Leisler's Rebellion

     1688 - 1691

    England experienced a 'bloodless revolution', the so-called Glorious Revolution, in the winter of 1688-89 with the takeover of the monarchy by William of Orange and his wife, Mary, the second child of Charles I and Henrietta Maria.

    The period of eight years that Oliver Cromwell ruled as Lord Protector of the English Commonwealth was one of progress and advancement for the country. It should be remembered that Oliver Cromwell was a staunch supporter of the Puritan faith. Upon Oliver's death in 1658, his son, Richard Cromwell was named Lord Protector. Richard, by contrast, was ineffectual and his Protectorate government was brought to an early end in 1660. The Parliament engineered the Restoration of the Stuart monarchy in the person of Charles II. And with the restoration of the Stuart line came a restoration of the Church of England as the official faith.

    Charles II ruled from 1660 until his death on 06 February 1685. On his deathbed, Charles converted to Catholicism. His successor was his younger brother, James II, who had fled to France along with Charles upon the death of their father, and who had then returned when the monarchy was restored. He had served as the Lord High Admiral initially, but was removed from that position in the late 1660s when he announced that he had converted to Catholicism. In 1679 the 'Exclusion Bill' was proposed in Parliament with the intention of excluding James from the succession primarily because of his vow to restore Catholicism as the official religion of Great Britain.

    The Parliament took action in 1688 when, on 10 June, a son and royal heir to James was born. Seven leading statesmen sent an invitation to William of Orange, ruler of Holland, to take the throne of England. William was a brother-in-law of James II (James being the younger brother of his wife, Mary). William and Mary were avid Protestants and readily agreed to the proposal. They landed at the port of Brixham on 05 November 1688 with a fleet of fifty warships and over two hundred transport vessels. Their entry was unimpeded and they gained more and more supporters as they advanced on London. James fled to exile in France, and on 13 February 1689 William and Mary jointly acceded to the throne of England. On 21 April 1689 William of Orange was crowned as King William III, and Mary, his wife, was crowned as Queen Mary II.

    The news of the 'bloodless revolution' of William of Orange and Mary arrived in the colonies by April of 1689. The news emboldened the residents of Boston, who wasted little time in ousting the governor of New England, Sir Edmund Andros. Andros barricaded himself in the British fort at Boston, but surrendered to the rebellious Bostonians and was imprisoned. When Andros had gone to Boston in October of 1688, he had left his Lieutenant Governor, Francis Nicholson in charge of the colony of New York. Nicholson was an staunch supporter of King James II. Word of Andros' treatment in Boston reached New York at about the same time as the news of William and Mary's accession to the English throne.

    Throughout the colonies, as word of the assension of William and Mary reached them, the old proprietary governments were removed one way or another and revolutionary governments were set up in their place. This happened not only at the colony level, but also at the county and town levels.(see The Glorious Revolution ~ In New England, & Maryland Revolution)

    As the various settlements of the New York Colony forced the removal of their officials, a German trader by the name of Jacob Leisler called on his farming neighbors, who formed an army and attacked Fort James. The fort was taken by Leisler on 31 May 1689. By the 11th of June, Nicholson had fled from the city of New York. On 12 June 1689, Jacob Leisler and his army captured the royal customs house and assumed control of the city (and by extension, the colony) of New York. Leisler formed a Committee of Public Safety on the 26th of June; the concept would be utilized nearly a hundred years later as a tool for communication of the Patriots in the American Revolutionary War.

    Jacob Leisler called together representatives from the various towns and counties throughout the colony of New York to participate in a provincial assembly. The assembly, held between 27 July and 15 August 1689 was attended by delegates from most of the towns and counties. Albany, Suffolk and Ulster Counties, though, did not attend the assembly. The people of Albany established their own government, but following a joint Indian and French attack on nearby Schenectady on 09 February 1690 (see King William's War), the officials of Albany expressed their desire to join the Leisler government.

    Meanwhile in England, the decision was made to commission new royal governors for the colonies. Despite the fact that Leisler, and the others who had rebelled against the Stuart-founded governments, were openly supportive of the William and Mary monarchy; the monarchs, and the Parliament that had brought them to power, intended to make their own decisions.

    Colonel Henry Sloughter was commissioned to the position of Governor of New England, but a sequence of events, including being shipwrecked, plagued him before he could reach the colonies. Major Robert Ingoldsby arrived in the colonies before Sloughter. His arrival at New York City on 08 February 1691 was greeted with opposition from the Leisler government. Ingoldsby demanded that the colonists relinquish command of the fort at New York City, but Leisler refused on the grounds that it was Sloughter who had received the royal commission, and it was to Sloughter that he would capitulate. As far as Leisler knew, Ingoldsby did not even possess the approval from Sloughter to act on his behalf. Ingoldsby expressed his anger at the rebuttal by taking possession of the New York City Hall on 27 March.

    On the 29th of March 1691, Henry Sloughter finally arrived at New York. Leisler surrendered his control of the colonial government on the 30th. Sloughter called for an assembly to convene, and formally established a new representative government for New England. It was very ironic that, despite his good intentions to yield power only to the royally appointed Sloughter, Leisler's refusal to recognize the authority of Ingoldsby was interpreted as treason.

    Jacob Leisler, along with eight of his closest supporters, was tried for treason between 10 April and 27 April. One of the men was acquitted, the rest were sentenced to death. Eventually all but Leisler and Jacob Milborne (his son-in-law and military lieutenant) were pardoned. Leisler and Milborne were hung to death and then dismembered on 26 May 1691 after being denied their legal right of appeal by the very monarchs they had so manifestly endorsed.