1688 and 1689 were watershed years in England. James II, last of the Stuarts, was deposed; William and Mary came to the throne in the Glorious Revolution. The impact of this change was felt in the colonies, notably in the ouster of Sir Edmund Andros and demolition of the Dominion of New England.
In New York as well, democratic movements were afoot. An armed mob seized Fort James and installed Jacob Leisler, a militia commander and immigrant from Germany, as the head of a new government. Leisler's willful personality was similar to that of Peter Stuyvesant, but for a while he enjoyed popular support because he established a legislative assembly that was not dominated by the wealthy merchants and landowners.
Leisler's rule was short-lived. A new governor was dispatched by William III in 1691. Leisler was convicted of treason and sentenced to be executed.
In May 1691, Leisler and an associate were taken to the public square, which today is City Hall Park in New York City. There, before a hymn-singing crowd, they uttered their final remarks and were hanged. The bodies were taken down the associate semiconscious and their heads were hacked off by the executioner's axe. Supporters removed pieces of hair and clothing from the corpses as mementos, while the opponents had Leisler's heart cut out and held aloft. The heads were sewn back on the bodies and they were buried.
The divisions within society he had highlighted lived on in New York for many years. Pro-democratic forces, sometimes called Leislerians, contended with the more aristocratic anti-Leislerians in attempts to win political control.