Colonial New York Under British Rule: 1674-1776


The Treaty of Westminster (1674) ended the Third Anglo-Dutch war, and New York came under English rule once again. The English common law replaced the Dutch legal system, and the right to trial by jury was re-established in the colony. From then until the Revolution, the jury stood as a barrier between the colonists and the tyranny of the Crown and its representatives.

The colonists soon began a long struggle with England for a representative government and, in 1683, Governor Thomas Dongan called the first Assembly in New York. In its first session, this representative body enacted the "Charter of Liberties and Privileges." In 1686, James II annexed New York to the Dominion of New England, and the New York Assembly ceased to exist.

In England, as a result of the Glorious Revolution, James II was deposed and the reign of William and Mary began. The Crown appointed Henry Sloughter Governor of New York and, in 1691, he convened a new Assembly, the first enactment of which was "An Act Declaring What are the Rights and Privileges of Their Majestyes Subjects Inhabiting within Their Province of New York."

By chapter 4 of the Laws of 1691, a permanent judicial system was established and the Supreme Court of Judicature was set up. Many decisions of this influential court became landmarks of colonial jurisprudence.



Featured Cases: Crown v. Zenger


The [jury] trial of Zenger in 1735 was the germ of American freedom -- the morning star of that liberty which subsequently revolutionized America. Gouverneur Morris



Important Figures


Joseph Dudley (1691)

Thomas Johnson (1691)

William Pinhorne (1691)

William (Tangier) Smith (1691)

Stephen Van Cortlandt (1691)

Chidley Brooke (1693)

John Lawrence (1693)

Abraham De Peyster (1698)

William Atwood (1701)

Robert Walters (1701)

John Bridges (1702)

Robert Milward (1703)

Thomas Wenham (1703)

Roger Mompesson (1704)

Lewis Morris (1715)

James De Lancey (1731)

Frederick Philipse (1731)

Daniel Horsmanden (1736)

John Chambers (1751)

David Jones (1758)

Benjamin Pratt (1761)

Robert R. Livingston (1763)

George Ludlow (1769)

William Smith (the elder) (1773)

Thomas Jones (1773)

Whitehead Hicks (1776)

Featured Cases: 1741 New York Slave Insurrection Trials


The principal inducement, therefore, to this undertaking was, the public benefit; that those who have property in slaves, might have a lasting memento concerning the nature of them; that they may be thence warned to keep a constant guard over them; since what they have done, they may one time or other act over again—Justice Daniel Horsmanden Preface to A Journal of the Proceedings in the Detection of the Conspiracy (April 12, 1744, City of New York)



Important Cases


The Jacob Leisler Treason Trial (1691)

The Colonel Nicholas Bayard Treason Trial (1702)

Cosby v. Van Dam (1733)

Crown v. John Peter Zenger (1735)

Trials relating to the New York Slave Insurrection (1741)

Forsey v. Cunningham (1764)

Crown v. William Prendergast (1766)



Important Figures


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James Alexander, Esq.

John Chambers, Esq.

Mehitabel Wing

Andrew Hamilton



About the Period


Duke's Laws (1665)

Charter of Liberties and Privileges (1683)

An Act Declaring What are the Rights and Privileges of Their Majestyes Subjects Inhabiting within Their Province of New York (1691)





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