Guide to the William Franklin, Royal Governor of New Jersey, Papers 1756-1813 MG 37
TABLE OF CONTENTS
52 Park Place
Newark, New Jersey 07102
Contact: NJHS Library
(973) 596-8500 x249
© 2005 All rights reserved.
The New Jersey Historical Society, Publisher
Inventory prepared by Kim Charlton as part of the “Farm to City” project funded by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
Finding aid encoded by Julia Telonidis. July 2005. Production of the EAD 2002 version of this finding aid was made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Finding aid written in English.
William Franklin was born in 1731, the illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin; his mother’s identity is unknown. Franklin benefited greatly from his upbringing by his father, in that he was able to read many books from his father’s bookstore in Philadelphia. After receiving some education by a private tutor, he attended Alexander Annand’s classical academy.
Upon finishing his early education, his father, Benjamin, put William to work as an apprentice in his print shop. As a young adult, Franklin was recruited into the American Regiment, rising to the rank of captain. Upon his return from military service, Franklin assisted his father in his famous electrical “kite and key” experiment in 1752; it was William who designed the kite.
Dissatisfied with following his father’s footsteps into business, he read law with Joseph Galloway. Franklin was later enrolled in the Middle Temple in London to continue his study of law. While in London, Franklin became popular in London’s social circles. The Prime Minister, Lord Bute, named William Franklin to the position of Royal Governor of New Jersey when the office became available in 1762.
At first, Franklin was greeted in New Jersey with trepidation, as it was assumed that his famous father had obtained the office for him. In contrast to the low expectations of him, William Franklin became one of the most effective royal governors New Jersey had. Unlike his predecessors, he managed to avoid quarreling with the assembly. Franklin engaged in reforms, such as improved roads and bridges throughout the colony. In 1766, he managed to persuade the assembly to grant a charter to Queen’s College, which later came to be known as Rutgers University.
Franklin’s popularity as governor diminished, however, after the Stamp Act crisis in 1764. He continually supported the Crown’s policies, which also created a rift with his more rebellious father, Benjamin. Consequently, the two men cut ties with each other in 1775. In Perth Amboy, Franklin was arrested by William Alexander (Lord Stirling) and his troops shortly after the outbreak of war; he remained under house arrest in Connecticut until he was released in a prisoner exchange in 1778. He then went to New York City, a British stronghold during the American Revolution, where he founded the Refugees Club, an organization that supported the Loyalists. Franklin also was apparently involved in gathering intelligence for the Crown, as well as providing support for guerilla warfare tactics against the Patriots. After the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, Franklin left for England, where he lived for the remainder of his life. An attempt was made to reconcile with his father in 1785, which was successful only for a very short time; they remained estranged until Benjamin Franklin’s death in 1790.
Franklin married Elizabeth Downes in 1762. After Elizabeth’s death, Franklin married Mary D’Evelyn, a wealthy Irish widow. William Franklin had one son, William Temple Franklin, whose mother is unknown. “Temple,” as he was commonly called, was raised by his grandfather, Benjamin Franklin and his wife, Deborah. William Franklin died in London on November 16, 1813.
The bulk of the papers are the incoming and outgoing letters belonging to William Franklin, dating from 1765 to 1813. Correspondents include the Board of Trade and Plantations, Abraham Clark, John Hampton, William Strahan, Philip Kearny, the New Jersey General Assembly, the Proprietors of the Western Division of New Jersey, and Jonathan Trumbull. Also among the letters are copies of three of Franklin’s letters.
Additionally, the papers contain other documents, which include a partial copy of Franklin’s Commission as Royal Governor of New Jersey, dated September 3, 1762. Petitions from William Bayard, the residents of Elizabethtown, the residents of Essex County, and the residents of Hunterdon County are included in the papers, covering the years 1765 to 1774. The papers also contain the text of a speech by Franklin, as well as New Jersey Council minutes and pieces of legislation; these items date from 1766 to 1771. Franklin’s will dated June 6, 1770, an undated dinner invitation, and an undated poem written by Franklin complete the collection.
**PATRONS SHOULD USE MICROFILM COPY**
Photocopying of materials is limited and no materials may be photocopied without permission from library staff.
Researchers wishing to publish, reproduce, or reprint materials from this collection must obtain permission.
The New Jersey Historical Society complies with the copyright law of the United States (Title 17, United States Code), which governs the making of photocopies or other reproductions and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials.
For related collections at other institutions, see:
APS 1743, Benjamin Franklin Papers, The American Philosophical Society.
Papers of Benjamin Franklin, The Franklin Collection, Yale University Library.
For related collections at the New Jersey Historical Society, see:
This collection is available on microfilm; please consult the microfilm first before requesting to view the originals.
This collection should be cited as: Manuscript Group 37, William Franklin Papers, The New Jersey Historical Society.
The source of the bulk of this collection is unknown; three copies of Franklin’s letters are the gift of William Duane, July 8, 1845.