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Jacob Leisler

Birthplace: Frankfurt, Hesse, Germany
Death: May 16, 1691 (51)
New York, NY, United States (Executed for rebellion)
Immediate Family:

Son of Jacob Victorian Leisler and Susanne Adelheid Wissenbach
Husband of Elsje Tymens
Father of Susannah Leisler; Mary Leisler; Catharine Walter; Jacob Leisler; Johannes Leisler and 2 others
Brother of Johann Heinrich Leisler; Franz Leisler and Johann Adam Leisler, I

Occupation: Merchant
Managed by: George J. Homs
Last Updated:

About Jacob Leisler

See: for an excellent short biography.

See Wikipedia and the Jacob Leisler Project at New York University


To save New York from greater disorder and defend it against an invasion by the French, it became necessary to elect a temporary governor. It was then that the people chose a German, Jacob Leisler, a native of Frankfort-on-the- Main, who, upon coming to New York in 1 660, had attained great success as a merchant. A man of great energy, high spirits and of noted integrity, he was senior captain of the militia. By marriage he was connected with the Dutch aristocracy of the town. Thus Leisler appeared to be the right person, to save the colony from further unrest and calamity.

However, the people's party had under-estimated the hatred of the Aristocrats. From the moment Leisler assumed charge of affairs, the latter began to denounce him as a demagogue. In connection with the rest of the officials, who had fled to Albany, they started a regular campaign of secret intrigue and open hostility. Flooding the government in London with complaints, they decried Leisler and the members of his council as foreign-born plebeians, mutineers and tyrants, falsely alleging that they had seized their offices only to enrich themselves and to defraud the government of its taxes. At the same time they declined to acknowledge Leisler and his councilors, and incited all colonists to refuse obedience.

To remain silent under such calumniation and provocation was impossible. Leisler commissioned a company of soldiers under command of his son-in-law, Major Jacob Milborne, to go to Albany to compel the aristocrats to acknowledge him and to occupy the fort, as at the Canadian border hostilities by the French and their Indian allies were imminent. Un fortunately the company was not strong enough to capture the fort, the Aristocrats being on their guard and defending Albany successfully, so that Milborne had to withdraw. Soon afterwards, however, the nearby town of Schenectady was surprised by the French and Indians, while the unsuspecting inhabitants were asleep. The whole settlement was burned, 60 people killed and 90 carried away as prisoners. When the news of this assault reached Albany, the frightened aristocrats fled to Massachusetts, leaving the defense of the city to Leisler, who once more proved himself equal to the emergency.

Convinced that the colonies would never be safe unless the French were driven from Canada, and that for an effective resistance against the formidable foe co-operation on the part of all colonies was essential, Leisler invited the governors of all the other colonies to a council at New York. It was the first ever held, and by this act Leisler aroused the colonists to a sense of common interest, which kept on increasing and was destined to culminate in the Continental Congress of 1776.

That memorable council took place on May 1, 1690, attended by delegates from New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts,

Plymouth, New Jersey and Maryland. It was  resolved, that 855 men, assisted by an auxiliary force of 1600  Mohawk Indians, should attack Canada by land, while at the  same time a fleet of 32 vessels should ascend the St. Lawrence  River and bombard Quebec. The campaign was undertaken  by the colonies at their own cost and responsibility, without  the aid of the mother country. 

Unfortunately its aims were not realized, as the leaders of the two expeditions, lacking energy, were not victorious in their attacks. Leisler himself, however, gained a success by capturing six French vessels, which had dared to come to the vicinity of New York.

The campaign, undertaken on Leisler s recommendation, burdened the colonies with considerable expense. Its failure was of course used by his enemies to make a scapegoat of him and to undermine his reputation by malicious slander.

This was the situation, when in January, 1 691 , a vessel from England brought the news, that the home government had appointed a new governor for New York in the person of Colonel Henry Sloughter. It was stated that this official had set out with several vessels and many troops to take charge of the colony.

By misadventure a heavy storm separated his vessel from the fleet and compelled him to a delay of several weeks at the Bermudas. In the meantime the fleet, with Major Ingoldsby the second in command, arrived in the harbor of New York. The aristocrats at once set out to win the favor of the new arrival and to influence him against Leisler. These efforts proved successful when Ingoldsby s demand, to surrender the fort at once, was answered by Leisler with the request for documentary proof of Ingoldsby s authority. As such docu ment was not at hand, Leisler refused to give up the fort. Ingoldsby, feeling himself aggrieved in his honor as an officer, ordered his soldiers to take the fort by force, but was repelled and lost several of his men. Ingoldsby now laid siege to the fort for several weeks; meanwhile Leisler s enemies continued their slanderous activity with renewed vigor.

On March 19 the vessel of Governor Sloughter finally hove into sight. Ingoldsby delivered his report. Amplified by the complaints of the aristocrats, who hurried to pay their respects to the new governor, it so enraged Sloughter that he demanded immediate and unconditional surrender of the fort. Although L.eisler immediately complied, he and the members of his council were placed under arrest, and thrown into prison.

Paying no attention to Leisler s side of the story Sloughter next instituted a court martial, appointing several personal enemies of Leisler as judges. These acts sealed the fate of Leisler. Charged with rebellion and high treason, he as well as Milborne were condemned to be executed.

In view of the manifest injustice of this decision Sloughter hesitated to sign the death warrant. But the aristocrats, having invited him to a banquet, procured his signature while he was intoxicated. Even before he could regain his sober senses, the two condemned men were dragged to the place of execution, where, on March 16, 1691 , they were hanged and their bodies beheaded.

Thus died Jacob Leisler, the first martyr in the long struggle of the American people for liberty, the first of the men chosen by the people in their efforts to wrest the right of self-govern ment from the hands of their oppressors.

While the aristocrats rejoiced in triumph, their villainous acts aroused bitter resentment in all parts of the colony, and a popular uprising was imminent.

• signed the Remonstrance to surrender New Netherland (1664)

view all 12

Jacob Leisler's Timeline

March 31, 1640
Frankfurt, Hesse, Germany
February 10, 1664
Nieuw Amsterdam, New York, New York County, New York, United States
November 8, 1665
New York, New York County, New York, United States
November 13, 1667
New York, New York County, New York, United States
December 12, 1669
New York, NY, United States
December 20, 1671
New York, New York County, New York, United States
October 8, 1673
Nieuw Amsterdam, New York, New York County, New York, United States