Benjamin Fletcher

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Benjamin Fletcher
Governor of the Province of New York
In office
Monarch William III
Preceded by Richard Ingoldesby
Succeeded by The Earl of Bellomont
Governor of the Province of Pennsylvania
In office
April 1693 – 1693
Monarch William III
Preceded by William Markham
Succeeded by William Markham
Personal details
Born (1640-05-14)14 May 1640
London, England
Died 28 May 1703(1703-05-28) (aged 63)
Boyle, Ireland
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Hodson
Parents William Fletcher
Abigail Vincent

Benjamin Fletcher (14 May 1640 – 28 May 1703)[1] was colonial governor of New York from 1692 to 1697. Fletcher was known for the Ministry Act of 1693, which secured the place of Anglicans as the official religion in New York. He also built the first Trinity Church in 1698.[2][3]

Under Col. Fletcher, piracy was a leading economic development tool in the city’s competition with the ports of Boston and Philadelphia. New York City had become a safe place for pirates. Fletcher was eventually fired for his association with piracy.[4]

Early life

"Sea Robbers of NY" Howard Pyle: Harper's Magazine, November 1894

Fletcher was the son of William Fletcher and Abigail Vincent.[5] His father was killed in 1643 during the Siege of Gloucester in the First English Civil War.[6]

Life in America

Since the 1680s, New York City had had to deal with a new, nearby, maritime rival, Philadelphia, which had boomed since its founding. As added attractions, Philadelphia had "the purest bread and strongest beer in America." Despite such appeal, the pirates preferred the safe confines of New York City and brought considerable wealth into the port of New York, whose commerce had been endangered by the fighting of King William's War. Because of these circumstances, New Yorkers, from the governor on down, willingly turned a blind eye to the obvious criminals in their midst. Most of New York City eagerly dealt with the various pirates who entered its harbor. The local merchants, along with Fletcher, saw the freebooters as men who carried real money into the impoverished colony.[7]

A good many of the citizens took to cheating the revenue laws by smuggling, some of them sent out ships to trade with pirates for stolen goods, and some of them fairly became pirates themselves.[8] One of the most well-known privateers of the era was Captain William Kidd, later hanged in England after being convicted of piracy. Kidd used some of his wealth to build a fine home and helped establish the first Trinity Church. Other financiers of piracy, whose names endure in various forms around New York, were Frederick Philipse, Stephanus Van Cortlandt, Peter Schuyler and Thomas Willet.[9]

Though very strict in religious observances he was fond of luxury, and of extravagant habits, and continually in want of money. Both Fletcher and some of his council were in the habit of receiving valuable gifts—amounting to blackmail—from the different pirate ships.[10]

Gov. Fletcher granted "trading licenses to ships which everybody knew were to engage in "the Red Sea trade," as trading with the pirates politely was called; privateering commissions were given to ships which everybody knew were going to sea as pirates; under his government smuggling was carried on by the leading merchants of the city and he granted the licenses and he permitted the smuggling because he was bribed".[8] Fletcher had gotten payments from pirates—mostly small sums except when some grateful buccaneers gave the governor their ship, which netted him £800. Edward Randolph, the Crown's agent overseeing trade, amassed evidence that doomed Fletcher's tenure and helped anoint Lord Bellomont as the new governor of New York.[7]

Fletcher returned to England, then retired to Boyle, County Roscommon in Ireland where he died on 28 May 1703.[1]

Colonial Governor of Pennsylvania

While serving as Governor of New York, King William III appointed Fletcher as Governor of the Province of Pennsylvania, which he assumed in April 1693. William Penn was a close friend of William’s predecessor, James II and was in political trouble in England at the court at this time. King William wanted to end the pacifism in the Pennsylvania and mold the northern colonies into a unified military force for opposing the French in Canada.

Fletcher was able to appoint provincial Council members and he pushed through a taxation bill (on lightly taxed Pennsylvania). However, in 1694, the Assembly reallocated a substantial portion of the tax revenue to Thomas Lloyd and William Markham (who Fletcher appointed as Deputy Governor in his absence). Fletcher then dissolved the Assembly.

Eventually Penn was able to persuade King William to return the status quo in the colony of Pennsylvania (by promising to keep Fletcher’s tax law and raising a militia) and Penn reassumed his role as Proprietor. Lloyd and Markham continued in their roles as Pennsylvania’s political leaders (and render ineffective Fletcher’s tax law) with Markham being appointed as Deputy Governor under Penn. [11]


Fletcher's first lieutenant in New York, and possible birth son, was Peter Mathews. Mathews was at a minimum a protégé, and Fletcher may have raised him.[12] Mathews named one of his children Vincent (Fletcher's mother's maiden name). Multiple children in the Mathews family carried the name Fletcher and Vincent, including Fletcher Mathews, Tory supporter during the American Revolution and brother of New York City Mayor David Mathews, and Vincent Mathews.

Fletcher Street in Lower Manhattan is named after him.[13]


  1. ^ a b "Fletcher, Benjamin, 1640 - 1703". Native Northeast Portal. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
  2. ^ Lankevich, George J. (2002). New York City: A Short History. NYU Press. p. 30. ISBN 9780814751862.
  3. ^ Klein, Milton M. (1 November 2005). The Empire State: A History of New York. Cornell University Press. p. 130. ISBN 978-0801489914.
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Fletcher, Benjamin (1640 -1703)". British Armorial Bindings. Retrieved 8 November 2019.
  6. ^ Brooke, Bernard. The General Armory of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales: Comprising a Registry of Armorial Bearings from the Earliest to the Present Time, 1864, page 362
  7. ^ a b Philip Ranlet, "A Safe Haven for Witches? Colonial New York's Politics and Relations with New England in the 1690s" Archived 15 August 2013 at the Wayback Machine, New York History Winter-Spring 2009 (New York State Historical Association) (13 Sep. 2012).
  8. ^ a b Janvier, Thomas A. (29 May 1903). "The Founding of New York, Chapter V". NY Times. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
  9. ^ Dwyer, Jim (21 April 2009). "When the City Held Pirates in High Regard". NY Times. Retrieved 4 May 2014.
  10. ^ Roosevelt, Theodore: New York, VII. The Growth of the Colonial Seaport. 1691-1720
  11. ^ Strigham, Edward P. (editor), Anarchy and the Law: The Political Economy of Choice, Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick (2007), p.448
  12. ^ Bayles, W. Harrison. Old Taverns of New York, 1915
  13. ^ Ulmann, Albert. A Landmark History of New York: Also the Origin of Street Names and a Bibliography, 1901, page 261

See Also

External links

  • Colonial Governors of NY (archived version at
Government offices
Preceded by
Richard Ingoldesby (acting)
Governor of the Province of New York
Succeeded by
Earl of Bellomont
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