William Franklin Papers


Date: 1757-1813 | Size: 0.25 Linear feet


The only son of Benjamin Franklin, William Franklin served as Royal Governor of New Jersey during the critical years between 1762 and 1776. An ardent Loyalist, William split with his father over their political differences in the early days of the Revolution, and after enduring two years of imprisonment, became a leader in the Loyalist cause. He settled in London in 1782, where he worked as an agent for Loyalist claims. The William Franklin Papers are a miscellaneous assemblage of letters and documents, dealing largely with Franklin's years as Royal Governor of New Jersey. The majority of the letters are perfunctory, however they provide some information on Franklin's land holdings in New Jersey and the Ohio country. The collection includes two letters relating to Franklin's imprisonment in Connecticut during the Revolution, two affectionate letters to his sister Sarah, and one to his son William Temple Franklin.

Background note

The only son of Benjamin Franklin, William Franklin rose through life from illegitimate birth to become the last Royal Governor of New Jersey. Born in Philadelphia to an unidentified woman of low standing, William was raised by Franklin and his common law wife, Deborah Read Franklin. A favored child, he enjoyed the best education that the city could offer, including two years at Alexander Annand's classical academy, and was still in his teens when he received a commission to serve as Ensign in the 60th Regiment of Foot (the American Regiment) during King George's War. Serving in upstate New York, he distinguished himself for conspicuous bravery and won promotion to Captain of Grenadiers by the war's end, even helping his father to organize the militia in Philadelphia during a furlough in 1747.

After the war, William and his father grew increasingly close, working together on all manner of projects. William joined as an assistant in his father's electrical experiments during the 1750s, and the two worked closely in a variety of civic projects in Philadelphia. Perhaps most propitiously, William also became an important political ally in the antiproprietary faction, writing scathing pamphlets against his father's political foes under the apt pseudonym Humphrey Scourge. In return, Benjamin favored his son by using his political influence to win him appointment to a succession of minor offices, from Clerk of the Assembly to postmaster. He also served at his father's side during the Seven Years' War in organizing the colony's defenses and erecting a series of forts.

In his mid-twenties, William turned to the study of law, reading under Joseph Galloway, who later became a prominent Loyalist, and after his father's removal to London in 1757, with Richard Jackson in the Middle Temple. Ingratiating himself in London society, William earned the attention of John Pownall, Secretary of the Board of Trade, who probably recommended him for higher office. After a brief but intense struggle with the New Jersey Assembly, Pownall and the Earl of Bute had Franklin appointed Royal Governor of New Jersey in August 1762, an office he may have earned without his father's intervention.

William appointment as governor was a watershed in his career, and not merely a step up the ladder. An able administrator, his term in office began just as the colonial crises of mid-century were coming to a head. His relatively enlightened Indian policy and support for internal improvements and legal reforms, including chartering Rutgers University, were received well in the colony, however his unbending enforcement of the Stamp Act and hard line support for the government's policies earned him the disdain of American "patriots." While his father moved ever further into the revolutionary camp, William moved into the Loyalist, providing information on the revolutionary activities in the colony to London and working tirelessly against the cause for independence. After he and his father met at Galloway's estate in May 1775, the two split permanently.

Declared "an enemy to the liberties of this country" by the Continental Congress in June, 1776, William was arrested and held under harsh conditions in New Jersey and Connecticut, refusing to acknowledge to legitimacy of his captors even after being subjected to 250 days of solitary confinement. Exchanged in November 1778, Franklin entered New York, and under the direction of Henry Clinton, unleashed his efforts in the Loyalist cause. Using the formidable organizational skills associated with the Franklins, William helped found the Board of Associated Loyalists and organized Loyalist resistance activities on Long Island and northern New Jersey that were famously -- or infamously -- considered some of the most ruthless in the war. His notoriety was so great that George Washington intervened personally, though without success, in an attempt to coerce Clinton into surrendering the former governor.

With the war all but lost in August 1782, Franklin left for London. In compensation for the considerable estate he lost, he was awarded a mere £1,800 from the Commissioners of Loyalist Claims and was placed on half pay by the Army at the rank of Brigadier General. Disinherited and never fully reconciled with his father, William lived a comfortable life with his second wife, Mary D'Evelyn, a wealthy Irish widow, working as an agent for Loyalist claims.

Scope and content

The William Franklin Papers are a miscellaneous assemblage of letters and documents relating to the estranged only son of Benjamin Franklin, dealing largely with his years as Royal Governor of New Jersey. The majority of the letters are perfunctory, however they provide some information on Franklin's land holdings in New Jersey and the Ohio country. The collection includes two letters relating to Franklin's imprisonment in Connecticut during the Revolution, two affectionate letters to his sister Sarah, and one to his son William Temple Franklin.

Digital objects note

This collection contains digital materials that are available in the APS Digital Library. Links to these materials are provided with context in the inventory of this finding aid. A general listing of digital objects may also be found here.

Collection Information

Physical description

0.25 linear feet

0.25 linear feet


Acquired variously.

Preferred citation

Cite as: William Franklin Papers, American Philosophical Society.

Processing information

Recatalogued by rsc, 2002.

Related material

William Franklin appears as a correspondent and subject in the several collections to Benjamin Franklin and his family, including the Benjamin Franklin Papers (B F85), Franklin-Bache Papers (B F85ba), and the William Temple Franklin Papers (B F86).


Mariboe, William Herbert, The life of William Franklin, 1730(1)-1813 : ''pro rege et patria" (PhD. Diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1962). Call no.: B F861ma.

Skemp, Sheila. William Franklin: Son of a Patriot, Servant of a King (New York: Oxford, 1990). Call no.: B F861s.

Stern, Randall Willard. A Little Revenge: Benjamin Franklin and His Son (Boston: Little, Brown, 1984). Call no.: B F85rn.

Early American History Note

This is a small but rich collection of William Franklin papers, most of which were written during the imperial crisis and American Revolution when Franklin served variously as royal governor of New Jersey and governor of occupied New York. The collection is a mix of official documents issued by William Franklin as governor and private correspondence with other prominent political officials, such as Joseph Galloway, speaker of colonial Pennsylvania's Assembly and a fellow loyalist. Among his private correspondence is a series of letters written to Thomas Wharton that touch upon the Franklin family's dealings in land speculation in Western Pennsylvania. William was involved in the New Jersey-based Burlington Land Company. There are also a few family letters William wrote to his son William Temple Franklin and Sarah Franklin Bache.

Indexing Terms


  • Family Correspondence
  • General Correspondence
  • Official Government Documents and Records
  • Political Correspondence

Geographic Name(s)

  • New Jersey -- History -- Colonial period, ca.1600-1775
  • United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783

Personal Name(s)

  • Bache, Benjamin Franklin, 1743-1808
  • Bache, Sarah Franklin, 1743-1808
  • Burr, Aaron, 1756-1836
  • Ferguson, Elizabeth Graeme, 1737-1801
  • Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790
  • Franklin, William Temple, 1760-1823
  • Franklin, William, 1731-1813
  • Galloway, Joseph, 1731-1803
  • Hughes, John, 1711-1772
  • Wharton, Thomas, 1730-1782


  • American Revolution
  • American loyalists.
  • Americans Abroad
  • Colonial Politics
  • Colony and State Specific History
  • International Affairs
  • Marriage and Family Life

Detailed Inventory

B F861 William Franklin Papers
1757-181332 itemsBox 1
B F861.8 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Letter to Betsy [Mrs. Elizabeth Graeme Ferguson]
1757 May 12ALS, 1p.

Acknowledges letters from her. Letter is framed with engravings of B. Franklin after Scheffer, Van Loo, Cochin; and Dupré medal of B.F., 1786.

Provenance: Presented by Charles T. Bache; Nov. 1948.

General physical description: ALS, 1p.

B F861g Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Letter to Joseph Galloway
1760 June 16Facsimile, 3p.

Relative to a pamphlet written by his father [The interest of Great Britain considered ... 1760] in answer to [William Burke's] Remarks on the Letter address'd to two great men

General physical description: Facsimile, 3p.

Other Descriptive Information: FILM 54-65 FRAME 22

B F861.9 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Letter to [New Jersey. General Assembly]
1763 Nov. 26ALS, 1p.

Instructions relative to paper currency. Sends extract of letter from General Gage.

Provenance: Photostat copy of original ms. letter, presented by W.S. Mason, Dec. 13, 1924.

General physical description: ALS, 1p.

B F861.25 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Order to pay salary of the governor
1764 Aug. 23D.S.
B F861.23 New Jersey.
An act to extend certain acts of parliament...for the preserving of all such ships and goods thereof which shall happen to be forced on shore or stranded
1766 June 27DS, 1p.oversize 1

William Franklin, Cortland Skinner, Speaker; Peter Kemble, Speaker, June 28, 1766.

General physical description: DS, 1p.

B F861.13 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Order for payment in connection with apprehension of some felons
1766 June 28ADS, 1p.
B F861.2 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Letter to John Hughes
1769 June 9ALS, 1p.

Encloses letter from B. Franklin; offers Congratulations. For reply to this letter, cf. Franklin Papers, V.48,137, under date of June 11, 1769.

General physical description: ALS, 1p.

B F861.30 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Letter to "Dear Friend"
1769 Dec. 18ALS, 3p.

Business letter concerning Land Patents. Col. Croghan and Mr. Trent to loose their land if title not acknowledged. Mentions Mr. Wells, Joseph Morris and Philip Syng.

General physical description: ALS, 3p.

B F861.29 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Letter to Thomas Wharton, Sr.
1769 Dec. 21ALS, 3p.

Friendly and business letter; concerning Galloway, Croghan, Charles Read and C. Colden.

General physical description: ALS, 3p.

 Letter to Dear Friend, 1769 Dec.
  1 item(s)

Franklin describes Indian land sales and surveys. Part of the tract discussed is the "Otago" Tract, that is, the Otsego Tract, which eventually was purchased by William Cooper and on which Cooper founded Cooperstown. Frontiersman and Indian agent George Croghan is discussed.

Subject(s): Land speculation

B F861.27 Franklin, William Temple, 1760-1823.
Plot of Land... partly owned by Governer [sic] Franklin [Franklin Township, New York]
3 February 1770 - November 1770 2 item(s) 2 maps ; ALSoversize 1
 Hooper, Robert Lettis, 1730?-1.
Plan of Franklin Township containing 31,723 a[cres], 1 rod 34 p[erches] of land divided among the Proprietors into twelve lots; viz, the River-lots containing 1,860 a[cres] . . . each, and the back or rear lots 3,426 a[cres] each
November 17701 map, 24.1 x 35.6 cmoversize 1

Scale: 1 inch = 100 chains.

 A Plott of a tract of 69,000 acres of land (granted Feby 3d 1770 by letters patent to Charles Reade and others) in the county of Tryon, . . . New York
3 February 17701 map, 47 x 37.5 cmoversize 1

The land is situated along the Susquehanna River. Annotated: "NB All the Lots on which no Quantity is mentioned contain 1000 Acres each with the usual allowance for High-Ways."

B F861.17 New Jersey.
An act to enable persons who are his Majesty's liege subjects either by birth or naturalization to inherit and hold real estate...Council chamber
1770 Oct. 20DSoversize X

House of Assembly, Oct. 20,1770; Council chamber, Oct. 27,1770.

General physical description: DS

B F861.10 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Letter to [Thomas Wharton, sr. ?]
1771 Jan. 5 

Land transactions; mentions Mr. [R.L.] Hooper, [George] Croghan, D. Colden, Capt. Trent, Samuel [Wharton ?], Joseph [Wharton ?], Burlington Co.

B F861.12 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Order to the Treasurers...to pay his salary; Burlington
1771 May 301p.
B F861.24 New Jersey.
An act for the relief of insolvent debtors
1771 Dec. 20DS, 5p.oversize 1

Step[he]n, Crane, Speaker, Charles Read, Scr., and W[illiam]m Franklin; Dec. 21, 1771.

General physical description: DS, 5p.

B F861.16 New Jersey.
An act for the support of government of his Majesty's colony of New Jersey... first day of October 1772... first day of October 1773 and to discharge the publick debts and contingent charges
1772 Sept. 26DSoversize 1

Provides for the payment of salaries of William Franklin, governor, Benjamin Franklin, agent, and others. William Franklin; Council chamber.  Passed by the Assembly, Sept. 15, 1772, and by Council, Sept. 26, 1772. Recorded in Journal of the Provincial Council, Sept. 26, 1772 - Ricord, F.W. ed. Documents relating to the colonial history of...New Jersey, v.18,1893,349-974.9:N41.

General physical description: DS

B F861.18 New Jersey.
Act for support of the government..
1774 Oct. 1-1775 Oct. 1DS. 3p.oversize 1

Provides for payment of salaries to William Franklin as governor; to Benjamin Franklin as agent; et al.

General physical description: DS. 3p.

Access digital object:

B F861.14 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Order to pay Joseph Smith, for the use of Dr. Benjamin Franklin, £25 for one quarter's salary as agent for the colony of New Jersey; Perth Amboy
1774 Nov. 16Pr.DS. 1p.

General physical description: Pr.DS. 1p.

Access digital object:

B F861.28 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Instructions on how the Governor's House at Perth Amboy should be painted and papered
1774Photostat of AD, 3p.

Provenance: Gift of The General Board of Proprietors of the Eastern Division of New Jersey; Feb. 1956.

General physical description: Photostat of AD, 3p.

Access digital object:

B F861.20 New Jersey.
An act to impower Isaac Haines to erect a dam, mills and other water works on the southermost branch of the Ancocas Creek in the township of Evesham in the county of Burlington
1775 Dec. 6DS.oversize 1

General physical description: DS.

Access digital object:

B F861.21 New Jersey.
A supplementary act to the act intitled an Act for striking 100,000£in bills of credit and directing the mode for sinking the same
1775 Dec. 6DS.oversize 1

General physical description: DS.

Access digital object:

B F861.1 Franklin, William Temple, 1760-1823.
Letter to William Trent
1776 March 14ALS, 4p.

General physical description: ALS, 4p.

Access digital object:

B F861.6 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Letter to William Temple Franklin
1776 Oct. 6ALS, 1p.

Has hopes of being exchanged; mentions others who have been. Family news.

General physical description: ALS, 1p.

Access digital object:

B F861.15 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Certificate in re exchange of Gen. Silliman and other prisoners, sent to Gen. Knyphausen
1780 Feb. 27ADS, 1p. Transcribed in letter from Franklin to Gen. Silliman; March 9, 1780.

General physical description: ADS, 1p. Transcribed in letter from Franklin to Gen. Silliman; March 9, 1780.

Access digital object:

B F861.15 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
ALS to Brigadier General Silliman
1780 March 9ALS, 2p. Inclosing Certificate in re exchange of Gen. Silliman and other prisoners, sent to Gen. Knyphausen.
B F861.26 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Letter to Sarah Franklin Bache
1782 Aug. 16ALS, 1p.

Forwards letter of Benjamin Franklin Bache. Presents her father's set of "Tambour Ruffles," which he believes must be Sarah's work, and takes leave of her, as he prepares to sail for England.

General physical description: ALS, 1p.

Access digital object:

B F861.7 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Indenture for tracts of land in the township of Franklin, Albany Co., New York, sold to W.T. Franklin for £1500; Passy,
1785 May 19DS, 1p.oversize X

Witnessed by Benjamin Franklin Bache and others. Portion of tract granted to William Franklin and others by George III, Feb. 20, 1770.

General physical description: DS, 1p.

B F861.5 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Indenture between William Franklin and William Temple Franklin, for purchase of lots in Burlington county, New Jersey
1785 July 26Photostat, 13p.

Witnessed by B. Franklin, Benjamin Franklin Bache , and Jon. Williams.

Provenance: Presented by Charles F. Jenkins, May 1948 from original in the Secretary of State's office, Trenton, New Jersey.

General physical description: Photostat, 13p.

B F861.4 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Letter to Sarah Franklin Bache
1792 June 30ALS, 2p.

Proposed visit to Preston; mentions W.T. Franklin.

General physical description: ALS, 2p.

B F861.3 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Letter to A[aron] Burr; [London] Norton Street
[1808] Oct. 3ALS, 1p.

Mrs. Franklin's illness prevents his accompanying Mr. Burr to Major Gamble's.

General physical description: ALS, 1p.

 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Copy of will
1813 April 15Photostat. 4p.

Location of originals: From a copy in the possession of Franklin Bache, 1937.

General physical description: Photostat. 4p.

Access digital object:

B F861.11 Franklin, William, 1731-1813.
Card to Samuel Smith
n.d. (Tuesday evening)N. in 3d pers., 1p.

Send books on architecture.

General physical description: N. in 3d pers., 1p.

B F861.19 New Jersey.
An act to authorize the Board of Justices and Freeholders of the several counties in the colony of New Jersey to defray the expence of taking lists of the inhabitants
n.d.DS, mutilated.oversize 1

General physical description: DS, mutilated.

Access digital object:

B F861.22 New Jersey.
An act to enable the owners...of meadows and tide marsh lying on both sides of the south branch of Pensawkin creek in the counties of Burlington and Glocester, to erect and maintain a bank, dam and other water works across the said creek in order to prevent the tide from overflowing the same
n.d.D.S, mutilated.oversize 1

General physical description: D.S, mutilated.

Access digital object: