Ezekiel Cornell Arrests the Mayor of New York

Ezekiel Cornell Arrests the Mayor of New York

Ezekiel Cornell was a Rhode Island Patriot who served honorably in the American Revolution.

Early in the war, Cornell was asked to arrest a very powerful person...the Mayor of New York.

Ezekiel Cornell

Ezekiel Cornell came from an extremely modest background in Scituate, Rhode Island.  He received a basic public education, the type of which was only available in a few places in the colonies.

Cornell began his career as a mechanic, which during his day simply meant he was a skill worker.  Despite this not being a ‘gentleman’s’ occupation, Ezekiel became popular and trusted in his community.

In the 1760’s, Cornell was elected to attend town meetings, sitting as moderator (AKA chairman) several times.  In his late 30’s, he began attending the Rhode Island General Assembly.  

Just as things began to turn towards Revolution, Ezekiel was commissioned as a Colonel in the Colonial Militia.

Long Island

After the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Cornell was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and left to assist in the Siege of Boston.  When George Washington arrived, Cornell was absorbed into the Continental Army.

Next, Ezekiel was sent to Long Island.  While most of the Continentals went to New York City and Brooklyn, Cornell was stationed in Hempstead.  This part of Queens County (modern day Nassau County) was full of Loyalists.  Cornell’s job was to reduce their enthusiasm to help the British by finding and arresting them.

Ezekiel took over St. George’s Episcopal Church for his headquarters.  He famously forbit the members to pray for the King and Britain in addition to using the sacrament table for his troops to dine at.

Arresting the Mayor

Shortly after Cornell’s arrival in Hempstead, a plot was discovered to assassinate Washington.

Thomas Hickey, a member of Washington’s Life Guards, was the main perpetrator.  He was taken as a prisoner and soon revealed his comrades.  One of these people was David Mathews, the Mayor of New York City.

Cornell was ordered by Major General Nathaniel Greene to arrest Mathews.

On June 22, 1776, less than two weeks before the United States declared independence, Ezekiel Cornell arrested the Mayor of New York.

Mathews was tried and convicted of treason.  He was sent to Connecticut to await execution.  Unfortunately, his parole was lenient, and he escaped, returning to New York and continuing as Mayor in the (now British controlled) city until the end of the war.

Brigadier General

Ezekiel Cornel would soon thereafter be promoted to Deputy Adjutant General of the Continental Army, a position in which he assisted in the administration duties necessary to run a military force.

The following year, Cornell received the title of Brigadier General.  He was now one of the primary leaders of all Rhode Island troops.

This gave him a large role in the important, if not successful, Battle of Rhode Island.

Continental Congress

Completing five years of warfare, Ezekiel Cornell resigned from the Continental Army.

His time serving his country was not done, however.  Cornell was elected by his State to represent them as a delegate to the Continental Congress.

Cornell spent two years in Congress, including being present for the creation of the Confederation Congress.  This was the new name given to the Continental Congress when the Articles of Confederation took effect.


Ezekiel Cornell played an active role in the American Revolution.  Although he came from humble beginnings, Cornell became one of the most important military leaders from the State of Rhode Island.  His most notable moment may have been the arrest of the Mayor of New York, but his contribution to the administration and execution of the Continental Army should not be overlooked.

If you would like to learn more about the plot to kill Washington, pick up a copy of 'The Plot to Kill Washington' by Brad Meltzer.  It's a real nail biter (even though we already know Washington survives).  Links on this site go to Amazon, our affiliate, and support the site at no additional cost.

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