Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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NICOLLS, Bathias, jurist, born in England about 1630; died on Long Island, New York, 22 December, 1687. He was the eldest son of the Reverend Mathias Nicolls, of Plymouth, England. The name was spelled "Nick-hells" in the 14th century, was written " Nicolls " in the 17th, and in the early part of the 18th was changed in this country to its present form of " Nicoll." Mathias was a barrister of Lincoln's Inn, when he was appointed by Charles II., in 1664, secretary of the commission, and a captain in the forces under Colonel Richard Nicolls, who was sent out by that king to settle disputes in the New England colonies and to capture New Netherlands from the Dutch, the king having previously granted it to his brother James, Duke of York. The surrender occurred on 8 September, 1664, and Richard Nicolls became the first English governor, his title in his commission being "Deputy Governor" to the Duke of York. Mathias Nicolls was appointed the first secretary of the province, both commissions having been issued and delivered in England in the spring of 1664, about two months before the expedition sailed. On the formation of the governor's council, which was immediate, Mathias Nicolis was appointed a member. In October, 1664, he attended at Hempstead the promulgation by the governor of " The Duke's Laws," the first code of English laws in New York, and authenticated them by his official signature as secretary. This code, mainly the work of Mathias Nicolls, was compiled from the law of England, the Roman-Dutch law of New Netherlands, and the local laws and regulations of the New England colonies, and is a liberal, just, and sensible body of laws. After being submitted to the duke and his council in England, it was there printed and copies sent out by the duke, with orders to promulgate and establish it as the law of New York, which was done by the governor in a meeting of delegates that was called for that purpose at Hempstead, in Queens county. In the court of assizes that was established by these laws, Mathias Nicolls sat as presiding judge, and also with the justices in the minor courts of session. In 1672 he was chosen the third mayor of New York, and he was also the first judge of the court of common pleas in that city. On the remodelling of the courts under the act of the legislature of 1683, he was appointed one of the judges of the supreme court of the colony. After this appointment he also continually performed all the duties of secretary of the province, and occasionally acted in his military capacity as captain of the militia, for which he is sometimes spoken of in the records of that time as Captain Nicolls. He purchased large tracts on Little Neck and Great Neck, in Queens county, on the former of which he dwelt, his estate, called Plandome, consisting of upward of 2.000 acres. There he died and was buried. He married before he came to this country, and left one son and one daughter. The latter, MARGARET, born in 1662, became the wife of the second Colonel Richard Floyd, of Suffolk county.--Mathias's son, William, jurist, born in England in 1657; died on Long Island in May, 1723, was made clerk of Queens county in 1683, but in 1688 removed to New York. He was a lawyer by profession, and opposed the usurpation of Jacob Leisler in 1688, for which the latter imprisoned him. After his release by Governor Houghton, on the fall of Leisler in March, 1691, he was at once appointed a councillor of the province. In 1695 he was sent by the assembly as agent of the province to England to solicit the crown to compel the other American colonies to make their respective contributions to the defence of the continent against the French, the expense of which bore heavily and unjustly on New York. In 1698 Governor Bellomont, who took sides with the Leislerian party, suspended him from the council. In 1701 he was elected to the assembly from Suffolk county, but, being a non-resident, could not take his seat. He then built a house on his estate of Islip Grange, in that county, on Great South bay, which he purchased from the natives in 1683, and which, with adjacent purchases, was granted to him by a royal patent in 1697. In 1702 he was again elected member of assembly for Suffolk county, and chosen speaker of the house, and from that time he was continuously re-elected till his death, and also chosen speaker till 1718, when, on account of his health, he declined a re-election, though retaining his seat upon the floor. Thus he was a member of the house twenty-one years in succession, and sixteen years in succession its speaker. As a lawyer he was engaged in the prosecution of Leisler in 1691, the defence of Nicholas Bayard in 1702, and that of Francis Makemie in 1707, and he was a man of principle, ability, and influence. He married Anne, daughter of Jeremias Van Rensselaer, and widow of Kilian Van Rensselaer, her cousin, by whom he left three sons trod three daughters. BENJAMIN, eldest son, died in 1724, aged thirty, leaving a widow, Charity, daughter of Colonel Richard Floyd, who married in 1725 Dr. Samuel Johnson, first president of King's college.--William's son, William, born in 1702" died in 1768, like his father, was a lawyer, legislator, and public man, and like him was elected to the assembly for Suffolk in 1739. He served twenty-nine years in succession, being regularly re-elected till his death, during the last nine years of which time he was the speaker of the house. He died a bachelor.--His nephew, William, eldest son of his brother Benjamin, born in 1715; died 29 March, 1780, also became a lawyer, and in 1750 was made clerk of Suffolk county, which office he held all his life. He was elected to the assembly to succeed his uncle in 1768, and on the dissolution of that body was reelected in 1769, and sat till the beginning of the Revolution. He had two sons, William (1756-'95) and Samuel Benjamin (1762-1828), to the former of whom he devised his great Islip Grange estate, and to the latter his Shelter island estate, about three fourths of that island originally devised to the first William Nicoll by Gyles Sylvester in 1708. To the grandchildren of these two sons these estates mainly belong at this day.
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