Saturday, March 1, 1997

William Franklin

Our Last Royal Governor

The son of Benjamin Franklin, William Franklin spent much of his youth in England, where he earned a Master's degree by Oxford, was accepted to the bar, and married. Upon his return to America in 1763, he became royal governor of New Jersey at the age of thirty-two, and took up residence at Green Bank, a riverside Burlington mansion. There, he entertained dinner guests including George Washington.

Despite his youth, Franklin was a well-educated and talented administrator, but the office of Royal Governor was rapidly losing power. The first two years of his term were pleasant and uneventful, and he was instrumental in founding Queens College, now known as Rutgers University, but in 1765, he was unable to enforce the Stamp Act passed by Parliament. Three years later, 8,000 pounds disappeared from the East Jersey treasuries, and Franklin's refusal to remove treasurer Stephen Skinner from his post earned him more ill feelings.

Franklin's loyalty to the British crown bought him little in the way of military support, and when the spirit of revolution began to build, he was powerless to act against it. Locally, assemblyman James Kinsey began the Burlington Committee of Correspondence in 1774, to turn public opinion against the royal government. In January of 1776, Franklin was placed under house arrest at his second home in northern New Jersey. Five months later, he was seized and brought to Burlington for questioning by the independence-minded Provincial Congress. Refusing to relinquish his authority, he was transported to Connecticut and held as a prisoner of war for two and a half years. He then spent a few years as the leader of a Tory association in New York, before returning to England in 1782.

William Franklin's support of England severely strained his relationship with his father, as well as with his son, William Temple Franklin, who also supported independence. A few years before his death, Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to William, "Nothing has ever hurt me with such keen sensations, as to find myself deserted in my old age by my only son; and not only deserted, but to find him taking up arms against me in a cause wherein my good fame, fortune and life were all at stake." Upon his death, Ben left his son his books and papers and some lands in Canada, and forgave any debt his son owed him, but willed him no money, noting that if William's England had won the war, there would have been no inheritance to leave at all.

Related reading:
Benjamin & William Franklin: Father & Son, Patriot & Loyalist
ISBN 0312086172 - Amazon
William Franklin: Son of a Patriot, Servant of a King
ISBN 0195057457 - Amazon

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