A Letter from a Gentleman of the City of New York (1689).


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New Yorkers also engaged in an insurrection as part of the overthrow of the Dominion of New England. An immediate difference, however, was the ethnicity of the rebels in New York. The active rebels were overwhelmingly Dutch, and had no held positions of authority in New York prior to the insurrection. Their leader was a man named Jacob Leisler. Leisler's Rebellion sparked a division among New Yorkers that largely followed ethnic and class lines. Below is a hostile account of Leisler's Rebellion, which exulted in demise and the execution of Leisler and his chief assistant, Jacob Milbourne.]


Sir;

I cannot but admire to hear that some Gentlemen still have a good Opinion of the late Disorders committed by Capt. Jacob Leysler, and his Accomplices, in New-York, as if they had been for His Majesties Service, and the Security of that Province; and that such Monstrous Falshoods do find Credit, That the Persons before in Commission, and did labour to oppose and prevent those Disorders, were Jacobites [Catholic plotters against the English crown], or Persons ill affected to the Happy Revolution in England. . . . Wherefore I shall endeavour to give you a true and brief Account of that matter, as I my self have been a Personal Witness to most of them.

It was about the beginning of April, 1689, when the first Reports arrived at New-York, that the Prince of Orange [William III], now his present Majesty, was arrived in England with considerable Forces, and that the late King James was fled into France, and that it was expected War would be soon proclaimed between England and France.

The Leiut. Governour, Francis Nicholson, and the Council, being Protestants, resolved thereupon to suspend all Roman Catholicks from Command and Places of Trust in the Govemment, and accordingly suspended Major Baxter from being a Member of Council and Captain of a Company at Albany, and Bartholomew Russel from being Ensign in the Fort at New-York, they both being Papists, who forth-with left their Command, and departed the Province. . . .

It was Resolved by the said Lieut. Governor and Council, to call and conveen to their Assistance all the Justices of the Peace, and other civil Magistrates, and the Commission Officers in the Province, for to consult and advise with them what might be proper for the Preservation of the Peace, and the Safety of said Province in that Conjuncture, till Orders should arrive from England. Whereupon the said Justices, Magistrates and Officers were accordingly convened, and stiled by the Name of The General Convention for the Province of New-York; and all matters of Government were carried on and managed by the major Vote of that Convention .

And in the first place it was by them agreed and ordered, Forth-with to fortifie the City of New-York. . . .

But against Expectation it soon happened, that on the last day of said Month of May, Capt. Leysler having a Vessel with some Wines in the Road, for which he refused to pay the Duty, did in a Seditious manner stir up the meanest sort of the Inhabitants (affirming, That King James being fled the Kingdom, all manner of Government was fallen in this Province) to rise in Arms, and forcibly possess themselves of the Fort and Stores, which accordingly was effected whilest the Lieut. Governour and Council, with the Convention, were met at the Citv Hall to consult what might be proper for the common Good and Safety; where a party of Armed Men came from the Fort, and forced the Lieut. Governour to deliver them the Keys: and seized also in his Chamber a Chest with Seven Hundred Seventy Three Pounds, Twelve Shillings, in Money of the Government. And though Coll. Bayard, with some others appointed by the Convention, used all endeavours to prevent those Disorders, all proved vain; for most of those that appeared in Arms were Drunk, and cryed out, They disowned all manner of Government. Whereupon, by Capt. Leysler's perswasion, they proclaimed him to be their Commander, there being then no other Commission Officer amongst them.

Capt. Leysler being in this manner possest of the Fort, took some Persons to his Assistance, which he call'd, The Committee of Safety. And the Lieut. Governour, Francis Nicollson, being in this manner forced out of his Command, for the safety of his Person, which was daily threatned, withdrew out of the Province.

About a week after, Reports came from Boston, That their Royal Highnesses, the Prince and Princess of Orange were proclaimed King and Queen of England. Whereupon the Council and Convention were very desirous to get that Proclamation, and not only wrote for it, but some of them hearing that two Gentlemen were coming from Connecticut with a Copy of said Proclamation, went out two days to meet them, in expectation of having the Happiness to proclaim it; but Major Gold and Mr. Fitz, missing them, having put the Proclamation into Capt. Leysler's hands, he, without taking any Notice of the Council or Convention, did proclaim the same, though very disorderly, after which he went with his Accomplices to the Fort, and the Gentlemen of the Council and Magistrates, and most of the principal Inhabitants and Merchants, went to Col. Bayards House and drank the Health and Prosperity of King William and Queen Mary with great Expressions of Joy.

Two days after, a printed Proclamation was procured by some of the Council, . . . accompanyed [by] most of the chief Citizens and Merchants . . . were by them commissionated and appointed to collect the Revenue until Orders should arrive from England. . . .

But as soon as those Gentlemen entered upon the Office, Capt. Leysler with a party of his Men, in Arms, and Drink, fell upon them at the Custom-House, and with Naked Swords beat them thence, endeavouring to Massacree some of them, which were Rescued by Providence. Whereupon said Leysler beat an Alarm, crying about the City, "Treason, Treason," and made a strict search to seize Coll. Bayard, who made his escape, and departed for Albany, where he staid all Summer, in hopes that Orders might arrive from England to settle those Disorders.

The said Capt. Leysler, finding almost every man of Sense, Reputation, or Estate in the place to oppose and discourage his Irregularities, caused frequent false Alarms to be made, and sent several parties of his armed Men out of the Fort, drag'd into nasty Goals [Jails] within said Fort several of the principal Magistrates, Officers and Gentlemen, and others, that would not own his Power to be lawful, which he kept in close Prison during Will and Pleasure, without any Process, or allowing them to Bail. And he further publish't several times, by beat of Drums, That all those who would not come into the Fort and sign their hands, and so thereby to own his Power to be lawful, should be deemed and esteemed as Enemies to his Majesty and the Country, and be by him treated accordingly. By which means many of the Inhabitants, tho' they abhor'd his Actions, only to escape a nasty Goal and to secure their Estates were by fear and compulsion drove to comply, submit and sign to whatever he commanded.

And though Capt. Leysler had at first so violently opposed the collecting of the Revenue, alledging it unlawful, as soon as his Wines were landed, and that he got into some Power, he forth-with set up for himself the collecting of said Revenue by Peter d' Lanoy, allowing him a great Sallary, and all the Perquisits of that Office.

Upon the 10th of December following returned the said Mr. John Riggs from England, with Letters from his Majesty and the Lords, in answer to the Letters sent by the Lieut. Governour and Council above recited, . . . Which said Letters the said Mr. Riggs designed to deliver on the following Morning to the Gentlemen of the Council, to whom they properly did belong, being an answer to their said Letter; but was obstructed therein by said Leysler, who sent a party of his Men in Arms, and brought said Riggs to the Fort, where he forced said Letters from him, though some Gentlemen of the Council, that went the same time to the Fort, protested against it, but he drove them out of the Fort, calling them Rogues, Papists, and other opprobious Names.

Soon after the Receipt of said Letters, said Capt. Leysler stiled himself Lieutenant Governour, appointed a Council, and presumed further to call a select Number of his own Party, who called themselves The General Assembly of the Province, and by their advice and assistance raised several Taxes and great Sums of Money from their Majesties good Subjects within this Province. Which Taxes, together with that £773. 12s. in Money, which he had seized from the Government, and the whole Revenue, he applyed to his own use, and to maintain said Disorders, allowing his private men 18d. per Day, and to others proportionably.

On the 20th of January following Coll. Bayard and Mr. Nicolls had the ill fortune to fall into his hands, and were in a barbarous manner, by a party in Arms, drag'd into the Fort, and there put into a Nasty place, without any manner of Process, or being allowed to bail, though the same was offered for said Coll. Bayard, by some of the ablest and richest Inhabitants, to the Sum of Twenty Thousand Pounds, either for his appearance to answer ' or depart the Province, or to go for England; but without any Cause given, or Reasons assigned, laid said Coll. Bayard in Irons, and kept him and Mr. Nicolls close Prisoners for the space of fourteen Months, where they, with several others, that had been long detained Prisoners, were set at Liberty by Governour Slaughter.

And whilest he kept those Gentlemen in Prison, he quartered his armed Men in their Houses, where they com-mitted all manner of Outrages; And to give one Instance of many others, A Party of twelve Men were quartered at the House of Coll. Bayard, with directions to pillage and plunder at discretion, which was bought off with Money and plentiful Entertainment. . . .

 

It is hardly to be exprest what Cruelties Capt. Leysler and his Accomplices imposed upon the said Prisoners, and all others that would not own his Power to be lawful. Neither could the Protestant Ministers in the Province escape their Malice and Cruelty; for Mr. Selyns, Minister of New-York, was most grosly abused by Leysler himself in the Church at the time of Divine Service, and threatned to be silenced, etc. . . .

 

In this manner he the said Leysler, with his Accomplices, did force, pillage, rob and steal from their Majesties good Subjects within this Province, almost to their utter Ruin, vast Sums of Money, and other Effects, the estimation of the Damages done only within this City of New-York amounting, as by Account may appear, to the Sum of Thirteen Thousand Nine Hundred and Fifty Nine Pounds, besides the Rapines, Spoils and Violences done at Coll. Willets' on Nassaw-Island, and to many others in several parts of the Province.

And thus you may see how he used and exercised an Exorbitant, Arbitrary and Unlawful Power over the Persons and Estates of his Majesties good Subjects here, against the known and Fundamental Laws of the Land, and in subvertion of the same, to the great Oppression of his Majesties Subjects, and to the apparent decay of Trade and Commerce.

In this Calamity, Misery and Confusion was this Province, by those Disorders, enthrawled near the space of two years, until the arrival of his Majesties Forces, under the command of Major Ingoldsby, who, with several Gentlemen of the Council, arrived about the last day of January, 1690/1, which said Gentlemen of the Council, for the Preservation of the Peace, sent and offered to said Leysler, . . . he fell into a Passion and cry'd, "What! those Papist Dogs, Rogues! Sacrament! if the King should send Three Thousand such I would cut them all off"; And without any cause given, he proclaimed open War against them. Whereupon . . . the said Leysler proceeded to make War against them and the Kings Forces, and fired a vast Number of great and small Shot in the City, whereby several of his Majesties Subjects were killed and wounded as they passed in the streets upon their lawful Occasions, tho' no Opposition was made on the other side.

At this height of Extremity was it when Governour Slaughter arrived on the 19th of March, 1691, who having publish't his Commission from the C ity Hall, with great signs of Joy, by firing all the Artillary within and round the City, sent thrice to demand the surrender of the Fort from Capt. Leysler and his Accomplices, which was thrice denyed, but upon great Threatnings, the following Day surrendered to Governor Slaughter, who forth-with caused the said Capt. Leysler, with some of the chief Malefactors, to be bound over to answer their Crimes at the next Supream Court of Judicature, where the said Leysler and his pretended Secretary Millborn did appear, but refused to plead to the Indictment of the grand Jury, or to own the Jurisdiction of that Court; and so after several hearings, as Mutes, were found guilty of High Treason and Murder, and executed accordingly.

. . . But in my Observation most Gentlemen that have come hither so prepossessed, after some time spent here have been thoroughly convinced of their Mistake, and that those men who suffered Death, did not from pure zeal for their Majesties Interest, and the Protestant Religion, but being of desperate Fortune, thrust themselves into Power, of purpose to make up their wants by the Ruin and Plunder of his Majesties Loyal Subjects, and were so far engaged in their repeated Crimes, that they were driven to that height of Desperation, had not the Providence of Almighty God prevented it, the whole Province had been Ruined and Destroyed.


Source: Charles M. Andrews, Narratives of the Insurrections, 1675-1690 (New York, 1915), 186-90. *Some spelling has been modernized.

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