NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- With the Holy Father, Pope Francis, saying mass just a few miles away at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the City of New Rochelle is preparing to unveil a statute honoring Jacob Leisler, a virulently anti-Catholic colonial “governor” of New York, as part of the City’s 325th Anniversary celebration.
The timing — unveiling the restored statue during the Pope’s visit to New York — has struck some as odd. The statue was originally dedicated in 1913 so there is no special significance to unveiling the statue tomorrow, 102 years later. The City celebrated its 325th Anniversary in 2014, more than a year ago so this event has nothing to do with that either.
There is no known image of Leisler exists so the statute is that of some guy in a cape. What is known is that Leisler was a notorious anti-Catholic bigot.
Dr. Marian T. Horvat wrote about Leisler in Let None Dare Call it Liberty: The Catholic Church in Colonial America
After the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688, the virulently anti-Catholic Jacob Leisler spread rumors of "papist" plots and false stories of an impending French and Indian attack upon the English colonies, in which the New York colonial Catholics were said to be aligned with their French co-religionists. Leisler assumed the title of commander-in-chief, and by the end of the year he had overthrown Dongan and taken over the post of lieutenant governor of the colony as well. His government issued orders for the arrest of all reputed "papists," abolished the franchise for Catholics, and suspended all Catholic office-holders. The government after 1688 was so hostile to Catholics, noted Catholic historian John Ellis, "that it is doubtful if any remained in New York."
That very fact made all the more incongruous the severity of measures that continued to be taken against Catholics, which included the draconian law of 1700 prescribing perpetual imprisonment of Jesuits and "popish" messengers. This strong anti-Catholic prejudice persisted even into the federal period. When New York framed its constitution in 1777, it allowed toleration for all religions, but Catholics were denied full citizenship.
Leisler is not honored anywhere in the world except in New Rochelle. The statue to be unveiled tomorrow is the only statute of Leisler on the planet.
Given his history of severe actions against Catholics there is about as much sense to keeping the Leisler statute in public view as the Confederate flag. That the City is supporting the committee that paid to restore the flag only worse.
The City of New Rochelle is willing to spend taxpayer dollars to defend itself all the U.S. Supreme Court in order to prevent local veterans from flying a military flag over the New Rochelle Armory. Council Members compared the Gadsden Flag, a military flag still in use today by the U.S. Military, to the Confederate Flag.
Recently, the same Councilman whose complaint led to the removal of the Gadsden Flag from the Armory, Jared Rice, called for the re-naming of the Trump building in downtown New Rochelle because he disagrees with his political views.
How did New Rochelle become a City run by people that confiscated military flags from veterans and support retaliation for political speech with which they disagree but spend two years restoring a statute honoring a man who dedicated his life to running every Catholic out of New York?
“The Anniversary Committee has dedicated these funds to preserving New Rochelle’s historic legacies,” said 325th Anniversary Committee Chair Marianne Sussman. “First among them being this valuable historic monument.”
The statute honoring an anti-Catholic bigot is FIRST among historical monuments in New Rochelle?
Perhaps Ms. Sussman should take a stroll around town she purports to represent. Just a few feet from the Leisler statute is the home of Thomas Paine, a Founding Father of this county, whose pamphlet Common Sense laid the intellectual predicate for the American Revolution. There are statues honoring war veterans incuding a Civil War memorial that was largely ignored when it was restored a couple years ago. New Rochelle has been home to great artists like Norman Rockwell and Frederic Remington and iconic American heroes like Lou Gehrig? And the 325th Anniversary Committee beleives that a man who took voting rights away from Catholics is the most important figure in New Rochelle history?
The committee claims that no taxpayer funds were utilized for this purpose. In fact, the City created and managed the Trust Fund used to raise all of the funds used for this project. That has been done with taxpayer funds.
Proponents of the project defend the work on the grounds that the statue “immortalize(s) the man who helped a group of Huguenots find a new home in America after fleeing their native country's tyranny and religious persecution…” without acknowledging his motivation as a protestant zealot with a deep and abiding hatred of Catholics who took power in New York and used that power to persecutre Catholics. They note that the statute was originally commissioned by a local chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution (which sounds like but has nothing to do with the well-known Daughters of the American Revolution). No information is provided as who the “Daughters of the Revolution” were or their motivation for honoring Leisler and doing so at that time.
As a Catholic, I have always found the statute offense. When I was a student at Iona Prep, the statute was defaced annually with paint -- with good justification. It is hard to imagine that a statute like this but one offensive to Jews or African-Americans or Protestants or Muslims would remain in public view let along be the source of honors and festivities. Like the Confederate Flag that flew atop the South Carolina statehouse or statues honoring General Robert E. Lee or Stonewall Jackson, the Leisler statute, belongs elsewhere -- like at the bottom of the deep end of Echo Bay.