Bill Buell’s Electric City Archives: Schenectady Massacre to be subject of Wednesday historical Zoom talk

Samuel Sexton's 19th century painting of the Schenectady Massacre is on display at the Schenectady County Historical Society.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Samuel Sexton's 19th century painting of the Schenectady Massacre is on display at the Schenectady County Historical Society.

David William Voorhees says he’s not necessarily an expert on the Schenectady Massacre, but after having a 20-minute phone conversation with him last week, I can safely say when the subject matter comes to Colonial New York, the guy knows his stuff.

Voorhees, who is based in Hudson, will offer a Zoom presentation on behalf of the Schenectady County Historical Society Wednesday at 7 p.m. His talk is entitled “Fearing Too Great a Correspondency: The 1690 Schenectady Massacre and Jacob Leisler.”

Director of the Jacob Leisler Institute for the Study of Early New York History and managing editor of the “Halve Maen,” Voorhees is an expert on the German-born businessman who seized control of New York following the 1688 Glorious Revolution in Europe in which William and Mary “ascended” to the English throne. How that impacted Schenectady in 1690 is going to be the primary focus of Voorhees’ presentation, but the thing I wanted to know when we spoke last week was: Jacob Leisler: Good guy or bad guy?

“It’s complicated,” said Voorhees. “Leisler was a complex person, and I don’t think of him as either a hero or a villain. He was stubborn, sometimes arrogant, and like many people from that time he was very religious. He was of his age and they believed in the second coming of Christ, and they believed that Louie XIV was the Antichrist.”

One shouldn’t forget, offers Voorhees, that you’re dealing with people who were just beginning to appreciate the Age of Enlightenment, and many were slow to catch on to what Locke and Rousseau were trying to tell us.

“He was battling for the soul of people,” Voorhees said of Leisler, “so he tended to be somewhat rigid in that way. And religion was a much bigger part of people’s lives than any political ideology, so we have to think in terms of the 17th Century and not in terms of the world today.”

To learn more about Leisler and how he’s connected to the Schenectady Massacre, don’t miss Voorhees’ talk. It didn’t end well for Schenectady’s citizens that February day in 1690, and eventually things didn’t end well for Leisler. It’s a fascinating piece of American history.

The talk is free for SCHS members and $5 for non-members. Pre-registration is recommended. For more information visit www.schenectadyhistorical.org/programs.

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