Benjamin Franklin and William, his illegitimate son

If England, then the world’s greatest military power in 1776, had won our Revolutionary War, our history books would read that the great American hero was not Benjamin Franklin, but his son William Franklin. Benjamin had put together our great French alliance. Without French aid, our victory over England was highly questionable.

Franklin, in his youth, fathered an illegitimate son William – the mother unknown. Father and son became inseparable. Sent to England, Benjamin represented Pennsylvania while William, after Colonial military training, became a British lawyer. William was appointed Royal Governor of the New Jersey while Benjamin remained in England.

When disputes arose between England and the Colonies over the imposition of taxes, Benjamin urged American loyalty and conciliation. Benjamin testified before Parliament that the Colonies would probably accept the proposed Stamp Act and recommended a friend for the Colonial Collector position. Away for years, Franklin failed to see the coming Colonial rebellion, until advised that his Philadelphia home was threatened by an angry mob. William, sensing the public attitude, took a bold step at conciliation by refusing to let the Stamp Tax Collector enter New Jersey, while he tried to convince England to drop the tax.

Benjamin became aware that the Royal Governor of Massachusetts had sent a personal letter to England providing the names of several Colonial rebels. Benjamin arranged to have the letter stolen and then sent the letter to his Colonial friends. It was discovered. Benjamin was brought up on charges, where the prosecutor stated, “You are not a man of letters, you are a man of stolen letters.” Threatened with arrest, Benjamin fled England to the Colonies. Benjamin then joined the American rebellion.

Father and son argued for three days. Benjamin urged William to join in the American rebellion while William urged his father to remain loyal to England. William had great difficulty accepting his father’s theft of the letter. Neither side gave in. They parted – going in opposite directions. A Colonial poll revealed about 1/3 wanted war, 1/3 wanted loyalty to England and 1/3 were undecided.

William was arrested shortly thereafter as a Loyalist spy, put in solitary confinement and charged by the Continental Congress as being “the most dangerous man in America.” His beloved wife, in New Jersey, pined for him and died. Finally, near his death, William was released in exchange for the Governor of Delaware.

William recovered and using his military training, led loyalist troops in successful military assaults against the Colonial rebels. With the Revolutionary War victory, William fled to England where he became a hero for his loyalty and courage. To his death, William believed he did the right thing. Benjamin never forgave William and cut him out of his will.


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