Ridpath's History of the United States
Volume II


Chapter III
New York Under the English

Richard Nicolls, the first English governor of New York, began his duties by settling the boundaries of his province. It was a work full of trouble and vexation. As early as 1623 the whole of Long Island had been granted to the earl of Stirling. Connecticut also claimed and occupied all that part of the island included in the present county of Suffolk. Against both of these claimants the patent of the duke of York was now to be enforced by his deputy Nicolls. The claim of Stirling was fairly purchased by the governor, but the pretensions of Connecticut were arbitrarily set aside. This action was the source of so much discontent that the duke was constrained to compensate Connecticut by making a favorable change in her southwest boundary-line.

Two months before the conquest of New Netherland by the English, the irregular territory between the Hudson and the Delaware, as far north as a point on the latter river in the latitude of forty-one degrees and forty minutes, was granted to Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret. This district, corresponding, except on the northern boundary, with the present State of New Jersey, was now wrested from the jurisdiction of New York, and a separate government established by the proprietors. the country below the Delaware, until recently called New Sweden, but now named The Territories, was consolidated with New York and ruled by deputies appointed by the governors of that province. Finally, the new name conferred by Nicolls on his capital was extended to all the country formerly called New Netherland.

In 1667, Nicolls was superseded by Lovelace. With less ability and generosity than his predecessor, he proved a greater tyrant. The bad principles of the system established by the duke of York were now fully developed. The people became dissatisfied and gloomy. Protests against the government and petitions for redress were constantly presented, and constantly rejected with contempt. "If there is any more murmuring against the taxes, make them so heavy that the people can do nothing but think how to pay them," said Lovelace in his instructions to his deputy. The Dutch and the English colonists were always friends. Not once in the whole history of the country did they lilft the sword against each other. Even while England and Holland were at war, as they were in 1652-54, the American subjects of the two nations remained at peace. Another war followed that act of violence by which, in 1664, the duke of York possessed himself of New Netherland; but the conflict did not extend to America. A third time, in 1672, Charles II. was induced by the king of France to begin a contest with the Dutch government. This time, indeed, the struggle extended to the colonies, and New York was revolutionized, but not by the action of her own people. In 1673 a small squadron was fitted out by Holland and placed under command of the gallant Captain Evertsen. The fleet sailed for America, and arrived before Manhattan on the 30th of July. Within four hours after the arrival of the squadron the fort was surrendered. The city capitulated, and the whole province yielded without a struggle. New Jersey and Delaware sent in their submission; the name of New Netherland was revived; and the authority of Holland was restored from Connecticut to Maryland.

The reconquest of New York by the Dutch was only a brief military occupation of the country. The civil authority of Holland was never re-established. In 1674, Charles II. was obliged by his Parliament to conclude a treaty of pece. there was the usual clause requiring the restoration of all conquests made during the war. New York reverted to the English government, and the rights of the duke were again recognized in the province. To make his authority doubly secure for the future, he obtained from his brother, the king, a new patent confirming the provisions of the former charter. The man who now received the appointment of deputy-governor of New York was none other than Sir Edmund Andros.

It was a sad sort of government for the people. The worst practices of Lovelace's administration were revived. The principles of arbitrary rule were openly avowed. Taxes were levied without authority of law, and the appeals and protests of the people were treated with derision. The clamor for a popular legislative assembly had become so great that Andros was on the point of yielding. He even wrote a letter to the duke of York advising that thick-headed prince to grant the people the right of electing a colonial legislature. The duke replied that popular assemblies were seditious and dangerous; that they only fostered discontent and disturbed the peace of the government; and finally, that he did not see any use for them.

At the close of Andros's administration, in 1683, Thomas Dongan, a Catholic, became governor of New York. For thirty years the people had been clamoring for a general assembly. Just before Andros left the province, the demand became more vehement than ever. The retiring governor, himself of a despotic disposition, counseled the duke to concede the right of representation to the people. At last James yielded, not so much with the view of extending popular rights, as with the hope of increasing his revenues from the improved condition of his province. Dongan, the new governor, came with full instructions to call an assembly of all the freeholders of New York, by whom certain persons of their own number should be elected to take part in the government.

The first act of the new assembly was to declare that the supreme legislative power of the province resided in the governor, the council, and the People. All freeholders were granted the right of suffrage; trial by jury was estabished; taxes should no more be levied except by consent of the assembly; soldiers should not be quartered on the people; martial law should not exist; no person accepting the general doctrines of religion should be any wise distressed or persecuted. All the rights and privileges of Massachusetts and Virginia were carefully written by the zealous lawmakers of New York in their first charter of liberties.

In July of 1684 an important treaty was concluded at Albany. The governors of New York and Virginia were met in convention by the sachems of the Iroquois, and the terms of a lasting peace were settled. A long war ensued between the Five Nations and the French. The French of Canada employed every artifice and intrigue to induce the Indians to break their treaty with the English, but all to no purpose; the alliance was faithfully observed. In 1684, and again in 1687, the French invaded the territory of the Iroquois; but the mighty Mohawks and Oneidas drove back their foes with loss and disaster. By the barrier of the friendly Five Nations on the north, the English and Dutch colonies were screened from danger.

In 1685 the duke of York became king of England. It was soon found that even the monarch of a great nation could violate his pledges. King Jams became the open antagonist of the government which had been established under his own directions. The popular legislature of New York was abrogated. An odious tax was levied by an arbitrary decree. Printing-presses were forbidden in the province. All the old abuses were revived and made a public boast.

In December of 1686, Edmund Andros became governor of all New England. It was a part of his plan to extend his dominion over New York and New Jersey. To the former province, Francis Nicholson, the lieutenant-general of Andros, was sent as deputy. Dongan was superseded, and wuntil the English Revolution of 1688, New York was ruled as a dependency of New England. When the news of that event and of the accession of William of Orange reached the province, there was a general tumult of rejoicing. The people rose in rebellion against the government of Nicholson, who was glad enough to escape from New York and return to England.

The leader of the insurrection was Jacob Leisler, a captain of the militia. A committee of ten took upon themselves the task of reorganizing the government. Leisler was commissioned to take possession of the fort of New York. Most of the troops in the city, together with five hundred volunteers, proceeded against the fort, which was surrendered without a struggle. A provisional government was organized, with Leisler at the head. The provincial councilors, who were friends and adherents of the deposed Nicholson, left the city and repaired to Albany. Here the party who were opposed to the usurpation of Leisler proceeded to organize a second provisional government. Both factions were careful to exercise authority in the name of William and Mary, the new sovereigns of England.

In September of 1689, Milborne, the son-in-law of Leisler, was sent to Albany to demand the surrender of the town and fort. Countland and Bayard, who were the leaders of the northern faction, opposed the demand with so much vigor that Milborne was obliged to retire without accomplishing his object. Such was the condition of affairs at the beginning of King William's War. Such was the dispiriting effect of these disasters upon the people of Albany and the north that a second effort made by Milborne against the government of the opposing faction was successful; and in the spirng of 1690 the authority of Leisler as temporary governor of New York was recognized throughout the province. The summer was spent in fruitless preparations to invade and conquer Canada. The general assembly was convened at the capital; but little was accomplished except a formal recognition of the insurrectionary government of Leisler.

In January of 1691, Richard Ingoldsby arrived at New York. He bore a commission as captain, and brought the intelligence that Colonel Sloughter had been appointed royal governor of the province. Leisler received Ingoldsby with courtesy, and offered him quearters in the city; but the latter, without authority from either the king or the governor, haughtily demanded the surrender of His Majesty's fort. Leisler refused to yeild, but expressed his willingness to submit to anyone who bore a commission from King William or Colonel Sloughter. On the 19th of March the governor himself arrived; and Leisler on the same day dispatched messengers, tendering his service and submission. The messengers were arrested, and Ingoldsby, the enemy and rival of Leisler, was sent with verbal orders for the surrender of the fort. Leisler foresaw his doom, and hesitated. He wrote a letter to Sloughter, expressing a desire to make a personal surrender of the post to the governor. The letter was unanswered; Ingoldsby pressed his demand; Leisler wavered, capitulated, and with Milborne wa seized and hurried to prison.

As soon as the royal government was organized the two prisoners were brought to trial. The charge was rebellion and treason. The prisoners refused to plead, were convicted, and sentenced to death. Sloughter, however, determined to know the pleasure of the king before putting the sentence into execution. But the royalist assembly of New York had already come together, and the members were resolved that the prisoners should be hurried to their death. The governor was invited to a banquet; and when heated with strong drink, the death-warrant was thrust before him for his signature. he succeeding in affixing his name to the fatal parchment; and almost before the fumes of his drunken revel had passed away, his victims had met their fate. On the 16th of May, Leisler and Milborne were brought from prison, led through a drenching rain to the scaffold, and hanged. Within less than a year afterward, their estates, which had been confiscated, were restored to their heirs; and in 1695 the attainder of the families was removed.

Soon after this, Sloughter's career was cut short by death. He was succeeded in the office of governor by Benjamin Fletcher, a man of bad passions and poor abilities. The new executive arrived in September of 1692. One of the first measures of his administration was to renew the recent treaty with the Iroquois. It was at this time the avowed purpose of the English monarch to place under a common government all the territory between the Connecticut River and Delaware Bay. To further this project, Fletcher was armed with an ample and comprehensive commission. He was made governor of New York, and commander-in-chief not only of the troops of his own province, but also of the militia of Connecticut and New Jersey. In the latter province he met with little opposition; but the Puritans of Hartford resisted so subbornly that the alarmed and disgusted governor was glad to return to his own capital.

In 1696 the territory of New York was invaded by the French under Frontenac, governor of Canada. The faithful Iroquois made common cause with the colonial forces, and the formidable expedition of the French was turned into confusion. Before the loss could be repaired and a second invasion undertaken, King William's War was ended by the treaty of Ryswick. In the following year, the earl of Bellomont, an Irish nobleman of excellent character and popular sympathies, succeeded Fletcher in the government of New York. His admiration of less than four years was the happiest era in the history of the colony. His authority, like that of his predecessor, extended over a part of New England. Massachusetts and New Hampshire were under his jurisdiction, but Connecticut and Rhode Island remained independent.

In striking contrast with the virtues and wisdom of Bellomont were the vices and folly of Lord Cornbury, who succeeded him. He arrived at New York in the beginning of May, 1702. A month previously the proprietors of New Jersey had surrendered their rights in the province to the English Crown. All obstacles being thus removed, the two colonies were formally united in one government under the authority of Cornbury. For a period of thirty-six years the territories, though with separate assemblies, continued under the jurisdiction of a single executive.

One of Cornbury's first acts was to forge a clause in his own commission. Desiring to foster the Established Church, and finding nothing to that effect in his instructions, he made instructions for himself. At first the people received him with great favor. The asembly voted two thousand pounds sterling to compensate him for the expenses of his voyage. In order to improve and fortify the Narrows, an additional sum of fifteen hundred pounds was granted. The money was taken out of the treasury, but no improvement was visible at the Narrows. The representatives modestly inquired what had become of their revenues. Lord cornbury replied that the assembly of New York had no right to ask questions until the queen should give them permission. The old of oft-repeated conflict between personal despotism and popular liberty broke out anew. Cornbury became a violent partisan, favoring the enemies and persecuting the friends of that unfortunate leader; and so from year to year matters grew constantly worse, until between the governor and his people there existed no relation but that of mutual hatred.

In 1708 the civil dissensions of the province reached a climax. Each succeeding assembly resisted more subbornly the measures of the govenor. Time and again the people petitioned for his removal. The councilors selected their own treasurer, refused to vote appropriations, and curtailed Cornbury's revenues until he was impoverished and ruined. Then came Lord Lovelace with a commission from Queen Anne, and the passionate, wretched governor was unceremoniously turned out of office. left to the mercy of his injured subjects, they arrested him for debt and threw him into prison, where he lay until, by his father's death, he became a peer of England and could be no longer held in confinement.

During the progress of Queen Anne's War the troops of New York co-operated with the army and navy of New England. Eighteen hundred volunteers from the Hudson and the Delaware composed the land forces in the unsuccessful expedition against Montreal in the winter of 1709-10. The provincial army proceeded as far as South River, east of Lake George. Here information was received that the English fleet which was expected to co-operate in the reduction of quebec had been sent to Portugal; the armament of New England was insufficient of itself to attempt the conquest of the Canadian stronghold; and the troops of New York and New Jersey were obliged to retreat. Again, in 1711, when the incompetent Sir Hovenden Walker was pretending to conduct his fleet up the St. Lawrence, and was in reality only anxious to get away, the army which was to invade Canada by land was furnished by New York. A second time the provincial forces reached Lake George; but the dispiriting news of the disaster to Walker's fleet destroyed all hope of success, and the discourage soldiers returned to their homes.

In 1713 the treaty of Utrecht put an end to the conflict, and peace returned to the American colonies. In this year the Tuscaroras of Carolina--a nation of the same race with the Iroquois and Hurons of the North--were defeated and driven from their homes by the Southern colonists. The haughty tribe marched northward, crossed the middle colonies, and joined their warlike kinsmen on the St. Lawrence, making the sixth nation in the Iroquois confederacy. Six years later a great council was held at Albany. There the grand sachems of the Six Nations were met by the governors of New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. An important commercial treaty was formed, by which the extensive and profitable fur-trade of the Indians, which, until now, had been engrossed by the French, was diverted to the English. In order to secure the full benefits of this arrangement, Governor Burnett of New York hastened to establish a trading-post at Oswego, on the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Five years later a substantial fort was built at the same place and furnished with an English garrison. As late as the middle of the century, Oswego continued to be the only fortified outpost of the English in the entire country drained by the St. Lawrence and its tributaries. The French, meanwhile, had built a strong fort at Niagara, and another at Crown Point, on the western shore of Lake Champlain. The struggle for colonial supremacy between the two nations was already beginning.

The administration of Governor Cosby, who succeeded Burnett in 1732, was a stormy epoch in the history of the colony. The people were in a constant struggle with the royal govenors. At this time the contest took for form of a dispute about the freedom of the press. The liberal or democratic party of the province held that a public journal might criticise the acts of the administration and publish views distasteful to the government. The aristocratic party opposed such liberty as a dangerous license, which, if permitted, would soon sap the foundations of all authority. Zenger, a editor of one of the liberal newspapers, published hostile criticisms on the policy of the governor, was seized, and put in prison. Great excitement ensued. The people were clamorous for their champion. Andrew Hamilton, a noted lawyer of Philadelphia, went to New York to defend Zenger, who was brought to trial in July of 1735. The charge was libel against the government; the cause was ably argued, and the jury made haste to bring in a verdict of acquittal. The aldermen of the city of New York, in order to testify their appreciation of Hamilton's services in the cause of liberty, made him a present of an elegant gold box, and the people were wild with enthusiasm over their victory.

New York, like Massachusetts, was once visited with a fatal delusion. In the year 1741 occurred what is known as the Negro Plot. Slavery was permitted in the province, and negroes constituted a large fraction of the population. Several destructive fires had occurred, and it was believed that they had been kindled by incendiaries. The slaves were naturally distrusted; now they became feared and hated. Some degraded women came forward and gave information that the negroes had made a plot to burn the city, kill all who opposed them, and set up one of their own number as governor. The whole story was the essence of absurdity; but the people were alarmed, and were ready to believe anything. The reward of freedom was offered to any slave who would reveal the plot. Many witnesses rushed forward with foolish and contradictory stories; the jails were filled with the accused; and more than thirty of the miserable creatures, with hardly the form of a trial, were convicted and then hanged or burned to death. Others were transported and sold as slaves in foreign lands. As soon as the supposed peril had passed and the excited people regained their senses, it came to be doubted whether the whole shocking affair had not been the result of terror and fanaticism. The verdict of afte times has been that ther was no plot at all.

During the progress of King George's War the territory of New York was several times invaded by the French and Indians. But the invasions were feeble and easily repelled.

Such is the history of the little colony planted on Manhattan Island. A hundred and thirty years have passed since the first feeble settlements were made; now the great valley of the Hudson is filled with beautiful farms and teeming villages. The Walloons of Flanders and the Puritans of New England have blended into a common people. Discord and contention, though bitter while they lasted, have borne only the peaceful fruit of colonial liberty. There are other and greater struggles through which New York must pass, other burdens to be borne, other calamities to be endured, other fires in which her sons must be tried and purified, before they gain their freedom. But the oldest and greatest of the middle colonies has entered upon a glorious career, and the ample foundations of an Empire State are securely laid.


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