THE FRANKLIN PALACE, PERTH AMBOY, NEW JERSEY
THE HOME OF THE SON OF WHOM BENJAMIN FRANKLIN VAINLY TRIED TO MAKE A PATRIOT
There was a time when Benjamin Franklin was proud of his son William, and was glad to have his name coupled with that of the young man.
The first year of the father’s service in the Pennsylvania Assembly William was appointed clerk of that body; this fact is mentioned with pride in the Auto-biography.
When General Braddock was sent from England to America to oppose the union of the Colonies for defence, ” lest they should thereby grow too military and feel their own strength,” Franklin was sent by the Assembly to Fredericktown, Maryland, to confer with the General. ” My son accompanied me on the journey,” the Autobiography says.
At Braddock’s request Franklin advertised at Lan-caster, Pennsylvania, for one hundred and fifty wagons for the proposed expedition into the interior, and at the close of the advertisement was the note, ” My son, William Franklin, is empowered to enter into like contracts with any person in Cumberland County.”
Later, when the father was asked to secure financial assistance for certain subalterns in Braddock’s company, he wrote to the Assembly, recommending that a present of necessaries and refreshments be sent to those officers. ” My son, who had some experience of camp life and of its wants, drew up a list for me which I enclos’d in my letter,” the father wrote.
When, during the French and Indian War, the Governor of Pennsylvania asked Franklin to take charge of ” our Northwestern frontier which was infested by the enemy, and provide for the defence of the inhabitants by raising troops and building a line of forts,” he went to the front with five hundred and sixty men. In the Autobiography he wrote, ” My son, who had in the pre-ceding war, been an officer in the army rais’d against Canada, was my aid-de-camp, and of great use to me.”
And in 1771, when beginning his Autobiography, Franklin addressed it ” Dear Son,” and spoke of the trip the two had taken together to England, to make ” enquiries among the remains of my relations.” Then he added:
” Imagining it may be equally agreeable to you to know the circumstances of my life, many of which you : are yet unacquainted with, and expecting the enjoyment of a week’s uninterrupted leisure in my present country retirement, I sit down to write them for you.”
Six years before the beginning of the Autobiography, Franklin, in company with six other Philadelphians, entered on a land speculation in Nova Scotia. Together they bought two hundred thousand acres of land. There they intended to found a colony. Two shiploads of emigrants were taken to Monkton, the site of the proposed colony, but most of the men settled on other Iand, finding that this could be had practically for nothing.. Franklin’s will later provided that William be given an interest in the Nova Scotia property, and he explained the gift by saying that this was ” the only part of his estate remaining under the sovereignty of the king of Great Britain.”
What was the explanation of the father’s changed attitude to his son that led him to make his bequest in such unpleasant terms?
After William Franklin’s return from the frontier, he was appointed governor-in-chief of the Province of New Jersey. A mansion was built for him in Perth Amboy by the Lord Proprietor. Its construction required a somewhat extended time, for it was a grand place; no wonder it was called ” The Palace.” But in 1774 the Governor took possession.
Of course this was not the reason for the breach with his father. Again Benjamin Franklin was proud of his son, and of the lavish entertainments he made for his associates.
But the father began to shake his head when his son became a favorite of the Tories in Perth Amboy who had looked askance on his appointment, the year before. He was told that William would himself remain a loyalist when the break came with Great Britain, and he was compelled to believe that there was serious ground for the charge. He decided, however, to make a supreme effort to rouse the Governor to the call of patriotism. Accordingly, in 1775, he sought the Palace and pleaded with William to forsake his Tory associates, turn his back on the king who had turned his back on the Colonies, and become a steadfast defender of his country’s rights.
What a subject that interview would make for an artist ! Opposed to the luxury-loving governor, in the house furnished for his satisfaction by the Tories with whom he had chosen to ally himself, was the sturdy figure of the sage of Pennsylvania, who was ready to lay down his life in the defence of his country.
It must have been a stirring interview. But it was fruitless. Benjamin Franklin went back to Philadelphia a disappointed man. His feelings were expressed in the letter in which he said, ” I am deserted by my only son.”
Within a year Governor Franklin was practically a prisoner in the Palace, in consequence of the discovery that he was plotting against the Colonies. When he persisted in courses that troubled Congress, he was arrested and taken to Burlington. Mrs. Franklin fled to New York, and the Palace was at the mercy of the British. On several occasions the house was used as headquarters by British generals, and soldiers made their encampment on the grounds.
Though the interior of the Palace was destroyed by fire soon after the war, the house was restored, and it still looks much as it did when Franklin, the patriot, stood within its walls. For years it was used as a hotel, and later as a private residence. In 1883 it was made a Home for aged ministers of the Presbyterian Church. Today it is again used as a hotel.