Colonial New York Under British Rule: 1674-1776

New Netherland became the Colony of New York in 1664 but the Anglo-Dutch wars that led to its capture by the English continued, and the Dutch reclaimed the colony in 1673. Less than a year later, New York was restored to English rule under the 1674 Treaty of Westminster, and it continued as a British colony until the American Revolution.

During the 17th century, the colonists repeatedly petitioned for representative government and in 1683 the first elected Assembly met. By 1735, when the Governor ceased to participate in the Council, control of the Province took the familiar form of the executive (Governor), an upper chamber (Council) and a lower chamber (Assembly). Earlier, in 1691, a judicial system that included the Supreme Court of Judicature had been established.

The English authorities frequently used the threat of criminal prosecutions to quell political opposition, as is evidenced by the Leisler (1691) and Bayard (1702) treason trials. In Cosby v. Van Dam (1733) and Crown v. John Peter Zenger (1735), the colonists' growing resistance to arbitrary governmental action was supported by the increasing sophistication of the New York bar and the independence the Province's juries.

Slave holding was common in the New York Province and the suppression of the Negro Plot ofd 1712 led to the iniquitous trials associated with New York Slave Insurrection of 1741. Later, the case of Forsey v. Cunningham (1764) established that the Crown did not have the authority to amend or reverse a jury verdict and, not long before Independence, the case of Crown v. Prendergast (1766) focused on the iniquities of manorial tenure that underlay the Anti-Rent War in 19th century upstate New York.

Although the Provincial Assembly did not hold its final session until April 1775, residents of New York City formed the Committee of Fifty-One in May 1774. The committee sent letters to the other British colonies suggesting the formation of a general congress of representatives to take action "for the security of our common rights" and this led to the establishment of the Continental Congress. Within New York, Provincial Congresses were elected regularly and when the Fourth Provincial Congress met at the court house in White Plains on the 9th of July, 1776, the Declaration of Independence issued by the Continental Congress was unanimously adopted. The following day, the Fourth Provincial Congress was renamed the Convention of the Representatives of the State of New York.

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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

Jacob Leisler Treason Trial (1691)

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)

Courts of the Era


Court of Assizes

Court of Sessions

Mayor's Court

Local Courts


Court of Chancery

Surrogate Court

Court of Exchequer

Court of Oyer and Terminer

Court of Sessions

Petty Courts


Court of Chancery

Supreme Court of Judicature

Prerogative Court

Court Martial

Court of Admiralty

Court of Common Pleas

Court of Quarter Sessions

Court of the Mayor & Aldermen of the City of New York

Justice of the Peace Court

About the Period

Duke's Laws (1665)

Charter of Liberties and Privileges (1683)

New York City Dongan Charter (1686) (Internet Archive)

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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