Ben Franklin's Son Sides With Great Britain - Says NO To Independence!

By Don Vitale

I guess you thought all of our those early days....were of the same mind.I mean, about separating from those nasties in the mother country.  That all of our men, women and children were ready to do battle. Sorry to say otherwise, good friends....but that's not exactly how it was.

Sure, the Patriots as they were called probably were the largest group fighting for independence. I would say that in their hearts and minds they were dedicated to unleash their bonds.

But facts are facts, other colonists sided with Great Britain. They were Loyalists and made their presence known. In fact, that's the reason I'm writing this bit of history. Because one of those who made their presence known was Ben Franklin's son William. Imagine! Your only son joining force with your avowed enemy! Great Godfrey, Friends, Romans and Countrymen...think that didn't raise a lot of dust with his father? As they say, You Were Right The First Time!

But you decide.

Here's Franklin's letter to his son William, who was 54 at the time, heavily ensconced in the Loyalist World.
"August 16, 1784 Dear Son, .......I am glad that you desire to revive...the Intercourse that formally existed between us....Indeed nothing has ever hurt me so much and affected me with such keen 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..."
In your wildest dreams would you ever imagine that the son of one of America's foremost founders would ever be at loggerheads with his father? Especially over an issue that amounted to Life or Death!

But first, let me point out that we're talking about William, the illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin. You heard that right, friends, illegitimate.  Born in Philadelphia "to an unidentified woman of low standing," according to the town's gossip mongers.

Not surprising then that there's some debate over William's real parents. Was Ben his natural father? Was Deborah Read Franklin, Ben's common law wife, his real mother? Ben was very close mouthed about the boy's real parentage. Result,the subject was dead before it hit the ground.

A year after the boy was born, Ben Franklin married and brought the child into his house. Named William, he was raised by Deborah and Ben, who provided the child with love and devotion in his upbringing. Ben saw to it that the boy-- from his earliest years onward-- received a top notch education in Philadelphia. Later that would include a Commission as Ensign in King George's War...and studying law under a prominent Loyalist.

As he was growing up William worked closely with his father's electrical experiments together with a number of civic projects. As he grew older William was appointed to a succession of political positions. Through his father, who else?

But son William eventually transitioned from Patriot to Loyalist. Do we dare ask Why? On the one hand his father was openly opposed to the English monarchy. At the same time his son was a rising star among Loyalists when the War broke out. In fact, William ascended into the higher ranks of English Royalty in America with his appointment as Royal Governor of New Jersey.  Ben tried to talk his son out of the position....but son William said No! As William became more involved with the Loyalist cause, the patriots-that-be took note of his traitorous acts. In June of 1776 he was declared "an enemy to the liberties of this country." He was arrested and spent 250 days in solitary confinement. Three years later he was released, lived in New York among Loyalists and later left for London where he remained until his death.

Back to the letter. William waved the white flag after he read his father's letter but Ben did not respond. At that point their father and son relationship was as dead as a bent doornail. No surprise then that William received very little when his father died. As Ben Franklin put it in his will: "The part he acted against me in the late war, which is of public notoriety, will account for my leaving him no more of an estate he endeavored to deprive me of."

Admit it, friends, it's not unusual for families to have political differences. Those waters can run very very deep. After Franklin's letter to William, father and son were estranged for the rest of their lives.--dv