Decision Activity: William Franklin, Middlesex County, 1776

William Franklin: Like Father, Like Son?

Decision Activity: Middlesex County 1776

            Join or Die? Famous words from my old man in 1754. A little dramatic if you ask me. His message to the colonists was simple: unite, fight against the French and their Native American allies or…die. My dad’s words created negative sentiments for the Native Americans, both during the French and Indian War when they were published, and after. As a loyalist and supporter of the Oneida and Lenape natives in my state of New Jersey, I would ultimately strive to send a different message than my father during the Revolution.

            I wasn’t always a Jersey boy. I was born in Pennsylvania in 1730. I never knew my mother, and I wasn’t born into a life of privilege like my contemporary, George Washington. I referred to my dad earlier-have you figured out yet that it’s Benjamin Franklin? My dad was a successful printer, and turned his attention to politics in the 1750s. He was also an engineer, inventor–you can consider him a renaissance man of sorts. I wanted to be just like him. I followed him everywhere, including to Albany in 1754 where my dad laid out his famous Albany Plan of Union. Part of this plan was to create a colonial alliance during the French and Indian War. My dad created a woodcut of a severed snake that represented the demise of the colonies if unity was not established. Get it? Join. Or die. I know, I know. I mocked the join or die thing just a moment ago. But at the time I supported the sentiments.

            After the French and Indian War, I became the royal governor of New Jersey. Being royal governor meant I was expected to uphold the rules of the British crown. After the Stamp Act, tensions in the colonies were heating up and my dad was becoming more and more anti-British. I on the other hand wanted New Jersey to remain true to King George III.

How can we ensure that a new government will be better than this?

What will we lose in the process?

What if this turns to anarchy?

Because of my sentiments in keeping the royal government unchanged in the colonies, militias made up of Patriots were on to me. I was arrested in June of 1776 in Perth Amboy and there was no hope in keeping New Jersey “loyal” or should I say “irreconcilable” after that. I was jailed in Litchfield, Connecticut, 135 miles away! I guess they were expecting me to sit in my cell and ‘think about what I did,’ but instead I was pardoning Loyalists. Jokes on them! I left the prison two years later, and spent the remaining years during the Revolution in New York City. I continued to have correspondence with King George III, and eventually I returned to England in 1782 as part of a prisoner exchange.

Join or Die. Hm. What was there to “join”?

Supporting Questions/Decisions:

Have you ever gone against the beliefs of your parents or guardians?

What impact did this have on your life?

How did it affect your family members?

How did William’s decision affect his relationship with his father, Benjamin Franklin?


In your opinion, did William make the right decision in supporting the British crown? Do you think this influenced New Jersey’s history?


Is your history book more focused on the Patriot perspective than the Loyalist perspective during the Revolution? If yes, what changes would you make?


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