English Rule 1691 to 1744

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The Successors of Leisler

Internal strife had been bitter during the early struggles with the French. The two parties which had grown up in the colony were known as Leislerians and the anti-Leislerians; of these the Leislerians or Democratic fraction was the larger; while the aristocratic party had the active support of the government of the colony. The management of affairs was not long in Sloughter's hands, for his drunken habits brought his death within a few months after the hanging of Leisler. He was followed by Benjamin Fletcher , a man of little ability but of strong passions, a poor governor but a good soldier. He moved his troops so swiftly up the Hudson to oppose the French that the approving Indians named him "Ca-yen-gui-ra-go", "Great Swift Arrow". He placed the enemies of Leisler in office and made offensive efforts to establish the English church in the colony. It was through him that Trinity church was at this time (1696) established. He was intent too on introducing the English language more completely; for although it was now thirty years after the surrender of Stiyvesant, the Dutch were still in the majority and their speech was the language of business.

New York Surrounded With Dangers

During the seven years following the 1690, the colony had its hands full with the war with France and the management of the Five Nations. These affairs Governor Fletcher was wise enough to trust , largely to the skilful management of Peter Schuyler. New York seemed beset with difficulties; for about this time bands of pirates became a terror along the American coast. They were so bold that they even entered the bay and in sight of New York city captured merchant vessels and made safely off.

Probably the pirates were in league with officers of the government, perhaps with the governor himself. Captain William Kidd, a well known shipmaster, was sent against them. He took his well equipped ship, ran up the black flag and became the prince of the pirates. He was afterwards hanged and his fabled treasures have been often dug for deep down in the soil of Long Island.

The First Democratic Governor

It was to suppress these robber crafts that the English government recalled Fletcher and sent in his place an Irish gentleman , the Earl of Bellomont. This change was however more important to the colony because Bellomont as a member of parliament had defended the deeds and character of Leisler; so that upon coming to the colony he joined himself to the leislerian party.

During his administration, which occupied the very last years of the seventeenth century, the assembly was dismissed and a new one called ; for the act of creating an assembly first granted and then recalled was James II was restored under King William. The members, then nineteen in number, were elected by the people for no definite time but held office at will of the governor. The assembly might remain for years; it might any day be dissolved. Over its acts the governor had an absolute veto. There was also a council of seven to twelve men, appointed by the king or governor, who had something of the power of a modern State senate, or as Governor Fletcher said, "they are in the nature of the House of Lords." The new assembly, elected in Bellomont's administration, was largely democratic showing that the sentiment of the colony favored the friends of Leisler. All things seemed favorable to the security of the common citizen of New York, when Bellomont died.


After an interval in which the senior member of the council as lieutenant-governor had charge of the colony, Lord Cornbury, in the second year of the eighteenth century arrived at New York as governor; soon after, he became governor also of New Jersey *. Tyrannical in his rule, loose in morals, dishonest in business, he was the first of the grasping, insolent governors of New York who drove the peace loving people to join in a war against the government of England.

*The proprietors of New Jersey at this time surrendered their claims to the crown and for thirty six years that province, although keeping its own assembly, was under the governor of New York.

Assembly Versus the Governor

All the disputes between the people of the colony, represented by the assembly and the government of England, represented by the governor, centered in the question of taxation. As the Revolution of 1688 in England had established the principle that the people can be taxed by their representatives only, so the assembly of New York, chosen by the citizens, assumed and maintained that they alone could tax the people of New York. They submitted to the Navigation Laws which exacted revenue from the ocean trade , but they themselves imposed all internal taxes. Here lay the advantage of the colony in the struggle against the despotic power of the rulers. No fixed amount was paid the governor but bountiful sums were voted for a year or for a term of years for his support. As Cornbury, like many other governors, took the place for the money in it, if the assembly wished his signature to a bill or his order to carry out any project, they withheld the revenue until he came to terms. "We must surrender once a year," said a disgusted governor of New York.

The Assembly Takes Control of the Revenue

Then the people too another step toward freedom. They had at first given money to the governor to lay out as he thought best; later they named the items and the amounts to be applied to each object. At one time the assembly voted seven thousand dollars * to erect forts at the Narrows, where Forts Hamilton and LaFayette now stand. The money disappeared in Cornbury's pocket. Then the assembly appointed a treasurer; and thence fore the governor could get but the sums voted him. These amounts were not small; the salary of a governor was generally from five thousand to ten thousand dollars. This was a small part however of his revenue; since appropriations for various items were lavishly given, Cornbury receiving nine thousand dollars for his expenses in crossing the ocean. During this man's administration the people advanced more rapidly toward freedom under the favorable rule of Bellomont. The two warring political factions united in one party of opposition to the governor. The leading men of the colony at this time were Peter Schuyler *, William Smith, Lewis Morris and Robert Livingston. Three of these men, Schuyler, Morris and Livingston were the grandfathers of signers of the Declaration of Independence.

* Money was raised largely by poll tax; this tax was not equal for every man, but about as follows, changing English money to a similar amount in United States currency: Every freeman between sixteen and sixty, 18 cents; bachelors over twenty five years of age 53 cents; a man wearing a wig $1.10; a lawyer $5; a member of assembly $10.

*Peter Schuyler , a Dutchman, was the great man of English rule. He was made Mayor of Albany by Dongan and for a long time was in charge of the Indian affairs of the colony. Like Van Curler he had unbound influence over the Iroqois by whom he was greatly admired. He was known among them as Brother "Quidder" that being as nearly as they could pronounce Peter. He married in the Van Rensselaer family, took a prominent part in colonial politics and for a time was acting governor. His family was to gain greater reoen during the Revolution from his nephew, General Phillip Schuyler. William Smith, an English immigrant, was long a leader of the party of the people. His son wrote the first History of New York, but deserted the cause of the people during the Revolution. Lewis Morris, of Welsh parentage, was a native of New York. His father , a soldier in the Cromwell's army, bought a tract of land near Harlem, calling it Morrisania, now a part of New York city. Lewis Morris befriended New Jersey and was in 1738 the first separate royal governor of that colony. Robert Livingston was a Scotchman who bought a tract of land south of the estate of the Van Rensselaers on the east bank of the Hudson and became one of the rich patroons or lords of the manor. He was appointed by Governor Andros secretary of the first board of commissioners of Indian affairs. He led the opposition to Leisler but later joined the cause of the people against the corrupt and knavish Cornbury.

The Last of Cornbury's Rule

The administration of Cornbury is a chapter of unjust deeds. At one time the small pox and Yellow Fever raged in the city and drove him and his officers to Jamaica, Long Island. The Presbyterian minister of the place offered him his house. The governor managed to turn the parsonage over to the church of England together with the only meeting house of the village, one built by the Presbyterians. For such acts he was heartily detested by the people. He was in debt to many of the store-keepers of New York city, and when removed from office by his cousin Queen Anne he was thrown into prison until released by a timely legacy.

Governor Hunter

This was about the beginning of Queen Anne's war and after one or two others had for a short time tried their hands at the helm, Robert Hunter came to governor the colony. In learning and in polished manners he was the ablest of the English governors; but he was unfit for the unpleasant tasks before him. The failure of the expeditions of 1709 and the following years angered the Iroquois and threw the colony into debt. To meet the obligations paper money was for the first time issued, and this soon became but a third of its face value. The assembley refused to grant revenue but for a single year, and withal Governor Hunter had little heart for a contest with that obstinate body. He took in the situation at once and wrote home, "The colonies are infants at their mother's breasts, but such as will wean themselves when they become of age."