Leisler’s Rebellion

1689–1691 — 17th Century Rebellion in Colonial America

Leisler’s Rebellion (1689–1691) was an uprising by the Dutch inhabitants of New York, who wanted to escape from the rule of the Dominion of New England following the Glorious Revolution in England. The rebellion ultimately failed and led to the appointment of a Royal Governor in New York.

Leisler's Rebellion, Fort James, 1690, Illustration

This illustration depicts Fort James in 1690. It showed Jacob Leisler’s brick house on the street called The Strand. His home was the first brick house in New York City. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Leisler’s Rebellion Facts

  • Dates — Leisler’s Rebellion started in 1689 and ended in 1691.
  • LocationProvince of New York, English Colonies in North America.
  • Interesting Fact — Leisler’s Rebellion was the last of four significant rebellions that took place in the English Colonies during the 17th Century.
  • Interesting Fact — Leisler’s Rebellion is named after Jacob Leisler.

Leisler’s Rebellion Significance

Leisler’s Rebellion is significant to United States history because it was an early rebellion against the English government in America. The rebellion led to the removal of Governor Francis Nicholson and the establishment of a government that increased the participation of Dutch inhabitants in the English-dominated government and economy.

Coronation of William and Mary, 1689, Painting, Rochussen
This painting depicts the coronation of William and Mary. Image Source: Amsterdam Museum.

Leisler’s Rebellion History

Leisler’s Rebellion started in May 1689 and ended in March 1691. It was a revolt that took place in New York City that was caused by political, economic, and religious tensions between the inhabitants of the city and English government officials. 

Historically, Jacob Leisler is viewed as the leader of the rebellion, which stemmed from the promotion of Catholicism and the establishment of the Dominion of New England by King James II, as well as the dominance of English merchants over the economy in New York City.

Andros Removed as Governor of the Dominion of New England

In April 1689, Edmond Andros was removed as the Governor of the Dominion of New England in the Boston Revolt of 1689. With the Dominion ended, the New York Militia expelled Francis Nicholson, the Lieutenant Governor of New York and New Jersey, who refused to recognize King William III and Queen Mary II.

Edmund Andros, Portrait
Edmund Andros. Image Source: Wikipedia.

Division in the Colony and City of New York

Following the Glorious Revolution, rumors persisted that King James II had abdicated the throne. Without clear instructions from the Crown, Nicholson refused to announce the ascension of William and Mary to the throne. Instead, Nicholson focused on defending New York from a potential invasion from the military forces of the New England Colonies.

Nicholson was aware that the city and the entire colony were divided into factions that supported either King James II or Willliam and Mary. Nicholson supported King James II and offered his allies refuge in the city in anticipation of rebellion, which was brewing in two areas:

  1. On Long Island, a faction developed that intended to follow what Massachusetts had done and remove the governor. Most of these people were of Dutch heritage and New Englanders.
  2. In the Hudson River Valley, farmers who had complained for years about the dominance of New York City merchants saw an opportunity to gain an advantage.

Rumors of a Catholic Takeover

Rumors spread about a plot to hand New York over to Catholic France, and Nicholson’s refusal to acknowledge William and Mary as monarch fueled the rumors, particularly among Dutch supporters of William of Orange. 

The Emergence of Jacob Leisler

Jacob Leisler, a member of a council formed to protect the city against foreign threats and rebellion, quickly took control of the factions aligned against Nicholson. Although there is no concrete evidence that Leisler was behind the rebellion, he was well-informed about the events of the Glorious Revolution.

Leisler, a native of Germany, arrived in New Amsterdam in 1660 as a soldier in the Dutch West India Company. Over time, he became a successful merchant and one of the largest landowners in New York. He married the widow of a wealthy Dutch merchant, which improved his social status. 

Before the rebellion, Leisler was engaged in New York politics, serving as a juror and court-appointed arbitrator, as well as a commissioner to the Admiralty Court. He was also the Captain of the New York Militia. 

Nicholson Removed and Leisler Takes Control

The New York Militia removed Nicholson from power in May 1689. Soon after, Leisler took control of Fort James, which was located on the southern top of Manhattan Island, at the confluence of the Hudson River and the East River. 

The fort was originally built by the Dutch in 1625 and called Fort Amsterdam. In later years, it would be known as Fort George and would be the site of the New York Stamp Act Riot on November 1, 1765.

Fort George, New York
This illustration depicts Fort George, circa 1740. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

For about a year, Leisler effectively governed New York, with support from various groups, particularly Dutch settlers. Leisler fortified New York’s defenses, organized local elections, and oversaw the organization of the colony’s laws. In December 1689, he assumed the title of Lieutenant Governor, referring to letters King William III had sent to Nicholson as the basis of his authority. The Governor’s Council in Albany supported him, although many, especially some of the wealthy merchants, opposed him.

Leisler Abuses His Authority

Over time, Leisler took action to eliminate his political opponents and appointed new officers. He levied taxes, established a provincial assembly that favored his supporters, and used this legislature to address grievances, including ending the trade monopolies that were controlled by the city merchants. 

King William’s War and Fears of a Catholic Invasion

Some of the taxes Leisler collected to support the military during King William’s War (1688–1697)

Leisler also addressed the concerns of Protestant New Yorkers, who were concerned about the perceived threat of Catholics. He responded by providing help to victims of the Schenectady Massacre (February 8, 1690), imprisoned suspected “Papists,” and organized a convention where delegates from Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New York developed a plan to invade the Catholic region of Quebec in New France.

Leisler Replaced by Sloughter

Leisler faced opposition, and wrote letters to William and Mary, requesting their support. However, the letters were captured by the French, and the lack of support from the new monarchs allowed Leisler’s enemies, including Nicholson to criticize him. The complaints gainst Leisler included:

  1. English inhabitants were upset that Dutch artisans had replaced wealthy English merchants on the Board of Aldermen. 
  2. English inhabitants opposed Leisler’s efforts to promote town meetings that increased the political influence of Dutch settlers and criticized the sympathy he displayed toward the lower classes.
  3. The 1690 Quebec Campaign was an expensive failure.

In December 1689, William and Mary appointed Colonel Henry Sloughter, another opponent of Leisler, as the new Governor of New York. 

The End of Leisler’s Rebellion

Leisler and his supporters refused to leave Fort James. In March 1691, after a two-month standoff between Leisler and English troops supporting Governor Sloughter, Leisler surrendered. 

Governor Sloughter ordered Leisler’s arrest and charged him and his son-in-law, Jacob Milborne, with treason. A court quickly found them guilty. On May 16, 1691, Leisler and Milborne were hanged. 

Aftermath

Following Leisler’s death, English merchants regained control of New York, reclaiming their positions on the Board of Aldermen and enacting laws that diminished the political and economic influence of Dutch inhabitants.

Leisler is Cleared of Charges

The severity of the punishment given to Leisler led to efforts to clear his name. In 1695, Parliament overturned the sentence of the New York Court and recognized the legitimacy of Leisler’s administration. In 1702, the New York Assembly approved a payment of £2,700 to his heirs as compensation.

APUSH Definition and Significance

Leisler’s Rebellion is defined as a rebellion that took place in colonial New York from 1689 to 1691. It was a conflict rooted in political, economic, and religious tensions. It was started by the New York Militia and taken over by Jacob Leisler, a German-born merchant, and militiaman. The rebellion stemmed from the refusal of Governor Francis Nicholson to recognize King William III and Queen Mary II. Leisler took control of New York and made reforms that decreased the influence of English merchants. The rebellion was eventually suppressed, and Leisler and his son-in-law were executed. 

Leisler’s Rebellion is significant because it highlighted the social, political, and economic tensions between merchants and farmers in the Province of New York. It was also one of the early rebellions against English government officials that took place in the English Colonies.

The other rebellions were:

  1. Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677), Virginia
  2. Culpeper’s Rebellion (1677–1678), North Carolina
  3. Coode’s Rebellion (1689–1698), Maryland

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Leisler’s Rebellion
  • Date 1689–1691
  • Author
  • Keywords Leisler's Rebellion, Jacob Leisler, Glorious Revolution, Dominion of New England, Francis Nicholson. King William III, Queen Mary II, King William's War, Henry Sloughter. Fort James
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date April 21, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update November 29, 2023

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