War of Words: Winds vs. Franklin

William Franklin

William Franklin

It was January 5, 1776 and New Jersey’s Governor William Franklin was upset.  He felt betrayed and helpless.  By the beginning of 1776, Franklin was on the losing side of a battle to rein in the more radical (as he saw them) elements of the state assembly who were calling for “a redress of grievances” with the Crown or, in some circles, complete independence from Britain.  The governor truly believed that if it wasn’t for the meddling of the Continental Congress, New Jersey would remain reasonable and relatively devoted to the preservation of Britain’s great empire.  He wrote a letter to his colleague, Lord Dartmouth, on January 5 expressing such a sentiment:

“…your Lordship will perceive that the Assembly had it in their intentions to petition His Majesty again on the subject of the present unhappy disputes; but after the draught of an address was prepared, which would probably have passed the House, a Committee of the General Congress at Philadelphia came in great to Burlington…they harangued the House for about an hour on the subject, and persuaded them to drop the design.” [1]

William Alexander, a council member and Patriot, intercepted this letter the next day and forwarded it to Philadelphia.  As Sheila L. Skemp notes in her biography of the Franklin family relationship,

“The governor’s timing was unfortunate.  Just four days earlier, the Continental Congress had issued orders demanding that all suspicious Americans be disarmed and, if necessary, incarcerated if they refused to give their word that they would do nothing to overthrow the patriot government.” [2]

Alexander did not hesitate.  Immediately after forwarding the letter, he ordered Lieutenant Colonel William Winds to descend on Perth Amboy with his militia and arrest the Loyalist Franklin.  Skemp speculates that this is due to a possible conflict of interest in Philadelphia with Benjamin Franklin partially responsible for deciding his own son’s fate.

Nevertheless, Winds wrote Franklin on the morning of either the 7th or 8th – sources differ on this.  The governor’s sleep was disturbed as he was woken by a “violent knocking” at 2 AM to find his house surrounded by Patriots.  A servant of the state militia delivered this letter:

“Sir – I have had hints that you intend to leave the Province in case the letters that were intercepted should be sent to the Continental Congress.  As I have particular orders concerning the matter, I therefore desire you will give me your word and honor that you will not depart this Province until I know the will and pleasure of the Continental Congress concerning the matter.” [3]

Franklin, being stubborn and steadfast just like his father, replied with a terse,

“I have not the least intention to quit the Province; nor shall I, unless compelled by violence…However, let the authority or let the pretence be what it may, I do hereby require of you, if these men are sent by your orders, that you do immediately remove them from hence, as you will answer the contrary at your peril.” [4]

Winds responded “in a strain which shows the stuff he was made of:

‘Sir – As you in a former letter say you wrote nothing but what was your duty to do as a faithful officer of the Crown; so I say, touching the sentinels placed at your gate, I have done nothing but what was my duty to do as a faithful officer of the Congress.’” [5]

Proprietary House - the site of Franklin's arrest

Proprietary House – the site of Franklin’s arrest

Following this “war of words” – the governor was placed under house arrest until June 1776 at which time he was moved to a prison for Loyalists in Connecticut.  Two years later, Franklin was released in a prisoner exchange and sent to the Loyalist stronghold of New York City.  Eventually, as the Revolution’s outcome became more clear, the former governor found his way to London, where he lived until his death in 1814.


[1] Governor Franklin to the Earl of Dartmouth

[2] Sheila Skemp, Benjamin and William Franklin: Father and Son, Patriot and Loyalist, Bedford/St. Martin’s, Boston & New York, 137.

[3] Rev. Joseph F. Tuttle, Biographical Sketch of General William Winds, of Morris Co., New Jersey, 26.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.


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6 Responses to War of Words: Winds vs. Franklin

  1. mfreimuth915 says:

    Great work! Though I certainly have heard of William Franklin and know about his imprisonment, I did not know all the detail that can be uncovered regarding the process leading up his arrest.

  2. Kelly says:

    I do not know much about Mr. Franklin at all. SO thank you for sharing this post. Could you tell me more thought about the Proprietary House – the site of Franklin’s arrest?

  3. I like the use of primary documents to tell the story here. This would be a great blog post to share with my students.

  4. soothinghands01 says:

    I did not know anything about Mr. Franklin, so thank you for writing on this topic. The war of words is fascination to read. The differences in words now and then is interesting to think about. Today people you not use such a formal language nor do we rely on a mans word of honor anymore.

  5. This is an excellent post. It makes for an interesting controversy that Ben Franklin’s own son was against him during the Revolutionary War. Many people think of families dividing by the Civil War and neglect the fact the Revolution had many similar scenarios. The difference between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War is that in the Revolutionary War, the rebels won.

  6. Pingback: Chris Ward - Digital History

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