I found the following story on Jeff Kacirk’s Forgotten English calendar (November 16/17 2013).
I’ve done a number of posts on this blog about Benjamin Franklin and what a magnificent, playful bastard he was, but no one really talks about his family or personal life very often.
William Franklin (1731-1813) was Benjamin’s illegitimate son. While Benjamin acknowledged William, the identity of William’s mother remains unknown. William was raised by Benjamin and his common-law wife, Deborah Read.
“Early on, their relationship was warm, and William even helped with his father’s famous kite-and-key electrical experiment.” While William is most frequently depicted as a child during this experiment, he was actually 21 at the time.
However, their warm relationship took a turn around the time of the Revolutionary War when William remained a staunch royalist despite his father’s involvement with the other founding fathers. William even became George III’s Governor of New Jersey. Apparently the Declaration of Independence served as the breaking point for their relationship.
“In 1776, the elder Franklin arranged for his son to be arrested and thrown into prison, where he languished for more than two years, losing his health, many teeth, and his wife. In 1782, William was exiled to England, and never returned to America.
“He tried unsuccessfully to reconcile with his father, who visited him only once, in 1785, in order to settle financial accounts. During that visit, Ben insisted that William sign over deeds to his American real estate holdings to him to pay for his son’s outstanding debts that included clothing and allowance money dating back to childhood. The icy visit ended abruptly with Ben’s hasty departure without a good-bye”.
When Benjamin Franklin died, he left William almost none of his estate, except some property in Nova Scotia, saying that, had Britain won the war, he would have had absolutely no wealth to leave his son. Benjamin dedicated his autobiography to William, but never really mentioned him again.