Jacob Leisler (? 1640 - May 16, 1691) was a German-born American colonist. Beginning in 1689, he led an insurrection dubbed Leisler's Rebellion in colonial New York, seizing control of the colony until he was captured and excuted in New York City for treason against James II of England.
He was born probably at Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany, about 1640. He went to New Netherland (New York) in 1660, married a wealthy widow, engaged in trade, and soon accumulated a fortune.
The English Revolution of 1688 divided the people of New York into two well-defined factions. In general the small shop-keepers, small farmers, sailors, poor traders and artisans were arrayed against the patroons, rich fur-traders, merchants, lawyers and crown officers. The former were led by Leisler, the latter by Peter Schuyler (1657-1724), Nicholas Bayard (c. 1644 1707), Stephen van Cortlandt (1643-1700), William Nicolls (1657 1723) and other representatives of the aristocratic Hudson Valley families.
The Leislerians pretended greater loyalty to the Protestant succession. When news of the imprisonment of Gov. Andros in Massachusetts was received, they took possession on May 31, 1689 of Fort James (at the southern end of Manhattan Island), renamed it Fort William and announced their determination to hold it until the arrival of a governor commissioned by the new sovereigns. Thus began Leisler's Rebellion. The aristocrats also favoured the Revolution, but preferred to continue the government under authority from James II rather than risk the danger of an interregnum.
Lieutenant-Governor Francis Nicholson sailed for England on June 24, a committee of safety was organized by the popular party, and Leisler was appointed commander-in-chief. Under authority of a letter from the home government addressed to Nicholson, or in his absence, to such as for the time being takes care for preserving the peace and administering the laws in His Majesty's province of New York, he assumed the title of lieutenant-governor in December 1689, appointed a council and took charge of the government of the entire province.
He summoned the first Intercolonial Congress in America, which met in New York on May 1, 1690 to plan concerted action against the French and Native Americans. Colonel Henry Sloughter was commissioned governor of the province on September 3, 1689 but did not reach New York until March 19, 1691. In the meantime Major Richard Ingoldsby and two companies of soldiers had landed (January 28, 1691) and demanded possession of the fort. Leisler refused to surrender it, and after some controversy an attack was made on 17 March in which two soldiers were killed and several wounded.
When Sloughter arrived two days later Leisler hastened to give over to him the fort and other evidences of authority. He and his son-in-law, Jacob Milborne, were charged with treason for refusing to submit to Ingoldsby, were convicted, and on the 16 May 1691 were executed. There has been much controversy among historians with regard both to the facts and to the significance of Leisler's brief career as ruler in New York.
See JR Brodhead, History of the State of New York (vol. 2, New York, 1871). For the documents connected with the controversy see EB O'Callaghan, Documentary History of the State of New York (vol. 2, Albany, 1850).
- The Life of Jacob Leisler (http://www.nyu.edu/leisler/biography.html)
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopędia Britannica.