Richard Nicolls - Encyclopedia

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RICHARD NICOLLS (1624-1672), American colonial governor, was born probably at Ampthill, Bedfordshire, England, in 1624. He commanded a royalist troop of horse during the Civil War, and on the defeat of the king went into exile. Soon after the Restoration he became groom of the bedchamber to the duke of York, through whose influence he was appointed in 1664 on a commission with Sir Robert Carr (d. 1667), George Cartwright and Samuel Maverick, to conquer New Netherland from the Dutch and to regulate the affairs of the New England colonies and settle disputes among them. The expedition set sail from Portsmouth on the 25th of May 1664, and New Amsterdam was surrendered to Nicolls on the 8th of September. Under authority of a commission from the duke of York, Nicolls assumed the position of deputy-governor of New Netherland (New York). His policy was vigorous but tactful, and the transition to the new regime was made smoothly and with due regard to the interests of the conquered people. They were guaranteed in the possession of their property rights, their laws of inheritance, and the enjoyment of religious freedom. The English system of law and administration was at once introduced into Long Island, Staten Island and Westchester, where the English element already predominated, but the change was made much more slowly in the Dutch sections. A code of laws, known as the "Duke's Laws," drafted by the governor with the help of his secretary, Matthias Nicolls 1 (c. 1630-1687), and dated the 12th of March, was proclaimed at Hempstead, Long Island, on the 1st of March 1665 and continued in force until 1683; the code was compiled from the codes of the New England colonies, and it provided for trial by jury, for proportional taxation on property, for the issuance of new patents for land and for land tenure only by licence from the duke. Nicolls returned to England in the summer of 1668 and continued in the service of the duke of York. He was killed in the naval battle of Southwold Bay on the 28th of May 1672.

See J. R. Brodhead, History of the State of New York (2 vols., rev. ed., 1872). For the "Duke's Laws" see Laws of Colonial New York, i. 6-Ioo.

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