New York, the king revoked his half-granted charter and annexed that province to New England. New Jersey soon met the same fate, and legal proceedings were begun against the charter of Maryland. Apparently nothing was safe except the sturdy infant colony of William Penn, whose good-will the king could not afford to alienate.
In August, 1688, Andros came in state to New York, and with due ceremonies the seal of that province was broken in his presence, and the seal of united New England was ordered to be used in its stead. Ex-Governor Dongan remained in the neighbourhood for about a year, attending to some private business, and then went home to Ireland, where he afterwards became Earl of Limerick. After a stay of two months in New York and Albany, Sir Edmund Andros returned to Boston in October, 1688, carrying off with him such of the New York public records as he wished to have on hand for reference, and leaving Francis Nicholson behind as his representative and lieutenant. No wonder if the good people on Manhattan Island resented this unceremonious treatment. Thus to p165 ignore their natural and proper sentiments of local patriotism, and summarily annex them to New England, was an outrage of the worst sort, and put a severe strain upon such feelings of loyalty as they may have cherished toward James II.
But the strain did not endure long. The rule of Andros in Boston had already become insupportable. Arbitrary taxes were imposed, common lands were encroached upon, and the writ of habeas corpus was suspended. A strict and vexatious censorship was kept over the press. All the public records of the late New England governments were ordered to be brought to Boston, whither it thus became necessary to make a tedious journey in order to consult them. All deeds and wills were required to be registered in Boston, and excessive fees were charged for the registry. It was proclaimed that all private titles to land were to be ransacked, and that whoever wished to have his title confirmed must pay a heavy quit-rent, which under the circumstances amounted to blackmail. The representative assembly was abolished. The power of taxation was taken from the town meetings and lodged with the governor. And when the town of Ipswich, led by its pastor, John Wise, one of the most learned and eminent men in his time, made a protest against this crowning iniquity, the sturdy pastor was thrown into prison, fined £50 (i.e. at least $1000), and suspended from the ministry. In view of such facts the evil repute acquired by Andros in New England cannot well be said to have been undeserved. He earned it by obeying too thoroughly the orders of a master whose conduct Englishmen could not endure. Early in 1688 a commission headed by Increase Mather, president of Harvard College, was sent over to England to expostulate with James II. They found England aglow with the spirit of rebellion. The flames burst forth when on the 5th of November (Guy Fawkes's day!) the Prince of Orange landed in Devonshire. Before Christmas the last Stuart king had fled beyond sea, leaving a vacant throne.
p166 It was of course a moment of engrossing business for the great Dutch prince, and he took the occasion to prepare a short letter for the American colonies enjoining it upon them to retain all King James's arrangements undisturbed for the present until leisure should be found for revising them. Dr. Mather did not wish to have any such instructions sent to Boston, for he saw in them the possibility that Andros might hold over until it would be awkward to get rid of him without interfering with some plan of William III. By skilful pleading with the new king, in which he was aided by Sir William Phips, the wily Mather succeeded in delaying the departure of the letter. This was in February, 1689, and it was not until late in March that the flight of James II and the success of the Prince of Orange became known in Massachusetts. The glowing embers of rebellion were quickly fanned into a blaze. On the 18th of April armed yeomanry began pouring into Boston in response to the signal on Beacon Hill, and Sir Edmund saw that his hour had come. He tried to escape to the Rose frigate in the harbour, in the hope of finding a refuge in New York, but his Puritan foes had no mind to let him off so easily. He was seized and securely lodged in jail, and several of his agents and abettors were also imprisoned, among them Chief Justice Dudley, who had lately had the impudence to tell the people of New England that the only liberty left them was that of not being sold for slaves.
Massachusetts then at once restored her old government as it was before her charter was annulled, and she caused this to be announced in England, explaining that it was done provisionally until the new king's pleasure should be known. Obviously the improvement in her position through Dr. Mather's astuteness was great. No one could interpret her rebellion as aimed at any other sovereign than the dethroned James. Instantly the other New England colonies followed suit. Plymouth, Rhode Island, and Connecticut quietly resumed p167 their old governments. James's consolidated New England thus fell to pieces.
There were people in New York upon whom these events were not for a moment lost. The lieutenant-governor, Francis Nicholson, was in an awkward position. If Andros had come away in the Rose frigate to New York, where he could direct affairs from Fort James, all would have been simple enough. If he had been killed there would have been no difficulty, for Nicholson would have become acting-governor. But as Andros was only locked up, Nicholson did not know just in what light to regard himself or just how much authority to assume. He belonged to that large class of commonplace men who are afraid of assuming responsibility. p168 So he tried to get messages to Andros in his Boston jail, but found very little counsel or comfort in that way.
Nicholson's government in New York was supported by three members of the council. They were Dutch citizens of the highest social position: Frederick Philipse, the richest man in the province, Stephanus van Cortlandt, mayor of New York, and Nicholas Bayard, colonel of the city regiment of train-bands. The other members of the council were scattered, some of them as far away as Pemaquid. These three were the only ones present in the city. On the 26th of April they heard of the imprisonment of Andros, and the very next day they heard that Louis XIV had declared war against Great Britain and the Netherlands. This report was premature, for war was not declared until May 7th, but the very air was full of premonitions of that bloody struggle which was to last for eight years. Small blame to Nicholson and his three councillors if the grim tidings disturbed them! Small blame to the mass of worthy citizens if something like a panic was created! There were many Huguenot refugees in the city; they had been coming for several years, and especially for the last four years since the king had revoked the Edict of Nantes; and they had been received with warm welcome. They knew, as everybody knew, that Louis XIV had a very long arm. There was never a time when an attack by France seemed more formidable than in 1689. The king had not yet been cast down from his pinnacle of military glory, and the spirit of Catholic propagandism had been taking fuller and fuller possession of him. We now know what his truculent purpose was with regard to New York. Frontenac was just starting to execute it. Of course the burghers of New York did not know of those p169 secret instructions to Frontenac, but they understood perfectly the danger of the situation. As for the frightful blow with which the Iroquois baffled the scheme of Louis XIV (which for the sake of clearness we have mentioned by anticipation), it did not come till the summer of 1689, and still further time was needed to disclose its effects. In the spring of that year it was still in the future.
It was not at all strange, then, that the elements of an anti-Catholic panic were rife in New York. Other things contributed to destroy confidence and make men distrustful of one another. In spite of all pretences of liberality, it had always been the design of James II to force the Catholic faith upon the American colonies; so he afterwards told Pope Innocent XI.5 People were not wrong, then, in suspecting him. The two regiments of regular troops which Andros had brought to America were made up of Irish Catholics, and one had been commanded by Nicholson, who was now in command of New York. Nicholson was really an Episcopalian, but it was rumoured that he had knelt at the Mass once on Hounslow Heath in the presence of King James, and many people believed him to be a Papist in disguise.
At the first news of war Nicholson directed the city train-bands to take turns in guarding Fort James, and a watch was placed upon Coney Island to look out for French p170 ships. The money collected as revenue was placed within the fort for safety, and the new receipts after May-day were to be applied to building new fortifications. At this juncture a cargo of wine arrived from Europe, consigned to a well-known wine-merchant, Jacob Leisler. The duty was about a hundred pounds sterling, and Leisler refused to pay it, on the ground that Matthew Plowman, collector of the port, was a Roman Catholic, and that since King James's flight no duly qualified government existed in New York.
This Jacob Leisler was a German of humble origin, born at Frankfort-on‑the‑Main. In earlier days he had been a soldier in the pay of the West India Company, and had come to New Amsterdam a few years before its capture by the English. A residence of thirty years had made him one of the most prosperous and conspicuous citizens. Through his marriage with Elsie Tymens, a niece of Anneke Jans, he had become connected with the aristocracy, but was not cordially welcomed among such people. One can imagine that Van Cortlandt and Bayard might not feel proud of such a connection, and that occasions would be afforded for Leisler to cherish resentment. Indeed, there had been a bitter quarrel, with one or two lawsuits between Leisler and these two gentlemen, so that their families were not on speaking terms. Leisler was a man of integrity, noted for fair and honourable dealing in matters of business. We hear, too, that he was kind-hearted and generous with money. But he was evidently of coarse fibre, ignorant, stubborn, and vain, — just the man to be seized and dominated by a fixed idea. His letters are those of a man with too little education to shape his sentences correctly. He seems to have had something of the heresy-hunting temper, for we have already met him once in this narrative as deacon of Nieuwenhuysen's church, bringing charges of "false preaching" against Dominie Van Rensselaer, losing his suit, and getting saddled with the costs of it. But his ruling passion was hatred of Popery, and his p171 dominant idea was rooted in the dread of it. He could see no good in any Romanist; his eyes were blind to the loyal virtues of such a man as Dongan, who was quite above and beyond his ken; he believed Nicholson to be a Papist. These men had been servants of James Stuart, who was now harboured by the French king; what were they staying about New York for if not to deliver it into the hands of the enemy? The Boston men had struck with promptness and decision, New York must do the same, and Jacob Leisler would be God's instrument in bringing this to pass.
Besides this dread of Popery, there was another feeling that Leisler represented. Long-continued arbitrary taxation and the repeated failure to obtain representative government had caused much popular discontent. Though the population of the little city was scarcely more than 4000 souls, a distinction of classes was plainly to be seen. Without regard to race, the small shopkeepers, small farmers, sailors, shipwrights, and artisans were far apart in their sympathies from the rich fur traders, patroons, lawyers, and royal officials. The general disappointment sharpened the distrust felt toward people in high station, especially toward such as had accepted office from the Catholic king, who had not kept his promises. Vague democratic ideas and hopes still hazier were in the air. Along with the indignation at the recent attempt to annex the province to New England, there was exuberant pleasure in the thought that the throne was now to be occupied by a Dutch king; and there was a dim half-shaped notion that a prompt and fervid expression of allegiance to William of Orange would be helpful in winning from him a grant of popular liberties. Coupling all this with the fear that James's officials might betray the city to the French, we find, I think, a certain coherence among the notions that were teeming in Leisler's rugged and fanatical mind. A wealthy and prominent citizen, he was in lack of refinement and education like the mob, and so had its confidence, which was no doubt enhanced by his known integrity and energy. p172 He may well have deemed himself marked out for the leader of a popular movement, and believed that he could establish a claim upon the good graces of William III by saving for him his province of New York despite the diabolical plots of Catholic officials and the Dutch aristocrats who supported them; for although such men as Bayard and Van Cortlandt were thorough Protestants and deacons in the Dutch Reformed Church, they were none the less to Leisler's distorted fancy a "crew of Papistical renegades."
It is clear that the feelings which found vent in Leisler's conduct had long been gathering in this little community. His refusal to pay his tax was followed by other refusals. Nicholson's act in sheltering the public revenues within the fort was interpreted as part of a deep-laid plan for using them against the people. All through the month of May agitated whispers ran about the town; a French fleet was coming, and traitors in power were ready to welcome it. Popular imagination filled the woods on Staten Island with emissaries of Louis XIV, and it was said that Nicholson had gone over there by night to consult with them. Dongan was down at Navesink, getting his armed brigantine ready to take him back to England; in that golden age of pirates it was necessary for ships to go armed; that innocent vessel was supposed to be intended for a part in the plot.
At last on May 30 Nicholson got into an altercation with an insubordinate lieutenant in Captain De Peyster's train-band. "Who commands this fort, you or I?" shouted the angry governor. Probably the lieutenant made some reference to the city being in danger, which caused Nicholson to retort, "I would rather see the city on fire than take the impudence of such fellows as you," or words to that effect. What he really said may have been quite different in purport, but at all events fire was mentioned, and that was fire enough to kindle insurrection. The rash remark was overheard, it was said that the governor had threatened to burn the town, and next p173 morning the streets were in an uproar. Leisler himself was captain of one of the train-bands. His company, led by Joost Stoll, the sergeant, marched to Fort James, shouting, "They have betrayed us, and are going to murder us." The lieutenant whom Nicholson had upbraided let them into the fort, and presently Leisler arrived there and took command. That afternoon while Nicholson and his three councilmen were in the City Hall discussing the situation, Captain Lodwyck, at the head of his company, entered the chamber and demanded the keys of the fort. There was no help for it, so the keys were given him.
p174 Two days of uncertainty followed, while Leisler seems to have been contending with sundry symptoms of timidity and scrupulousness on the part of some of the other captains. On June 3, an English ship from Barbadoes arrived at Sandy Hook. Rumour transformed her first into a French ship and then into a French fleet. Amid wild excitement the militia turned upon their captains and forced them to sign a "Declaration" prepared by Leisler, in which he announced that since the city was in danger and without any properly authorized government, he proposed in behalf of the people to hold the fort until King William should send some duly accredited person to take command. When this announcement was read aloud to the multitude it was greeted with deafening hurrahs. One week from that day the discomfited Nicholson sailed for England in Dongan's brigantine. He thought it best to see the king at once and make his own report. His departure left the three councilmen as the only regular representatives of royal authority in the province. But Leisler now assumed more dignity. Some of the insurrectionary party declared that there had been no lawful Christian government in England since the death of Oliver Cromwell. Leisler likened himself to Cromwell. He had turned out the traitors and the time had come when the Lord Jehovah must rule New York through the sword in the hands of his saints. News came that the new sovereigns William and Mary had been officially proclaimed at Hartford, and that post-riders were on their way to New York with a copy of the proclamation. Mayor Van Cortlandt and Colonel Bayard rode many miles out into the country to greet them, but Leisler's emissaries got ahead of these gentlemen and secured the proclamation first, so that next day it was read aloud by Leisler himself in the fort and by one of his captains in the City Hall, and he could claim the credit of having proclaimed the new sovereigns. At the same time he ordered that Fort James should henceforth be called Fort William.
p175 On the 24th of June a copy of that royal proclamation which Dr. Mather had withheld from the knowledge of Boston reached New York and found its way into the hands of Mayor Van Cortlandt. It continued all King James's appointments provisionally until King William should have time to review the situation. Obviously, then, the government of New York, since the imprisonment of Andros and the departure of Nicholson, was legally vested in the councilmen Philipse, Van Cortlandt, and Bayard. If this proclamation had arrived a month earlier it would have cut away the ground from under Leisler's feet. Now he had such consolidated popular support as to venture to defy it on grounds of his own. King William was evidently ignorant of the situation. He never would willingly have entrusted responsible command to these "popishly affected, lying dogs," not he. These rogues must be put down, and the king must be told why. The very next day Leisler turned the city government out of doors, and two or three gentlemen were roughly handled by the soldiers, but Bayard escaped and made his way to Albany. Leisler called a convention, and a committee of safety was organized which appointed him commander-in‑chief over the whole province.
While these things were going on, Nicholson was in mid-ocean on his way to England. The king, in ignorance of what had occurred, addressed a letter to him with words of advice and counsel; the letter was not addressed to Nicholson by name, but to "Our lieutenant-governor and commander-in‑chief of our province of New York in America." After sundry vicissitudes this letter reached New York early in December and was received by p176 Leisler, who understood it to be addressed to himself.6 His vanity was tickled to the bursting point. He had sent his friend, Joost Stoll, keeper of a dram-shop, and rather a laughable sort of envoy, to explain matters to the king; and now, doubtless, this was the response! So Leisler at once assumed the town of Lieutenant-Governor, appointed a council, and took his seat next Sunday in the gubernatorial pew at church, to the intense disgust and chagrin of the aristocrats among the worshippers.
The summer and autumn had been peaceful, save now and then for a few arbitrary arrests. But now troubles began to thicken about Leisler. As governor he needed revenue and began to look at the collection of taxes from a new point p178 of view. In default of any new statute, he proclaimed that the Colonial Act of 1683 with regard to customs and excise was still valid and would be rigorously enforced. That act, albeit passed by New York's first popular assembly,7 that assembly so long desired and prayed for, had never enjoyed popular favour; doubtless because it put an end to the two years of free trade which had ensued upon the departure of Andros in 1681. The history of this piece of legislation was extremely curious. Passed by a popular assembly, it was disallowed by the Duke of York, but was nevertheless continued in operation by Governor Dongan and his council, for want of something better. But neither under Dongan nor under Nicholson was it very strictly enforced.8 Now by adopting this unpalatable act the unhappy Leisler at once sacrificed a large part of his popular support. People tore down the copies of his proclamation from the walls and trees where they were posted. Merchants declared his title unsound and refused to pay duties to his collector. He retorted savagely with fines and confiscations. Men were dragged to prison till the jails were full. The fact that he could keep up such a course shows how strong at the outset must have been the popular impulse that brought him into power.
Outside the city his authority was more easily defied. When he appointed new sheriffs and justices, and ordered the old ones to give up their commissions, he was sometimes obeyed but often openly derided. Albany flatly refused to acknowledge his authority. Late in the summer the mayor, Peter Schuyler, and his brother-in‑law, Robert Livingston, called a convention and took measures for protection against the French, but they would have nothing to say to Leisler. About this time Leisler's old friend, Jacob Milborne, returned from a visit to Europe and became his most energetic supporter. Milborne was an p179 Englishman of Anabaptist proclivities. He had some book knowledge and some skill in writing, and was determined to have all the ills in the world mended, say by the year 1700. If he had lived in these days he would have edited some anarchist newspaper. Leisler deemed him a treasure of knowledge and capacity and sent him up the river with three sloops to tame the frowardness of Albany. His persuasive tongue won a number of adherents and succeeded in sowing some seeds of dissension, but Livingston and Schuyler were too much for him, and his mission was unsuccessful.
This was in November, 1689, and Frontenac had arrived in Canada. As we have seen, the Iroquois had been there before him, and his grand scheme for conquering New York dwindled ignominiously into the sending of three scalping parties to destroy the most exposed frontier settlements of the Dutch and English. It was necessary to make some show of strength in order to retrieve in the minds of the Indians the somewhat shaken military reputation of the French. The Algonquin allies must be encouraged and the Iroquois foes confounded, and there was nothing, of course, that the red men appreciated more highly than a wholesale massacre. The distances to be traversed were long and difficult, and this made it all the easier to surprise the remote villages that sometimes forgot to be watchful against the diabolism that lurked in the forest. The first of the three scalping parties was sent to the Hudson River, the second into New Hampshire, the third into Maine.
The first party consisted of 114 French Canadians skilled in all manner of woodcraft, and 96 Christian Indians; their leaders were French noblemen, among them the famous LeMoyne d'Iberville, founder of Louisiana. The march of seventeen days was attended with terrible hardships. It was an alternation of thawing and freezing. On one day they were struggling against a blinding snowstorm, on another they were half drowned in the mud and slush of treacherous swamps, on another their ears and toes were p180 frozen in the icy wind. Their coats and blankets were torn to shreds in the stubborn underbrush, and their stock of food, dragged on sleds, was not enough, so that they had to be put on starving rations. They could not have encountered more hardship if they had been a party of scientific explorers, and they fought their way through it all with the tenacity and the ferocious zeal of crusaders. Their original plan was to strike at Albany, but as the limit of human endurance was approaching before they could accomplish the distance, they turned upon Schenectady, some fifteen miles nearer. This little Dutch village was the extreme frontier outpost of the New York colony. Its population numbered about 150 souls. It was surrounded by a palisade and defended by a blockhouse in which there were eight or ten Connecticut militia. The Leisler affair had bred civil dudgeon in this little community. Most of the people were Leislerites. The chief magistrate, John Glen, an adherent of Schuyler, was held in disfavour, and out of sheer spite and insubordination the people disobeyed his orders to mount guard. They left their two gates open, and placed at each a big snow image as sentinel. The idea that they could now be in danger from Canada, harrowed and humbled as it had lately been by their friends the Iroquois, they scouted as preposterous. It was argued that the beaten French were not likely to be in a mood for distant expeditions.
And so it happened that toward midnight of the 8th of February, 1690, in the midst of a freezing, lightly whirling and drifting snowstorm their fate overtook them. The French war-party, haggard and glaring, maddened with suffering, came with crouching stealth and exultant spring, like a band of tigers. Noiselessly they crept in and leisurely arranged themselves in a cordon around the sleeping village within the palisade, cutting off all escape. When all was ready, a terrific war-whoop awoke the inhabitants to their doom. "No pen can write and no tongue express," said brave old Peter Schuyler, "the p181 cruelties that were wrought that night." The work was sharp and quick. About sixty were killed, and the other ninety captured. Then the butchers paused to appease their famine out of the rude cellars and larders of their victims, and to sleep until morning the sleep of the just. The Connecticut militia were all among the slain. The p182 magistrate was strongly fortified in his house on a hill outside the enclosure, but he was not attacked. He had more than once rescued French prisoners from the firebrands of the Mohawks, and in requital of this kindness Iberville not only spared him and his family, but in a spirit of chivalry gave back to him about sixty out of the ninety prisoners with polite and edifying speeches. Before noon of the next day, leaving Schenectady a heap of ashes, mangled corpses, and charred timbers, the party started on its return march to Montreal, carrying the other thirty prisoners to be tortured to death in a leisurely and comfortable way. The news of the disaster spread quickly through the Mohawk valley, and a sturdy company of warriors of the Long House pursued the French party with sleuth-hound tenacity until near Montreal, when at last they overtook them and partially amended the reckoning by killing fifteen or twenty.
As a fresh demonstration of the danger from France, the affair of Schenectady served to strengthen Leisler's position. He sent Milborne with 160 men to aid in defending Albany. As it was not a time when one would feel like refusing help from any quarter, Milborne and his men were admitted into the town, and Leisler's authority was virtually recognized.
When in April, however, he issued writs for the election of an assembly, his weakness was revealed. Imperative need of the sinews of war drove him to this step. Many people refused to pay taxes, and it was necessary to call an assembly of representatives of the people. But some towns refused to choose representatives on the ground that Leisler was usurping authority. This tone was taken especially by the Puritan towns on Long Island, which wished to be joined to Connecticut and always welcomed a chance to annoy the government at New York, whatever it might be.
Leisler's next step was a memorable event in American history. He called for a Congress of American colonies to concert measures of attack upon Canada; and this Congress, p183 the first of a series which was by and by to end in the great Continental Congress, assembled in New York on the first of May, 1690. None of the southern colonies took part in it. The Carolinas were in their early infancy, Virginia was too remote to feel keenly interested. The task of invading Canada was shared between New York, Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and Maryland. There were to be 855 men from these colonies,9 and the Iroquois sachems promised to add 1800 warriors. p184 As finally carried out, a part of the expedition, under Sir William Phips, of Massachusetts, sailed up the St. Lawrence and laid siege to Quebec; while the rest of the allied forces, under Fitz John Winthrop, of Connecticut, proceeded from Albany toward Montreal. But these amateur generals were no match for Frontenac, and when they turned their faces southward it was with wiser heads but sadder hearts than when they started. Boston preachers, with bated breath, spoke of "this awful frown of God." Leisler stormed and raved, and saw disguised Papists everywhere, as usual. The affair ended in bitter recriminations, and Massachusetts was driven to issue paper money, which plagued her till Thomas Hutchinson got her out of the scrape in 1749.
What a picturesque creature was Frontenac! We can seem to see him now, aristocrat and courtier to the ends of his fingers, with his gleaming black eyes, the frost of seventy winters on his brow, and the sardonic smile on his lips, as he presides over a grim council of sachems; we see him as he suddenly daubs vermilion on his cheeks and seizes a tomahawk, and leads off the war-dance, screaming like a cougar and inflaming to madness those warriors of the Stone Age. Here it need only be said that after checkmating Leisler he devoted himself to clearing off scores with the Iroquois, and in 1696, in his seventy-eighth year, after one of the most remarkable forest campaigns on record, he dealt the Long House a blow from which it never quite recovered. Again we may reflect how fortunate it was for New York that the Iroquois were there to serve as a buffer against this redoubtable foe.
To go back to the May of 1690, the month of the Colonial Congress, — it saw Leisler's doom approaching. His friend Joost Stoll brought him evil tidings from London. The king had not so much as deigned to look at that grotesque p185 ambassador. Not a scrap of notice or attention could he get from anybody. But the king had shown favour to Nicholson by making him lieutenant-governor of Virginia. Still worse, he had appointed Colonel Henry Sloughter to be governor of New York, and Major Richard Ingoldsby to be lieutenant-governor. New York was to have a free government with representative assemblies. One of the councilmen was to be Joseph Dudley, the founder of New England Toryism, who had been chief aid and abettor of Andros in Boston. And worst of all, among the old members of the council now reappointed were Philipse and Van Cortlandt and Bayard. As for Jacob Leisler, his existence had not been so much as recognized. There was a terrible sound to this news. Leisler's violence had not spared these members of the council. He had accused them of conspiracy against him. He had seized Bayard and the attorney-general, William Nicolls, and kept them for months in prison and in irons, suffering doleful misery. Now these "Papist rogues," as his distempered fancy called them, were high in the great Protestant king's favour, while Jacob Leisler, most devoted of his Protestant servants, was ominously ignored! I think we may safely suppose that such facts were too much for that poor distorted mind to take in. How could such things be? Stoll must have been deceived; he was a sturdy old toper and must have got things muddled. His news was simply incredible.
Only on the supposition that Leisler's mind was still half dazed can we explain his subsequent conduct, which finally reached the height of madness. Months were yet to pass p186 before the catastrophe, for various affairs delayed the new governor and his party. Meanwhile Leisler grew more and more tyrannical until petitions against him were sent to London, the dominies came in and rebuked him in the name of the Lord, old women taunted and defied him on the street, and the mob threw stones at him and called him "Dog driver," "Deacon Jailer," "Little Cromwell," "General Hog," and other choice epitaphs. The great democrat had fallen from grace. It was said that the wedding in January, 1691, when he young daughter Mary was married to his staunch friend Milborne, was more like a funeral than a wedding.
It seems proper here to make some mention of a historical novel, "The Begum's Daughter," by the late Edwin Lasseter Bynner, which is based upon the events of Leisler's time. Though it does not rise to the very high level of the same author's "Agnes Surriage," it is an extremely creditable piece of work. As a study in history, it reflects a trifle too closely, perhaps, the bitter feelings of the aristocrats, but after making a slight allowance for this, "The Begum's Daughter" gives us a truthful picture of the time and is worth reading by all who are interested in American history.10
It was sorely against her will that Mary Leisler consented to become the bride of Jacob Milborne. It was generally believed that she entertained a very decided preference for Abraham Gouverneur, one of two young Huguenot brothers, whose family has played an important part in American history. Against poor Mary's submissiveness to her father's despotic and violent will, Mr. Bynner has furnished us with an impressive contrast in the character which he attributes to her younger sister, Hester. The element of domestic conflict needed p187 in the story is supplied by having Hester betrothed to the handsome and gallant son of Van Cortlandt, while her father is determined that she shall marry Barent Rynders, the sensible but ungainly son of a blacksmith. Hester's will is as strong as her father's, in spite of his blustering threats, although nearly benumbed with terror, she shows herself as unyielding as adamant. But after the great catastrophe, when her aristocratic lover imprudently identifies himself with the scorn and hatred felt by his family for her unfortunate father's memory, the high-spirited girl instantly and irrevocably dismisses him. The novel skilfully surmounts whatever difficulties there may be in the way of her transferring her affections to the worthy Barent Rynders. Such situations afford fine opportunities for psychological treatment. As a matter of history, Hester Leisler married Rynders, while her widowed sister Mary, set free to consult her own inclinations, became the wife of the brilliant young Huguenot, Abraham Gouverneur. Mary's son, Nicholas Gouverneur, married Hester's daughter, Gertrude Rynders, and a son of this marriage, Isaac Gouverneur, was the grandfather of Gouverneur Morris, one of the ablest members of the immortal convention that framed the Constitution of the United States. This eminent statesman was thus lineally descended from Jacob Leisler through two of his daughters.
To go back to the winter day of 1691, which witnessed Mary's first dreary wedding, that same day saw the little fleet of the new governor, Henry Sloughter, far out on the broad Atlantic, struggling for its life. The ships were separated by the fury of the storm, and the Archangel frigate, with the governor on board, ran aground on one of the Bermuda Islands, and had to wait for repairs. The other three ships, in one of which was Ingoldsby, the lieutenant-governor, arrived in New York harbour on the 29th of January. A small force of regular troops was on board, and Ingoldsby sent word to Leisler to admit these soldiers into Fort William without delay. Leisler p188 refused to recognize Ingoldsby's authority or to surrender the fort without a written order from King William or from Governor Sloughter. Unfortunately Ingoldsby had no official documents of any sort with him; they were all in the Archangel. After waiting four days he landed his troops with much circumspection and quartered them in the City Hall. He demanded the release of Bayard and Nicolls, whom the king had appointed as councilmen. But this simply infuriated Leisler, and confirmed him in a notion which he had begun to entertain, that Ingoldsby and his company were Catholic conspirators who had escaped from England and now wished to seize the fort and hold New York for King James.
In such wise did things remain for six weeks without any event of importance. Ingoldsby, aided by several of the newly named councilmen, began collecting militia to reinforce his regulars, but willingly took the advice of Governor Treat of Connecticut, that he should bear with Leisler as patiently as possible until Sloughter's arrival should simplify the situation. Meanwhile Leisler received from Governor Treat and from many friends grave warnings to take heed what he was doing and stop before it should be too late.
All such friendly entreaties were lost upon the infatuated Leisler. On March 17th, quite losing his patience, he sent word to Ingoldsby to disband his forces, and gave him two hours to reply. Not getting a satisfactory answer, he fired upon the king's troops, and a few were killed and wounded. And now occurred an incident of evil omen indeed. Leisler had ordered a militia garrison in the Vly blockhouse at the Water Gate to fire upon a party of Ingoldsby's troops in the Slip; but at this juncture the men threw down their arms, abandoned the blockhouse, and dispersed to their homes!
Nothing was done next day, but the next thereafter at nightfall the Archangel frigate arrived at the Narrows. Word was sent down to Sloughter to make all haste. He p189 came up the harbour in a boat, went straight into the City Hall, and read aloud his commission as royal governor. After taking the oath of office he sent Ingoldsby to demand the instant surrender of Fort William, but with almost incredible fatuity Leisler insisted upon retaining it until a written order from the king addressed to him, Jacob Leisler, by name should be shown him. Evidently the poor man's mind was dazed. That in view of all that had happened the king should utterly ignore his faithful Protestant "lieutenant-governor" Leisler was a fact too strange for him to grasp. From a soul thus stiffened and benumbed no rational conduct was to be expected. Toward midnight a second demand was made, and then Leisler sent the diplomatic Milborne to explain that it was against the rule to surrender the fort in the night. Sloughter's only reply was to make a sign to the guards, who forthwith seized Milborne and dragged him off to jail.
In the morning Leisler sent a conciliatory letter to the governor, disclaiming any wish to withhold the fort from him, but asking further explanation on certain points. Sloughter took no notice of the letter, but sent Ingoldsby to order the garrison of Fort William to ground arms and march out, promising full and free pardon to all concerned in the late proceedings except Leisler and his council. The men instantly obeyed, and the forlorn usurper was left alone. In a few moments Bayard and Nicolls, pale and haggard with ill usage, were set free from their dungeon, and Leisler was cast into it, with the same chain upon his leg that Bayard had worn for more than a year.
On March 30th the prisoners were brought before a court over which Dudley presided. They were charged with treason and murder for refusing to surrender the fort upon Ingoldsby's arrival, and for firing upon his troops and thereby causing a wanton and wicked destruction of life. No p190 notice was taken of Leisler's original usurpation of power, nor was allusion made to the complaints brought against him for tyranny. After a week's trial Leisler and Milborne with six others were found guilty and sentenced to death. An appeal was taken to the king, but before it was heard from, the tragedy was ended. All were pardoned except Leisler and Milborne. The pressure brought upon the governor to execute the sentence in their case was greater than could be resisted. The hatred they had aroused was so violent and bitter that their death on the gallows was hardly enough to appease it. Sloughter himself seems to have regarded them as arrant knaves and unworthy to live, but he hesitated about acting after an appeal had been made to the crown. One chief argument used to overcome his hesitancy was a statement that the Mohawks were disgusted with Leisler's management of the war and with his opposition to their esteemed friend and ally, Peter Schuyler. So angry were these barbarians, it was said, that they would refuse to join in the account upon Canada until Leisler should be put to death. Tradition asserts that some of Colonel Bayard's friends invited Sloughter to a wedding feast and plied him with wine and schnapps until he was induced to sign the death-warrant without knowing what he was about. This tradition cannot be certified, but as it was in existence as early as 1698, it may very likely have some foundation in fact.
On a dark and rainy morning in May the unfortunate Leisler and his daughter's bridegroom were led to the gallows, which stood near the present site of the World Building in Park Row. A crowd was assembled in the cold rain to witness the execution, and in that crowd were two parties. Some wept and groaned at the fate of the prisoners, others declared that hanging was too good for them, — they ought to be burned with slow fires in the Indian manner. Milborne spoke in a tone of vindictive anger, but Leisler behaved with Christian dignity. He said: "So far from revenge do we depart p191 this world, that we require and make it our dying request to all our relations and friends, that they should in time to come be forgetful of any injury done to us, or either of us, so that on both sides the discord and dissension (which were created by the Devil in the beginning) may with our ashes be buried in oblivion, never more to rise up for the trouble of posterity. . . . All that for our dying comfort we can say concerning the point for which we are condemned, is to declare as our last words, before that God whom we hope before long to see, that our sole aim and object in the conduct of the government was to maintain the interest of our sovereign Lord and Lady and the reformed Protestant churches of these parts."
Concerning Leisler's essential integrity of purpose there can be little doubt. His methods were arbitrary and many of his acts tyrannical, and the bitter hatred felt for him had doubtless adequate cause. It has been the fashion with some writers11 to treat him as a mere demagogue actuated by no other motive than vulgar ambition. But this theory does not explain his conduct. Insane as was his persistence after Ingoldsby's arrival, it is not reasonable to suppose that during the two years of his rule over New York he can ever have deliberately intended to resist King William and bring about a revolution. Nor can it for a moment be allowed, as has sometimes been insinuated, that the anti-Catholic panic was either got up by Leisler or used by him as a blind for concealing his real intentions. There can be no doubt, as we have already seen, that there was plenty of apparent ground for the panic, or that Leisler's impulse in assuming the government was thoroughly honest. Unquestionably he believed himself, in holding New York against Papist conspirators, to be doing a great and needed service to his Protestant king; and when he found himself simply ignored and set aside without a word, his mind was confronted with a fact too deep for him to fathom. There is something very pathetic in his utter p192 inability to grasp the fact that there was nowhere a missive from the king addressed to him by name.
Had things gone as Leisler hoped and expected, the aristocratic party and the friends of Andros and Tories like Dudley, and all who had accepted honours or office from James II, would have been snubbed by the new king, while his own prompt action in saving New York would have been cordially recognized by making him governor or at least a member of the council, and thus the cause of democracy would be furthered and helped. Thenceforth the name of Leisler would be inseparably associated with the firm establishment of representative government and the first triumph of democracy in the province of New York. In this dream Leisler was mistaken because he totally misconceived so many essential facts in the case, but the kind of ambition which it discloses is not a vulgar kind or such as to make it proper to stamp him with the name of demagogue. Even as it is, even in spite of his blunders and his failure, in spite of the violence and fanaticism which stain his record, Leisler stands as one of the early representatives of ideas since recognized as wholesome and statesmanlike. Moreover, the name of the man who called together the first Congress of American colonies must always be pronounced with respect.
As for the execution of Leisler and Milborne, it was of course entirely legal. They had caused a wanton loss of life while resisting the king's committed officers, and there was no court of that day, as there is no court of the present day, which would not regard such an offence as properly punishable with death. Nevertheless it was afterwards generally admitted that the execution was a mistake. It made martyrs of the two victims. Increase Mather declared that they were "barbarously murdered," and there were many in New York who said the same. Four years afterward Parliament reversed the attainder against Leisler and Milborne, and their p193 estates were restored to their families. But the legacy of hatred remained, and the spirit of dissension so earnestly deprecated in Leisler's dying speech, far from being buried in oblivion with his ashes, renewed its life from year to year, and it was long before it ceased to vex men's minds.
1 This assembly divided New York and its appendages into twelve counties, the names of some of which are curious: New York, Westchester, Dutchess (after the duke's new wife, Mary of Modena), Albany, Ulster (after the duke's Irish earldom), Orange (after William, the duke's Dutch son-in‑law, destined to supplant him), Richmond (probably after Louise de Keroualle's bastard), Kings, Queens, Suffolk (a good name for such a Puritan county), Duke's (including Martha's Vineyard and neighbouring islands), and Cornwall (comprising the Maine districts). See Brodhead's History of the State of New York, II.385, 386.
2 A Jesuit very adroit and busy in political intrigue.
3 New York Colonial Documents, III.462‑465, 472.
4 Mémoire pour servir d'Instruction sur l'Entreprise de la Nouvelle York, 7 juin, 1689; New York Colonial Documents, IX.422.
5 Brodhead, History of the State of New York, II.531.
6 The circumstances under which Leisler obtained the letter should be noted. The bearer of the king's despatches, John Riggs, expected to deliver it to the three councilmen, but in passing through Boston he was told that he ought to deliver it to Leisler, who was actually in command at New York. To Riggs, coming from England, this was puzzling, for he was sure that there was nothing in the packet intended for any such person as Leisler. When Riggs arrived in New York late at night, he met Philipse and Bayard at the latter's house, and they sent for Van Cortlandt, who was out of town. On Van Cortlandt's arrival next morning, Riggs would have delivered the packet to the three councilmen in presence of each other. But early in the morning Leisler sent a party of soldiers who arrested Riggs and took him to Fort William. Van Cortlandt and Philipse, hearing of this, followed him thither, and an altercation ensued, in which Leisler called them rogues and papistical dogs who had nothing to do with government. He showed Riggs his commission from the council of safety, and prevailed upon him to deliver the packet to himself. He gave Riggs a written receipt for the packet.
No doubt Leisler, as a "crank" with his brain dominated by a narrow group of morbid fixed ideas, believed that King William, the Protestant, could not possibly have intended his letters to be received by three ex-officials of King James, the Catholic. His subsequent logic, on opening the letter to Nicholson and understanding it to be addressed to himself, was crank logic. Leisler seems to have felt that others might dispute his conclusion, for he never allowed the contents of the letter to be made public.
7 Colonial Laws of New York, Albany, 1894, I.116‑121.
8 Leisler himself had refused to pay duties under it. See Brodhead, History of the State of New York, II.599.
9 The several contingents were, New York 400, Massachusetts 160, Plymouth 60, Connecticut 135, Maryland 100 — total, 855 men. The New York contingent was disproportionately large; on the other hand, Massachusetts furnished most of the naval force.
10 Another story, In Leisler's Times, written by Mr. Elbridge Brooks for young readers, but interesting also to older readers, shows a decided leaning of sympathies in the opposite direction, and undoubtedly takes more liberties with the records.
11 Brodhead, for example, can see no good in Leisler.
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