Heats and Animosityes

Leisler’s death split New York like an ax. Colonel Benjamin Fletcher, who succeeded Henry Sloughter as governor in the autumn of 1692, found the hostility between Leislerians and anti-Leislerians running at such a pitch that neither faction “will be satisfied with less than the necks of Theire adversaries.” An Irishman, Fletcher understood how bad these “heats and animosityes” could get, but he had no intention of remaining neutral. His job was to carry on the work of anglicizing the colony, and he needed the cooperation of the anti-Leislerian dominies and merchants who had, for the better part of thirty years now, cast their lot with the English.


At the top of Fletcher’s agenda for New York was the creation of a secure Protestant establishment—“a settled Ministry”—the one guarantee, he said, “that neither heresy, sedition, schism nor rebellion be preached amongst you, nor vice and profanity encouraged.” Vice and profanity in particular were rife, observed the Rev. John Miller, newly arrived Episcopal chaplain to the fort’s two companies of grenadiers. New York had become a sink of “irreligion, drunkenness, cursing and swearing, fornication and adultery, thieving, and other evils,” he reported to the bishop of London. If the locals go to church at all, it is but “to find out faults in him that preacheth rather than to hear their own.” Too many residents believed the “sweet and unconfined pleasures of the wandering libertines” an acceptable alternative to holy matrimony, while “ante-nuptial fornication” had become so widespread that New Yorkers often didn’t marry until “a great belly” obliged them to.

In 1693 Fletcher more or less forced the Assembly to pass the Ministry Act, which provided for the public election of vestrymen and churchwardens in New York, Westchester, Queens, and Richmond counties. These county vestries (secular bodies, not to be confused with those governing individual churches) were empowered to tax all residents to pay the salaries of “good and sufficient Protestant ministers.” In England, this meant only Anglicans. Fletcher, a staunch adherent of the national church, said it meant only Anglicans in New York as well.

Anglicans were a distinct minority in New York, however. The colony’s only Anglican clergyman was the chaplain attached to the garrison on Manhattan, and his congregation comprised fewer than ninety families, at best 10 percent of the city’s twenty-one hundred white adults. Except for a comparative handful of Roman Catholics and Jews, the vast majority of New Yorkers were nonconformists or “dissenters”—Protestants not affiliated with the Church of England. The Act of Toleration, adopted by Parliament in 1689, guaranteed their right to public worship, as did legislation by the New York Assembly in 1691, which extended the same right to all orderly Christians other than Catholics. Even Fletcher’s official instructions required him to allow “a liberty of Conscience to all persons (except Papists).” Not surprisingly, then, dissenters saw the governor’s interpretation of the Ministry Act as a subterfuge for evading the law and establishing the Church of England: what good is the right of public worship, they asked, if they must pay the salaries of Anglican clergy and, worse yet, allow Anglican clergy to occupy their pulpits?

The dominies who had opposed Leisler were especially indignant, and to them the governor offered a compromise. In return for their acquiescence, the Dutch Reformed Church, representing some 650 adults in the city alone, could have a charter exempting it from any obligation to support the Church of England and granting it complete autonomy in the appointment of clergy. The dominies accepted. In 1696 they got their charter, presented the governor with a silver plate as a token of gratitude, and set aside richly appointed pews for him and his entourage in the new Dutch church on Garden Street (Exchange Place).

In 1697 Fletcher granted New York Anglicans a corporate charter of their own. A vestry of wealthy laymen began at once to organize construction of Trinity Church, the city’s first Episcopal house of worship, on the west side of Broadway at Wall Street, overlooking the Hudson River. By 1698 the building was ready for services, with the Rev. William Vesey serving as first rector. Satisfied that the Church of England now had a foundation for future expansion in New York, the vestry happily declared that the days were over when “for want of a Temple for the public Worship according to the English Church, this seemed rather like a conquered Foreign Province held by the terrour of a Garrison, than an English Colony, possessed and settled by people of our own Nation.”

Ties between the Anglican and Reformed communions remained strong, nevertheless. During Trinity’s construction, Dutch carters were paid handsomely for transporting building materials, while Dominie Henricus Selyns made the Garden Street church available for Anglican services and assisted Fletcher at Vesey’s induction on Christmas Day of 1697. For the first three months, moreover, Vesey and Selyns preached alternately at Trinity, the former officiating in English, the latter in Dutch.

Yet this unique arrangement—really a dual establishment—failed to have the calming effect that Fletcher promised. Dissenters refused to concede the Church of England’s right to public maintenance and initiated a decades-long conflict with militant Anglicans. Provincial authorities responded by leaving Trinity to fend for itself, thus ensuring the colony’s reputation for heterodoxy and toleration. Only Roman Catholics remained officially unwelcome. In 1700, when there were still fewer than a dozen Catholics in the city, the Assembly required all priests ordained by the pope to leave before the end of the year; anyone hiding a priest was subject to a fine of two hundred pounds.

Nor did the privileged status of the Reformed Church quiet the wrath that swept New York’s Dutch population following Leisler’s execution. County sheriffs and judges, linchpins of local English government outside Manhattan, reported case after case of Dutch opposition to their authority, often to the point of open violence. On one occasion, in 1696, a party of Dutchmen armed with “swords guns and Pistoles” attacked the Kings County courthouse, and Myndert Courten, a prominent Leislerian, announced that “he didn’t value the Courts order a fart for their power will not stand long.”

More odious still for truckling to the English were the Reformed dominies themselves—Selyns of Manhattan, Varick of Long Island, and Dellius of Albany. Angry congregations tried to starve them out of office by withholding their salaries; those in Harlem, Staten Island, and New Jersey announced that they could “live well enough without ministers or sacraments” and refused to have anything to do with the three. Once the sanctuary of the Garden Street church was “attacked by violence and open force.” Thousands of men and women throughout the colony simply abandoned the Reformed communion altogether. By the mid-nineties, according to Dr. Benjamin Bullivant, a visitor from Boston, the Dutch residents of Manhattan generally ignored the Sabbath, “some shelling peas at theyr doors children playing at theyr usuall games in the streets & ye taverns filled.” As the decade came to a close, Reformed churches everywhere in the colony complained of 80 or 90 percent declines in membership, frequently because of wholesale exoduses—“ten, twenty or more families” at a time—to the wilds of Ulster County, northern New Jersey, or Pennsylvania.


While attempting to erect an Anglo-Dutch religious establishment in New York, Fletcher also secured the fealty of the colony’s anti-Leislerian oligarchs by serving them gluttonous helpings of real estate. The most fortunate received manors over which they exercised quasi-feudal authority. Stephanus Van Cortlandt became lord of eighty-six-thousand-acre Cortlandt Manor in Westchester County and of Sagtikos Manor on Long Island’s south shore. Chief Justice William “Tangier” Smith was made lord of St. George Manor, which ran for fifty miles along the north shore of Long Island. Lewis Morris (nephew and heir of Colonel Lewis Morris of Barbados) became lord of Morrisania Manor, now encompassing some three thousand acres near the mouth of the Harlem River. Frederick Philipse became lord of ninety-two-thousand-acre Philipsburgh Manor in Westchester, while the municipal government awarded him the exclusive right to operate a toll bridge across Spuyten Duyvill Creek at the northern tip of Manhattan. (King’s Bridge, as Philipse called it, opened for business in 1693.) A host of other anti-Leislerians—Peter Schuyler, Henry Beekman, Dominie Dellius, and a rising young merchant named Caleb Heathcote—accepted hundreds of thousands of acres without the trappings of lordship.

In addition to rewarding his friends with the crown’s territory, Fletcher gave them free rein in the piracy business. As King William’s War dragged on—it didn’t end until 1697—both Britain and France bolstered their regular navies by relying on privateers, privately owned warships empowered by “letters of marque” to despoil enemy shipping. The law required that captured ships and cargoes—known as “prizes”—be legally condemned in a proper court of law before they were disposed of. Privateering proved so lucrative that many captains and owners dispensed with the formalities and turned to out-and-out piracy, attacking the vessels of any country, including their own. There were only two details to worry about. One was being caught and hanged. The other was disposing of loot.

Fletcher rolled out the red carpet for pirates, allowing them and their crews to enter New York without fear of arrest, dispose of their treasure, and refit for another voyage—all for a mere one hundred Spanish dollars each. Over the next four or five years he hosted a remarkable collection of villains and cutthroats. When pirate captain Thomas Tew put into port in 1694, the governor invited him to dinner, escorted him around town, and presented him with a gold watch as an inducement to return. Taken aback, the Lords of Trade in London asked for an explanation. Tew was “what they call a very pleasant man,” Fletcher answered serenely. “When the labours of my day were over it was some divertisement as well as information to me, to heare him talke. I wish’d in my mind to make him a sober man, and in particular to reclaime him from a vile habit of swearing.”

With Fletcher’s blessings, some of New York’s best-known captains hoisted the black flag and sailed off” to ply the waters between Africa and India, trailing mayhem and murder in their wake. Richard Glover, captain of the Resolution, seized two East India Company ships off the coast of Aden, burned their crews alive, and then blockaded the port of Calicut for ransom. Edward Coates came home with stolen goods valued at sixteen thousand pounds (including twenty-eight hundred pieces of eight) and gave Fletcher his ship, the Jacob, as a present. William Mason, captain of the Charming Mary, returned with booty worth thirty thousand pounds. Mason’s quartermaster, Samuel Burgess, subsequently went into the business on his own account and became one of the most feared pirates along the east coast of Africa.

Frederick Philipse, Nicholas Bayard, William Nicoll, Stephanus Van Cortlandt, Peter Schuyler, Thomas Willett, Tangier Smith, and other anti-Leislerian merchants financed these pirate cruises, provisioned pirate ships, and smuggled pirate contraband back into the city. They invested heavily in the illegal trade between New York and Madagascar, a notorious haven for marauders where goods of both colonial and European origin—clothing, shoes, tobacco, rum, sugar, firearms—fetched fantastic prices. A cask of wine worth nineteen pounds in New York was said to sell for three hundred pounds on Madagascar, and local merchants sometimes made profits of ten thousand pounds on a single voyage. A few maintained their own agents on St. Mary’s Island, just off the Madagascar coast, where a former New York mariner named Adam Baldridge had set up a kind of trading post for merchants and pirates.

All told, according to one report, this boodling was worth a hundred thousand pounds a year to the city. Tavern keepers, whores, retailers, and others flourished as buccaneers swaggered through the streets with purses full of hard money—Arabian dinars, Hindustani mohurs, Greek byzants, French louis d’or, Spanish doubloons. Merchants reaped huge profits (as great as “200,300, yea sometimes 400” percent, according to the Rev. John Miller) on silk carpets, muslins, ivory fans, ebony and teakwood chairs, East India cabinets, looking-glasses, vases of hammered silver and brass, and other exotic merchandise whose provenance didn’t always bear close scrutiny. The most successful built fine new residences, prompting Dr. Bullivant to remark on the “multitudes of greate & Costly buildings” that went up in New York during Fletcher’s administration.

Few New Yorkers did better than Fletcher himself, however. In addition to the protection money he collected from pirates, he extorted bribes from licensed Indian traders, bilked the customs service, padded military payrolls, and embezzled funds raised to pay the provincial debt. “He takes a particular delight in having presents made to him,” wrote Peter Delanoy, the former Leislerian mayor, a trait that “has found employment for our silversmiths and furnish’d his Excellency with more plate (besides variety of other things) than all our former Governours ever received.” Altogether, his profiteering reportedly netted him thirty thousand pounds. His luxuriously appointed residence in the fort, staffed by nineteen servants, was the talk of the town.


While working to attach the anti-Leislerian dominies and oligarchs ever more firmly to his government, Fletcher accelerated the process of anglicization begun by the Judiciary and Ministry acts. In 1693 he informed New Yorkers that Long Island would henceforth be called the Island of Nassau so that the memory of William III “may live forever amongst you” (prior to the Glorious Revolution the new king’s title had been Prince William of Nassau; it survives in Long Island’s Nassau County). That same year Fletcher tightened New York’s connections with other English colonies by reviving regular mail service to New England. Except in the dead of winter, a post rider left New York once every week, following the Post Road through New Haven to Saybrook, where he exchanged mailbags with the Boston rider, who had come down via Providence, Stonington, and New London. Service to Philadelphia was added shortly thereafter.

On November 4, 1694, likewise at Fletcher’s behest, the city celebrated the King’s Birthday with a bonfire—the first instance of what soon evolved into an elaborate annual civic ritual “essential,” in the words of a later royal governor, “to preserve and keep up in the minds of the People that respect which is due to His Majesty.” One day later, another bonfire was lit to commemorate the discovery of Guy Fawkes’s Gunpowder Plot of 1605, a Catholic scheme to blow up Parliament. Also called Guy Fawkes Day (or Pope Day in New England), the fifth of November was a popular English holiday marked by fireworks, anti-Catholic effigy processions, and general rowdyism. As a spur to political loyalty and patriotism its value in post-Leislerian New York was self-evident, and it too would become a key element of an ever more anglicized municipal culture. At some point early in the eighteenth century, it also became customary for the governor to host a fancy-dress ball for well-to-do New Yorkers of English descent on St. George’s Day (April 23). St. George, of course, was the patron saint of England, and in time, private national societies sprang up to celebrate the feast days of St. Andrew (Scotland), St. David (Wales), St. Patrick (Ireland), and even St. Nicholas (the Netherlands) as well.

Fletcher pressed his anglicization program still further by persuading the Assembly to hire thirty-year-old William Bradford of Philadelphia as public printer. Over the summer of 1693 Bradford opened a printshop at the Sign of the Bible in Dock Street (now Pearl) and promptly ran off a glowing testimonial to Fletcher’s martial exploits by Nicholas Bayard and Charles Lodwick. It may have been the first book ever printed in New York.

Because of its close association with dissent, and of the thin line that seemed to separate dissent from sedition and revolution, printing had always been closely controlled in England (as elsewhere); the duke of York, not long before ascending to the throne as James II, warned Governor Thomas Dongan to let no one operate a printing press in his province since “great inconveniences may arise by the liberty of printing.” After the Glorious Revolution, though, Parliament virtually eliminated restrictions on the press and the expression of opinion. Well before the end of the century, as a result, the English-speaking world was awash in books, pamphlets, journals, magazines, and newspapers.

Bradford’s shop connected New York to this burgeoning print world, attuning its residents to every nuance of British social and political discourse (although his audience was narrow by modern standards: in 1700 no more than one out of five residents of the city could read, and by 1750 no more than two out of five). Over the next thirty or forty years, he served up a steady diet of English-language almanacs, religious tracts, courtesy books, and excerpts from English newspapers (most often the London Gazette). His editions of Richard Lingard’s Letter of Advice to a Young Gentleman Leaving the University Concerning His Behavior and Conversation in the World (1696) and Francis Daniel Pastorius’s A New Primmer, or Methodical Directions to Attain the True Spelling, Reading & Writing of English (1698), as well as his own Secretary’s Guide, or, Young Man’s Companion (1698), were obvious attempts to promulgate British standards of correct behavior. So, too, the first American edition of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer would come off Bradford’s press in 1710. In 1725 he would launch New York’s first newspaper, the weekly Gazette.

As the government’s mouthpiece, Bradford issued a stream of official edicts, statutes, ordinances, petitions, and notices that imparted legitimacy as well as substance to the imperial order. His annual edition of the Assembly’s journals was the first publication of its kind anywhere in the colonies, for nowhere else did government have a more urgent need to inform and instruct the literate classes. Similarly, in 1698, Bradford would issue the first locally printed account of Leisler’s Rebellion, an anonymous anti-Leislerian diatribe entitled A Letter from a Gentleman of the City of New York to Another, Concerning the Troubles Which Happen’d in the Time of the Late Happy Revolution. (True freedom of the press was an idea whose time hadn’t yet come, though: the Leislerian response—another anonymous polemic, entitled Loyalty Vindicated—had to be printed in Boston.)

In this increasingly anglicized climate the city acquired its first coffeehouse. Created by Puritans in the mid-seventeenth century, coffeehouses were now quite fashionable in London as alternatives to the taverns and gin mills frequented by the lower classes. They offered men of affairs a comfortable place to talk business, discuss current events, and peruse the latest books and newspapers. Lieutenant John Hutchins, an officer who had come over with Sloughter, decided that New York was ready for a coffeehouse of its own. In 1696 he opened for business at the sign of the King’s Arms.

Standing on the west side of Broadway between Crown (Liberty) and Little Prince (Cedar), just north of Trinity Church, the King’s Arms quickly became the unofficial headquarters of English New York. Municipal and provincial officials, merchants, and officers from the fort thronged the barroom, some milling about on foot, others occupying small curtained booths to sip coffee or dine in comfort and privacy. Committees of both the provincial assembly and Common Council routinely convened in its spacious upstairs meeting-rooms, whose windows and balconies afforded sweeping views of the river and harbor below. As early as 1699, Hutchins may have allowed his establishment to be used for theatrical performances, now considered very chic in London.1


(The New York Society Library)

In these same years, the Common Council decided to replace the Dutch Stadhuis, half a century old now, with a proper City Hall at the intersection of Wall and Broad streets. (The parcel was donated by Abraham De Peyster, who had bought up many of the Dongan lots on Wall Street.) Completed in 1700 at a cost of some three thousand pounds, the new building was as much a symbol of the anglicization of New York as Trinity Church, Bradford’s printshop, or the King’s Arms. Facing down Broad, still the city’s premier commercial thoroughfare, it held rooms for the Common Council, the Assembly, the Mayor’s Court (also known as the Court of Common Pleas), the new Supreme Court of Judicature, and, in the basement, the municipal jail. After 1716 “a publick Clock” of local manufacture embellished the tower.

Yet another vestige of New Amsterdam was erased when colonial authorities demolished the old city wall, erected almost half a century earlier to keep out the English. In 1694 the Common Council had asked to have the wall removed, citing the “Incroachment of Buildings” on those parts of the palisade “Along the Wall Street” that hadn’t already been turned into firewood. The last of it finally came down in 1699, just in time for the stones from its bastions to be incorporated into the foundation of the new City Hall—a symbolic touch that would have been lost on no one.

The wall’s removal didn’t cause an immediate surge of building north of Wall Street, however, for the Dongan Charter had given all vacant land on Manhattan to the municipal corporation, which proved quite unwilling to part with any of its endowment. The resulting shortage of building plots, along with the attractions of living and working next to the Town Dock, would keep New Yorkers tethered to lower Manhattan for many years to come. In 1695 the built-up part of town covered no more than an eighth of a square mile, and most new construction took place below what is now Fulton Street. In 1704, when there were around 750 houses for the city’s five-thousand-odd inhabitants, Sarah Kemble Knight, a visitor from Boston, pronounced it “well compacted.” And crowded: as one harried colonial official complained to the Board of Trade only a few years earlier, he had been unable to find a place to live. “I have eight in family and know not yet where to fix them, houses are so scarce and dear, and lodgings worst in this place.”

Scarce and dear, but increasingly solid: most houses in New York were now built of stone or brick—the latter, Knight reported, “are of divers Coulers and laid in Checkers, being glazed [they] look very agreeable.” Aesthetics aside, the new building materials greatly reduced the menace of fire. So did the municipality’s relentless attention to fire prevention. In 1691 Direck Vandenburg, the mason who would direct Trinity’s construction, headed a committee that regularly examined chimneys and fireplaces; in 1697 the Common Council shifted that responsibility to inspectors in each ward who checked every house weekly. The city’s sixteen wells were put also put under ward supervision, and as many as fifteen more would be drilled in the middle of Manhattan streets by 1720, with residents covering the expense. In addition, new Common Council regulations required residents to keep fire buckets handy—compliance to be monitored by two city inspectors, assisted by constables.

The condition of the streets was another story. Dr. Bullivant agreed (in 1697) that “most of theyr new buildings are magnificient enough, ye fronts of red and yellow (or Flanders) brick looking very prettily.” But, he added caustically, “theyre streets are Nasty and unregarded, ye which they excuse at this time, saying the Multitudes of buildings now going forth are ye Occasion.” Improvements were nonetheless underway. In 1691 the Assembly resolved that, for the “Encouragement of Trade and Commerce,” streets, lanes, and alleys should “be conveniently regulated” and empowered the municipal corporation to lay out new ones. It did so in 1691, 1694, and again in 1700—mostly in the area below Wall Street, with the addition of some roads in the Out Ward after 1707.

The most important new street was built on landfill adjacent to the Town Dock. In 1686, intending to raise cash for the payment of its debts, the Common Council began the process of selling “water lots” along the East River shore to merchants who agreed to fill them in. In 1691, when the town again needed funds for a new market house and ferry house, and later in the decade, when it built the new City Hall, additional lots were sold along the waterfront between the old Stadhuis and Fulton Street. But this time the Common Council attached strings. Purchasers were required to fill in their lots and erect on each a stone- or brick-fronted building at least two stories high—after which the entire stretch of new-made land was to be designated Dock Street. By 1692 purchasers were hard at work, filling in their lots with dirt obtained by digging and leveling as much of “the hill by Mr. Beekmans” as belonged to the city. Increasingly, the city gave preference in the sale or lease of water lots to inhabitants (usually wealthy) who owned property fronting the new lots.

Dock Street’s residents, like those along other roadways, were also required to pave the section of street in front of their house, at their own cost, with “good & sufficient peeble Stones,” and to pull up any “poysonous and Stinkcking Weeds” (Broadway residents had to plant trees as well). By 1707 most of the city’s major thoroughfares were covered with cobblestones, except in the middle, where a gutter or channel was left to funnel off rainwater. Residents of Broad Street had petitioned the city for a “Common Sewer” in 1696, but when the parsimonious Common Council discovered that a proper sewer would cost £865, they promptly dropped the matter. As a result, the channels on Broad and elsewhere were constantly clogged with dirt and refuse, much of the latter dumped there by householders themselves, in lieu of paying cartmen the prescribed fee for taking it away. Official scavengers were employed from time to time to tackle the problem, but without notable success.

The streets presented other perils—being run down by galloping horses, for example, or bowled over by the ever ubiquitous pigs (whenever they weren’t rooting about in the city graveyard). At night, footpads were so common that pedestrians were obliged to travel in pairs. Finally, in 1697, the magistrates—remarking on “the great Inconveniency that Attends this Citty, being A trading place for want of Lights”—ordered that every house have a light “hung out on a Pole” from an upper window “in the Darke time of the Moon.” When homeowners objected to the expense, the magistrates retreated to a requirement that only every seventh house need present “A Lanthorn & Candle,” and only in winter, the cost to be shared by the owners of the other six.

In 1684, moreover, the Common Council instructed the constables in each of the five wards south of the Fresh Water Pond to hire eight citizens as watchmen. This “Constables Wattch” was a more substantial force than in other colonial (or most English) towns. Besides patrolling the streets at night, staffs in hand, the watchmen were to ensure that no violations of the drinking laws occured during Sunday worship. In 1685 the Assembly increased the fines for public drunkenness, describing that “Louthsome and Odious sin” as “the root and foundation of many other Enormous Sinnes as bloodshed, stabbing, murther, swearing, fornication, Adultry, and such like.” That same year the Common Council outlawed “Pockett Pistols” and other concealed weapons. It was becoming somewhat more difficult, too, to open a “public house” or tavern for the sale of liquor. Municipal authorities now requested applicants for a license to present a certificate attesting they were “of good life & Conversation and fitt to keep such a house.”


The anglicization of New York also meant the closer synchronization of provincial “heats and animosityes” with the rhythms of party politics in England. Within a year of Leisler’s execution, his son, Jacob Leisler Jr., and his old friend Abraham Gouverneur were in London, lobbying members of Parliament, cabinet officers, and other highly placed government officials to clear his name. The complexion of affairs in London was changing rapidly, and powerful Whigs agreed to help.

By 1694 King William had become impatient with the Tories who remained in his cabinet after the Glorious Revolution. They criticized the war with France as excessively expensive and complained when the Whigs set up the Bank of England to stabilize government finances. Before the year was done, the king had forced them all out of office, leaving the Whigs in complete control of the machinery of state. Moving swiftly to strengthen the government’s hand abroad, the Whigs established a new Board of Trade, adopted the first comprehensive Navigation Act, announced a full-scale crackdown on piracy and illegal trade, and poured money into the Royal Navy.

For New York’s Leislerians, the Whig ascendancy was a new beginning; for Governor Fletcher, it spelled disaster. In 1695 Parliament declared that both Leisler and Milborne had been unjustly convicted. Robert Livingston, one of Fletcher’s keenest enemies, rushed to London bearing lurid testimonials, largely accurate, to Fletcher’s corruption. As the protege of certain Tories no longer in the king’s favor, Fletcher was helpless. In 1697, after a lengthy investigation that focused on his relations with pirates, the Board of Trade ordered him home.

Fletcher’s successor was Richard Coote, the earl of Bellomont, a gouty Irish peer with impeccable Whig credentials. Bellomont reached New York in the spring of 1698 and found that “there are parties here as in England.” The local Tories included Bayard, Philipse, and other anti-Leislerians—disgraceful “vermin,” Bellomont called them, who with former governor Fletcher’s backing had turned New York into “a sink of corruption.” He promptly brought the leading anti-Leislerians up on charges of smuggling, graft, landgrabbing, election fraud, and piracy. He started legal action to recover the millions of acres of prime land they had obtained from Fletcher, including the property occupied by Trinity Church. He gave the job of mayor back to Peter Delanoy and ordered customs officers to enforce the new Navigation Act with utmost vigor.

With Bellomont’s help, the Leislerians soon regained control of the Assembly and began to settle old scores—granting pardons to Leisler’s followers, canceling punitive lawsuits, restoring illegally seized property, voiding Fletcher’s most excessive land grants, and writing new legislation to protect the livelihood of city artisans. They broadened the suffrage for Assembly elections (Catholics excepted, of course). But nothing gave the Leislerians greater satisfaction than the day in October 1698 when the bodies of Leisler and Milborne were exhumed and reburied in the Dutch church on Garden Street amid the “sound of trumpet and drumms.” Despite a “rank storm,” an estimated fifteen hundred people took part, many coming in from Long Island, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania for the occasion. Excited spectators reported seeing “Leisler’s apparition in a Coach” near the church.

The anti-Leislerians were meanwhile actively scheming against Bellomont. Already, he warned the Board of Trade, they had sent a delegation to London to bring charges against him and were “cock sure of carrying the point and getting me turned out of this government.” It proved to be Captain Kidd, however, who would wound Bellomont most deeply.


A Scot by birth, William Kidd went off to sea as a young man and at length found his way to the Caribbean. There, along with thousands of other restless, ambitious seamen, he drifted from port to port looking for work, a background that later prompted Leisler to call him, with considerable justice, a “blasphemous privateer.”

When war broke out between England and France in 1688, Kidd got a privateering commission from the governor of Nevis, an English colony in the West Indies. He attacked French ships and colonies until his crew, who preferred piracy to honest plunder, absconded with his ship. Kidd set out after them in another vessel, and over the winter of 1690-91 the chase brought him to New York, where he astutely chose to help Ingoldsby and Sloughter recapture the town from Leisler. The Assembly voted Kidd a reward of one hundred fifty pounds, and he became fast friends with Nicholas Bayard, Stephanus Van Cortlandt, Frederick Philipse, and other anti-Leislerian worthies implicated in piracy and illegal trade. On the very day of Leisler’s execution, he obtained a license to marry Sarah Bradley Cox Oort, widow of a prosperous merchant whose property included a flour warehouse, the fine home on River Road (Pearl Street) once owned by Govert Loockermans and Annetje Jans, and a capital of nineteen hundred pounds. After a few more years, Kidd had acquired fine silverware, a large plot of land north of Wall Street, and an excellent wine cellar; his wife was the proud owner of the first “Turkey worked” carpet seen in New York. When construction began on the new Trinity Church, he provided the block and tackle for hoisting the stones.

In 1695, while marshaling his case against Governor Fletcher, Robert Livingston met Kidd in London and arranged for him to take a heavily armed frigate, the Adventure Galley, into the Indian Ocean to hunt pirates. A syndicate of rich Whigs, organized by Bellomont and Livingston on the eve of Bellomont’s departure for New York, agreed to finance Kidd’s expedition in return for a share of the proceeds.

Kidd returned to New York and filled out his 150-man crew with the kind of restless spirits who usually signed up for risky ventures at sea—mostly young, overwhelmingly poor, and, except for a handful of experienced mariners, thoroughly weary of trying to make a living on land as farmers, laborers, carpenters, shoemakers, bakers, and the like. Two out of three were English, and one out of six was Dutch. There was one African and one Jew—Benjamin Franks, a jeweler from Jamaica who was trying to get to India, then the world’s leading supplier of precious gems.

The Adventure Galley set sail for Madagascar in the early autumn of 1696. Somewhere along the way Kidd decided to turn pirate and spent the next couple of years preying on trade in the Indian Ocean. When he headed back for New York in the spring of 1699, he was rumored to be carrying a treasure worth half a million pounds. His backers, though, were deserting him. He had thumbed his nose at the government, embarrassed important people, defied the navy, outraged the budding imperial bureaucracy, and done harm to the mighty East India Company. The Tory opposition was clamoring for his head, and by early 1699, even as Kidd reentered American waters, the Whigs knew they might lose control of Parliament if they didn’t wash their hands of him at once.

Kidd’s relationship with Governor Bellomont was a particularly sensitive issue for the Whigs. When Kidd showed up in Boston in July, Bellomont had no choice but to order his arrest—a decision probably made easier by the discovery that Kidd’s loot was worth a paltry forty thousand pounds or so, far too meager to make it worth anyone’s while to protect him (though rumors persist that just before his arrest he stashed a huge treasure somewhere on the forks of eastern Long Island). In May 1701, after six months of solitary confinement in Boston, followed by a year in London’s infamous Newgate prison, Kidd was hanged for murder and piracy while his erstwhile Whig patrons looked on in stony silence. (Hanged twice, actually, because the first rope broke and he had to be dropped a second time, after which his body was tarred, bound in an iron cage, and left swinging alongside the Thames as a warning to sailors contemplating a pirate life.) Exactly ten years had passed since Leisler’s execution, and it couldn’t have been clearer that the political trail between New York and London was now shorter, and more treacherous, than ever.


Kidd’s fate, like Leisler’s, had been played out on the Anglo-American political stage, before an audience that was increasingly eager for printed news and information. This account appeared on the market very soon after the execution. (© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London)


Just weeks before Kidd’s execution, Lord Bellomont died suddenly in New York. By the time his replacement was chosen in 1702, the Tories were back in power in Parliament and Queen Anne had taken the throne. The new royal governor was the queen’s Tory cousin Edward Hyde, Viscount Cornbury. Former governor Fletcher’s private secretary welcomed him as “a very well humourd Affable Gent.,” and so he no doubt appeared to his political supporters—all the more so after Cornbury removed Bellomont’s Leislerian appointees and resumed the practice of handing out land to backers; the largest ran to two million acres, better than half the size of Connecticut. The large number of New Yorkers belonging to Reformed and dissenting congregations, on the other hand, saw nothing affable about Cornbury or his campaign to impose the Church of England on the colony.

A zealous Anglican like Fletcher, Cornbury favored Trinity Church with a generous portion of Manhattan real estate known as the King’s (or Queen’s) Farm, which stretched up the island’s west side as far as modern Christopher Street. He increased the salary of Trinity’s rector, the Rev. William Vesey, and persuaded the Assembly to raise taxes to pay for it. He welcomed missionaries dispatched by the Church of England’s new Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), chartered by King William in 1701 to invigorate the colonial church. It was, he said, his intention to promote the SPG’s “good and pious designs, to the utmost of my power.”

In 1707 Cornbury ordered the arrest of the Rev. Francis Makemie, one of the founders of American Presbyterianism, for preaching in the city without a license. After languishing in jail for three months, Makemie successfully defended himself under the English Toleration Act (which Cornbury said didn’t apply in New York). In Jamaica, where the Presbyterians had just built a new church, Cornbury evicted the minister, William Hubbard, and replaced him with an Anglican. When the congregation rioted and retook the building, Cornbury barred Hubbard from ever preaching there again.

Cornbury bore down heavily as well on the Reformed Church, despite decades of collusion by its dominies. Claiming the authority to do so under the Ministry Act, he began to fill vacant Reformed pulpits with Anglicans—a tactic, he said, that in conjunction with English-language schooling was the best way to “make this Colony an English Colony, which I am afraid will not easily be done without it.” Under his aegis, Anglicans also took over Dutch Reform missions to the Indians, and when they began to distribute Dutch-language editions of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer—suggesting that Netherlanders were also fit objects for proselytizing—the dominies abandoned their collaborationist policy and went over into opposition.

Only a few years after he arrived in New York, Cornbury was tangled in sheets of trouble. Stories began circulating on both sides of the Atlantic about his eccentric, outlandish personal behavior. On one memorable occasion he allegedly scattered the patrons of the King’s Arms by riding his horse through the front door and up to the bar. It was charged, too, that he made a habit of addressing the Assembly and strolling the fort’s parapets in female attire. “His dressing himself in womens Cloths Commonly [every] morning is so unaccountable that if hundred[s] of Spectators didn’t dayly see him, it would be incredible,” said Robert Livingston (who in fact never actually witnessed such a scene himself and was only spreading rumors). Cornbury was a casual chiseler, on top of everything else, and soon had city merchants clamoring for him to pay off better than ten thousand pounds’ worth of bills and promissory notes. Lady Cornbury was accused of swiping clothes and jewels from the town’s best-dressed women; the sound of her carriage at the door, people said, was a warning to hide anything of value.

In 1708, when the Whigs won a crushing majority in Parliament, Cornbury’s enemies, rallied by Lewis Morris, persuaded the government to remove him from office. Stephen De Lancey and assorted other creditors immediately had him thrown into debtor’s prison. “A Porter in the streets of London is a happier man than a Governor in America,” Cornbury wailed. He got out only when the timely death of his father made him the third earl of Clarendon, rendering him immune from prosecution. No one shed a tear when he left New York later that same year, except perhaps those unlucky townsfolk who were still trying to collect the money he owed them.


Cornbury hadn’t yet taken up his post in New York when, in 1702, Parliament renewed the war with France, this time to prevent the grandson of Louis XIV from inheriting the Spanish empire. The War of the Spanish Succession—“Queen Anne’s War” in America—soon blossomed into a kind of national crusade for the great Whig traders and financiers of London, who fattened their purses on military contracts, loans, and colonial commerce.

In New York, on the other hand, city merchants suddenly found themselves up against a Spanish embargo on their exports to the West Indies and mounting losses to enemy privateers. In the first two years of the war alone the French captured nearly thirty New York vessels, about one-fourth of those that worked out of the port. The economy nosedived. “Their Trade is in effect quite gon,” said a contemporary report; “the produce of the Country is of little or noe value, nor is there any markett for it any where.” Local shipyards eventually did some business replacing vessels taken by the enemy; some merchants traded illegally with the French West Indies; and privateering helped cushion the losses. Between 1703 and 1712, New York privateers returned with more than fifty prizes worth as much as sixty thousand pounds, but this was a trifling sum compared to the wages of piracy a decade earlier, and it cost the lives of nearly three hundred seamen, almost half the colony’s total.

The end of Queen Anne’s War was in sight after 1710, when the wheel of political fortune turned again and the Tories won a majority in Parliament. Viscount Bolingbroke, a Jacobite who had become the party’s chief tactician, set out at once to make peace with France and restore the Stuarts to the line of succession. He achieved the former in 1713, but his plans for the latter were foiled by Queen Anne’s death in 1714 and the accession of the Hanoverian George I. In desperation, Bolingbroke cast his lot with a Jacobite rising in Scotland in 1715. (For reasons of commerce as well as defense, the Whigs had engineered the unification of Scotland and England in 1707.) “The ‘15” ended in defeat, however, and from that point forward the Whigs had a firm grip on the government.

As the likelihood of counterrevolution receded and Parliament settled in for a long period of one-party rule, the “heats and animosityes” between Leislerians and anti Leislerians slowly dissipated. Robert Hunter, governor between 1710 and 1719, hastened the process by administering timely doses of both intimidation and compromise to suppress dissent. By 1717 he could inform his superiors back home that New York seemed at peace for the first time in a generation, “a perfect harmony reigning among all parties.” Among the old parties, that is, for new lines of conflict were already being drawn as Britain’s escalating rivalry with France spawned two competing cliques or “interests” within New York’s propertied classes.

The “mercantile interest,” headed by the De Lancey, Philipse, and Schuyler families, spoke for those residents who regarded the Anglo-French conflict as bad for business. The deep-water merchants among them were fearful of the toll an all-out war would take on international commerce; others traded regularly with French Canada. The De Lanceys, in particular, had relations with both sides. Stephen, who had helped establish New York’s French Church, had prospered as a merchant (in 1719 he built the handsome mansion on Broad and Queen that would later become Fraunces Tavern). His success was due in part to adroit anglicizing, notably by marriage into the wealthy Van Cortlandt family. His son James had studied in England, where the archbishop of Canterbury had been his college tutor, and the family had impressive connections with influential men in Parliament, the cabinet, and the Anglican Church.

The rival “landed interest,” dominated by the Livingstons, Beekmans, Van Rensselaers, and Morrises, was an alliance between Hudson Valley manor lords and the assorted speculators, lawyers, and city retailers whose fortunes were tied to theirs (and leaned, as they did, toward Presbyterianism or other dissenting sects). They wanted no expense spared for the defense of the frontier, they welcomed war as a source of profit, and they dreamed of conquering Canada, not trading with it.

The landed interest was dominant in the early 1720s owing to the support of Governor William Burnet, Hunter’s hand-picked successor. Bookish and courtly, Burnet liked nothing more than to sit on the porch of White Hall, Stuyvesant’s old residence, gazing out over the harbor while taking his afternoon tea. On three occasions after 1720, at the instigation of Livingston, Morris, and their friends, the Assembly halted sales of “Indian goods” to the French, hoping thereby to keep the Iroquois tied to Britain while ruining Montreal. With the arrival of Governor John Montgomerie, who replaced Burnet in 1728, the mercantile interest got its turn to luxuriate in the warm embrace of official preferment, while the landed interest became increasingly identified with opposition to the colony’s royal governors.

The full meaning of these factional twists and turns was not yet apparent, however, for by 1720 New York was on the upward slope of an economic boom that would completely change the contours of public life in the city.

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