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Jacob Leisler Trial: 1691

Leisler Assumes Control

Defendants: Jacob Leisler, Jacob Milborne, eight other men
Crimes Charged: The treasonable act of holding the king's fort by force against the royal governor, such action resulting in several deaths
Chief Defense Lawyer: None
Committee for Preparing the Prosecution: Nicholas Bayard, William Pinhorne, and Stephen Van Cortlandt
Chief Prosecutors: James Emmott, George Farewell, and William Nichols
Judges for Court of Oyer and Terminer: Captain Isaac Arnold, Joseph Dudley, Captain Jasper Hickes, Major Richard Ingoldesby, Thomas Johnson, John Laurence, William Pinhorne, Sir Robert Robinson, William Smith and Colonel John Young
Place: New York, N.Y. (Colony)
Dates of Trial: April 10-27, 1691
Verdict: Leisler, Milborne, and six others: guilty; two others acquitted; all eventually pardoned except Leisler and Milborne
Sentence: Death by hanging, disembowelment, decapitation, and quartering

SIGNIFICANCE: The trial and the harsh sentence imposed reflected the extreme personal and political animosities that marked New York politics. The executions, applauded by many of the colony's Anglo-Dutch elite as an example to the Leislerians, exacerbated those animosities.

The American colonies were already restive when mother England created a Dominion of New England in an effort to obtain greater control of the region. Many measures adopted were disliked by colonists. Thus, when England's Glorious Revolution replaced Catholic James II with Protestant William and Mary (James' daughter) of Orange, the colonies overthrew some appointed royal officials, including the lieutenant governor for New York, Francis Nicholson.

On May 30, 1689, an argument between two officers at New York's Fort James sparked a rumor that Nicholson planned to burn the city. On May 31, a German immigrant merchant, Jacob Leisler, leading 500 men, seized the fort.

Two weeks later Nicholson sailed for England. He left his councillors in charge: Nicholas Bayard, Frederick Phillipse, and Stephen Van Cortlandt. They were unable to thwart Leisler's usurpation of civil authority, which was supported by members of the merchant, artisan, and laboring groups.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1637 to 1832