David Mathews (circa 1739 – 1800) was a lawyer and politician from New York City. He was a Loyalist during the American Revolutionary War and was the 43rd Mayor of New York City from 1776 until 1783. He resettled in Nova Scotia after the war, and became a leading political figure in the Cape Breton colony that was created in 1786.
Mathews was born in New York to Vincent Mathews and Catalina Abeel. He earned an A.M. degree from the College of New Jersey (Princeton University) in 1754. He married Sarah Seymour on November 6, 1758 in New York.
Mathews lived in Manhattan but maintained a summer residence in Flatbush, located approximately at the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Parkside Avenue, and where he conducted much of his business while Mayor. He was mayor, in 1776, when he was implicated in a plot to kidnap George Washington, then Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. Mathews and William Tryon, the governor of Province of New York, were implicated in the plot, as was a member of Washington’s Life Guard, Thomas Hickey, who was eventually executed.
The New York Provincial Congress ordered Mathews’s arrest for “being engaged in a Conspiracy against the Authority of the Congress and the Liberties of America.” Mathews was arrested at his Flatbush home on June 22, 1776 and was sent to Litchfield, Connecticut and placed under house arrest in the home of Major Moses Seymour, who was a relative of his wife Sarah Seymour. Major Seymour’s orders were as follows: “you are directed and required to take him under your Care and him safely convey from Hartford in Hartford county to Litchfield ___ aforesaid and him there hold and keep in safe Custody permitting him only to walk abroad for the Benefit of the Air in the Day Time and to attend Divine Service at some place of public worship and that under your law or that of some other trusty keeper on the Sabbath Day, until you secure further Orders from me or from the Provincial Convention of the State of New York” Mathews later took advantage of a greater level of freedom from a minor parole to meet with other Loyalists, including Joel Stone, who helped Mathews escape.
On November 27th Major Seymour placed the following notice in the Connecticut Journal seeking help in recapturing Matthews for the reward of fifty dollars (about US$3,000 today). The notice read as follows:
FIFTY DOLLARS reward
On the night after the 20th instant escaped from Litchfield David Mathews Esq., late Mayor of the City of New
York, who was some months since taken from hence, on
being charged with high crimes against the American States, but on
giving his parole was admitted to certain limits, which he has
most basely and perfidiously deserted. He is well made, about
6 feet high, short brown hair, about 39 years old, and has a very
plausible way of deceiving people. It is supposed he will endeavor
to get to Long Island, where his family now resides.
Whoever shall take him up and return him to the subscriber in Litchfield,
shall receive the above reward and necessary charges…”
The charges were never proven, although some sources claim he later admitted his culpability while in Nova Scotia.
Mathews subsequently resumed his office as mayor, which was now firmly in British control. He also had command of two military units, the Loyal Volunteers of the City of New York and the Mayor’s Independent Company of Volunteers.
When the British evacuated on November 10, 1783, he left with other Loyalists to Nova Scotia, having had his two houses and 26,000 acres of land seized by the colonists. Failing to gain an appointment as that province’s attorney general, he traveled to Cape Breton Island, which in 1786 was administered as a separate colony. There he was appointed attorney general and a member of the Executive Council by Lieutenant Governor Joseph Frederick Wallet DesBarres. Although an elected house of assembly was to have been established, this did not occur, and Mathews became a leading and divisive figure in the small colony’s politics. He had a difficult relationship with both DesBarres and his successor, William Macarmick, who eventually left the colony in 1795, leaving Mathews, as senior counselor, as administrator of the colony. Mathews then packed its government with friends and business associates. When he was succeeded as administrator by John Murray, the latter dismissed him from the post of attorney general. Mathews made common cause with the Duke of Kent, who had a personal dislike of Murray, and engineered Murray’s replacement.
Mathews died near Sydney in 1800.
== Family ==
Some of Mathews’ children remained in Canada. Others married Americans and moved to the United States.
Mathews’s brother, Fletcher Mathews, was ordered arrested by George Washington around the same time in June 1776 for suspicion of a “Scheme of Inlisting Men for the Kings Service”. No evidence was found, and he was subsequently released. Unlike David, Fletcher was permitted to stay in the country upon the end of the war due to his relationship through his wife’s family to Governor George Clinton. Fletcher’s wife Sarah Woodhull was the sister of General Nathaniel Woodhull who died in 1776 from wounds resulting from his capture by the British. Another of Sarah’s sisters was married to Col. Isaac Nicholl who was Governor Clinton’s Sheriff.
Descendants of Mathews have served in both Canadian and United States politics and government in both local and national capacities. In Canada Murray Dodd, represented Cape Breton in the Canadian House of Commons from 1882 to 1887 and was named Queen’s Counsel in 1880. Also Lewis Wilkieson Johnstone (1862-1936), who was also a grandson of Edmund Murray Dodd, was a Conservative member of the Canadian House of Commons representing Cape Breton North—Victoria from 1925-1935.
In the United States collateral descendants of Mathews include Fletcher Mathews Haight (1799-1856), great nephew of Mathews, was a United States Federal Judge in California, and his son Henry Huntly Haight, was the 10th Governor of California.
== Other ==
The Mathews estate was located at what is now Petersfield Provincial Park in Westmount, Nova Scotia.
A New York City playground located in the Bronx, operated by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation called the Mathews Muniler Playground, is in part named after David Mathews. Part of the inscription related to Mathews says “…the British-born (note: this is an error) Mathews was installed as the Loyalist mayor. Mathews was known as a thief, an embezzler, and a spendthrift.”