In March, 1665, a convention of delegates from the towns assembled at Hempstead, in accordance with a proclamaion of Governor Nicolls, "to settle good and known laws within this government for the future, and receive yo best advice and informationa at a gen all metting." At this convention the boundaries and relations of the towns were settled and determined, and some other matters adjusted. New patents were required to be taken by those who had received their patents from the Dutch authorities, and it was required that patents should be taken by those who had never received any, as was the case with the eastern towns. These required a quit-rent a relic of feudal customs-which was the source of much trouble, and the subject of abuse afterward. A code of laws for the government of the province was also promulgated. These, which had been compiled at the dictation of the governor, were termed the Duke's Laws. They contained many of the provisions which had been adopted by the eastern towns, and many of the enactments would be looked on at the present day as curiosities. With some modifications they were continued in force till 1683, when the first Provincial Assembly held its session. THOMPSON says: "In addition to other matters which occupied the convention at Hempstead in 1665, Long Island and Staten Island (and probably Westchester) were erected into a shire, called, after that in England, Yorkshire, which was in like manner divided into separate districts, denominated ridings: the towns now included in Suffolk county constituted the East 'Riding'; Kings county, Staten Island, and the town of NEWTOWN, the West 'Riding', of Yorkshire upon Long Island." The word "riding" thus used is a corruption of "trithing"-a third. The original names of some of the towns were changed to the present ones at this meeting, it is supposed. So highly pleased were the delegates at this convention with the prospect before them, under the assurances of the governor, that they adopted and signed an address to the king, pledging loyalty and submission in terms that were not pleasing to the people and that were criticised with such severity that the Court of Assize issued an edict forbidding further censure of these deputies, under penalty of being brought before the court "to answer for the slander".
Under the Duke's Law the justices--one in each town--were appointed by the governor, as was also the high sheriff of the shire, and a deputy sheriff for each riding. Each town elected at first eight and afterwards four overseers and a constable, who constituted a Town Court, with jurisdiction limited to cases of £5 or less. They also assess taxes and regulated minor matters. Each riding had a Court of Sessions consisting of the justices, with whom the high sheriff, members of the council and secretary of the colony, were entitled to sit. It had criminal jurisdiction, and in civil cases its judgments were final in cases less than £20. The Court of Assize, which consisted of the governor, council, and indefinite number of magistrates, had appellate jurisdiction in cases from inferior courts, and original jurisdiction in suits for demands above £20.
No provision was made for a legislature; and, while this Court of Assize was nominally the head of the government, the governor, who appointed the members of it, and who could remove most of them at his pleasure, really possessed unlimited legislative, executive and judicial authority. THOMPSON says: "In this court the governor united the character of both judge and legislator. He interpreted his own acts, and not only pronounced what the law was, but what it should be."
Although the people on the western end of the island became aware that the government under the Duke of York was framed on no better model than that under the Dutch governor, and those in the English towns that they were shorn of all their former privileges, Governor Nicholls exercised his powers so carefully and judiciously as to allay their discontent.
He relinquished the reins of government in 1667 and was succeded by Francis Lovelace, who during his administration acquired the almost unanimous ill-will of the people. When, in 1670, a levy was made on the towns to raise money for repairing the fort at New York, nearly all of the English towns, by vote, refused to obey the order for the contribution or levy unless "they might have the privileges that other of his Majesty's subjects have and do enjoy." THOMPSON says; "The English colonists on Long Island brought with them the doctrine that taxes could only be imposed with the consent of the people by their representatives in a general assembly." It is not known that this tax was ever collected in those towns. This was the first open manifestation in this country of a spirit of resistance to the invasion of this right-a resistance which led, a century later, to the American Revolution.
The resolutions of refusal were laid before the governor and council, and were by them ordered to be publicly burned before the town house of the city. It is said of Governor Lovelace, that in 1668 he wrote to Sir Robert Carr in New Jersey, that to keep people submissive the best method was "to lay such taxes upon them as may not give them liberty to entertain any other thoughts but how they shall discharge them."
Had not the administration of Governor Lovelace come to an end by a sudden and unexpected event, he would probably have suffered the full consequences of the popular indignation which his disregard of the people's rights aroused. "The country, which had now been nine years governed by the Duke of York's deputies, and experienced in very full measure the ill effects of ignorance and indiscretion in the conduct of its rulers, came once more under the government of their ancient masters, the Dutch."
Between 1672 and 1674 the English and Dutch were at war, and in the latter part of July, 1673, a small Dutch squadron entered New York harbor, and Captain Manning, the commandant of the fort, surrendered it without resistance. For this act he was afterward sentenced to have his sword broken over his head.
Captain Anthony Colve was, by the commanders of the squadron, appointed governor of the colony, and he at once set about the re-establishment of the authority of the Dutch government. In the towns that had before been under the Dutch regime submission was readily made, but in the towns of the East riding his task was more difficult. Huntington and Brookhaven yielded after a time on certain conditions, but Southold, Southampton, and Easthampton, rejected all overtures, and petitioned for admission to the colonly of Connecticut. They were accepted, and when Governor Colve attempted to reduce these towns to submission by force, Connecticut sent troops to their assistance, and the Dutch were repulsed. In November, 1673, the New England colonies declared war against the Dutch, and made preparations for active hostilities. The conclusion of peace, early in 1674, between the English and Dutch, of course arrested their proceedings. On the restoration of the duke's government, these towns were unwilling to become subject again to a rule under which they had been oppressed. Resistance was unavailing, however, and they were compelled to submit to a repetition of the former despotic sway of the duke's governors.
Sir Edmund Andros became governor on the restoration of the duke's authority, and his administration, which continued till 1681, was even more despotic than that of Governor Lovelace. Colonel Thomas Dongan succeeded Governor Andros. On his arrival, in 1682, he at once issued orders for summoning a general assembly. This was the result of a petition to the duke by the grand jury of the Court of Assize in 1681.
At the first session of this Colonial Assembly, in 1683, they "adopted a bill of rights, established courts of justice, repealed some of the most obnoxious of the duke's laws, altered and amended others, and passed such new laws as they judged that the circumstances of the colony required." At this session the "ridings" were abolished, and the counties of Kings, Queens, and Suffolk, organized. Another session was held in 1684, at which, among other acts, the court of assize was abolished, and another Assembly was summoned to convene in the following year.
"Charles II died February 6th, 1685, and the Duke of York succeeded him by the title of James II.; as he determined to have as little to do with parliaments as possible, so it is probable that he revoked the power which he had given to his governors to call assemblies, and determined that they should rule the colony by his instruction alone, without admitting the people to any participation in the public councils." Under the government of James no other session of the Legislature was ever held.
On the occurrence of the revolution in England which placed William and Mary on the throne, a party of sympathizers with that revolution, led by Jacob Leisler, seized the government of the colonly, and during two years matters here were in an unsettled condition. Long Island gave only a partial support to Leisler; and when, in 1690, he summoned a general assembly, no members from Suffolk attended and one from Queens refused to serve. It appears that Leisler attempted to use force against some portions of Long Island, which he declared to be in a state of rebellion, but that his efforts proved entirely unsuccessful.
After the revolution of 1689-90, the Colonial government settled down on a basis, which continued, with but few changes, till the American Revolution. It is thus stated by Wood:
"The executive power was vested in the Governor, and the legislative power in the Governor, Council and Assembly, subject to the revision of the King, to whom all laws were to be sent within three months after their passage.
"The Council at first consisted of seven members (which number was afterwards increased to twelve), who were appointed by the King.
"The Assembly was composed of dlelegates from each county, chosen by the freeholders. Their number as regulated by law. The term of service was indefinite till 1743, when it was limited to seven years.
"The Governor could suspend members of the Council and appoint others, subject to the King's approbation. He had a negative on the acts pased by the Assembly and Council. He had power to summon, prorogue, or dissolve the Assembly, to appoint all public officers, and, with the consent of the Council, to establish courts of justice, to dispose of the public lands, and to disburse the public moneys raised for the support of the government."
It will be seen, at a glance, that this system of government offered an open door for great abuse of power. The land sales, fees for new patents, and quit-rents, afforded revenues on which many of the governors grew rich; and the absolute negative possessed by the Governor and the Crown rendered the Assembly almost powerless for the adoption of any measure not pleasing to them. The abuses of power, and the oppressions of the people which led to the American Revolution, are portions of the history of the whole country that it is not necessary to repeart here.
Taken from Civil, Political, Professional and Ecclesiastical HISTORY and Commercial and Industrial Record of the County of Kings and The City of Brooklyn, N.Y.; from 1683 to 1884. by Henry R. Stiles, A.M., M.D., Editor-in-Chief. Vol. I; pgs. 27-29.
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