How a German Ruled New York
When Sir Edmund Andros came to America, he had been made Governor of New York as well as of all New England. And while Massachusetts was having its revolution upon the accession of William and Mary there were exciting times in New York also. When the news of the imprisonment of Andros reached New York there was great agitation. Almost at the same time came the news that the French had declared war on England, which added to the people’s excitement. For they suspected Nicholson, whom Andros had left in charge as Lieutenant-Governor, of being a Catholic; and a quite groundless idea got about that he meant to betray the colony into the hands of the French, or burn it to the ground.
There were very few Catholics in New York, and the Protestants had little need to fear them. But many of the Protestants were filled with a burning zeal for their faith, and of these Jacob Leisler, an honest, ignorant German, now became the leader. He refused to pay a tax because the tax collector was a “Papist,” and therefore no fit person to receive the money. Other people followed his example, and day by day excitement grew.
At length Leisler was at the head of a great following. He got command of the fort, and drew up a declaration which he forced the captain of the militia and others to sign. In this he declared that the city was in danger, and that he would take possession of it until King William should appoint a Governor. Nicholson had no grit. He could not stand against a bold blusterer like Leisler, so he ran away. He went home “to render an account of the present deplorable state of affairs” to King William. But in order that Nicholson should not have it all his own way at home Leisler on his side sent an innkeeper, Joost Stoll, as his ambassador to King William to explain matters from his point of view.
Leisler now became very autocratic. He called himself Lieutenant-Governor, he disarmed and arrested all the “Papists,” and every one was a “Papist” who did not yield readily to him. He had enormous power in his hands for good or evil, but he was far too ignorant and vain to use it well. Indeed he used it so badly that even some of the men who had hailed him with delight turned against him.
Leisler by many signs knew his popularity was failing. Then his friend, the innkeeper, returned from England with the doleful news that King William had taken not the slightest notice of him. The King indeed would not deign to recognise the existence of the upstart German “governor,” and had appointed a new Governor who would shortly arrive in New York.
This was bad news for Leisler, and it seemed to drive him crazy. He grew more and more tyrannical. At length his tyranny became so bad that many of the chief people of New York wrote a letter to the King and Queen complaining of it.
In this letter they told the King and Queen that they were sore oppressed by “ill men” who ruled in New York “by the sword, at the sole will of an insolent alien, assisted by some few, whom we can give no better name than a rabble.” From other parts of the colony too letters were written calling Leisler a bold usurper, and begging the King to do something “to break this heavy yoke of worse than Egyptian bondage.”
Nor did the people confine themselves to writing letters. Leisler found himself insulted at every turn. He was mobbed, and stoned, and called “Dog Driver,” “General Hog” and other ugly names.
Meanwhile on the stormy seas the ships bringing out the new Governor and Lieutenant-Governor were being tossed hither and thither. The waves dashed high, the wind drove the ships helplessly before it, and the Archangel, which bore the Governor was separated from the others, and driven far out of its course. Thus it happened that Ingoldsby, the Lieutenant-Governor, arrived in New York without the Governor. However he sent to Leisler asking him to allow the soldiers he had brought to enter the fort. This request made Leisler very angry. He refused to allow the soldiers to enter the fort unless Ingoldsby showed him orders in writing either from the King or Governor.
This Ingoldsby could not do, for all the orders were in the Governor’s ship, and where that was he could not tell. And finding that Leisler would yield to no reasoning, after four days he landed his men with as much care as if he had been making a descent into an enemy’s country, and lodged them in the town hall.
So six weeks passed. Ingoldsby was determined to stay, Leisler just as determined that he should go. At length Leisler sent Ingoldsby a notice to disband his force in two hours, or take the consequences. Ingoldsby refused to disband his force. So from the fort Leisler fired upon the soldiers in the town hall, and several were killed. More trouble seemed likely to follow, but some of Leisler’s soldiers had already had enough, so they laid down their arms and went home.
Next day Governor Sloughter arrived. Hearing of all the commotion he landed hastily, and going to the town hall ordered the bell to be rung, and his commission to be read to the people.
Then he sent Ingoldsby to demand the surrender of the fort.
But Leisler was by this time crazy with the idea of his own importance. He refused to give up the fort until he received orders from the King direct, addressed to his very own self. This was absurd, for the King was hardly conscious of Leisler’s existence. The Governor therefore paid no attention to these proud demands, and sent Ingoldsby again to demand possession of the fort.
Again Leisler refused. It could not be done so easily as all that, he said.
Still a third time the Governor demanded the fort. And again with scorn Leisler refused.
It was now nearly midnight, and the Governor decided to do nothing more till morning.
With morning reason seemed to return to Leisler. He wrote a letter to the Governor begging him to take the fort. But the Governor took no notice of the letter. He simply sent Ingoldsby to command the garrison to give up their arms and march out, promising at the same time free pardon to every one except Leisler and his Council. The men obeyed at once. They marched out and Leisler found himself a prisoner.
For two years he had lorded it in New York. Now his day was done. After a short trial he and his friend and son-in-law Milborne were condemned to death, and hanged as traitors.
At the time many applauded this severity, but afterwards most people were sorry. For after all Leisler had meant well, and in spite of his arrogance he had still many friends left. He was now looked upon as a martyr, and for many a long day New York was torn asunder with bitter strife over his tragic ending.