The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin's House by Daniel Mark Epstein

The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin's House

The dramatic story of a founding father, his illegitimate son, and the tragedy of their conflict during the American Revolution—from the acclaimed author of The LincolnsBen Franklin is the most lovable of America’s founding fathers. His wit, his charm, his inventiveness—even his grandfatherly appearance—are legendary. But this image obscures the scandals that dogged him th...

Title:The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin's House
Author:
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ISBN:0345544218
Number of Pages:464 pages

The Loyal Son: The War in Ben Franklin's House Reviews

  • Rina

    Most fans of the revolutionary era are familiar with the natural aristocracy that developed in the late 1700s and their feelings of disenfranchisement from the British Empire. One of the most interesting figures that emerged from that time period, Benjamin Franklin, has always been set apart from the other leaders of the American Revolution as eccentric. The Loyal Son, furthers the exploration of Benjamin Franklin's unconventional life by exposing his unique family relationships, which up until

    Most fans of the revolutionary era are familiar with the natural aristocracy that developed in the late 1700s and their feelings of disenfranchisement from the British Empire. One of the most interesting figures that emerged from that time period, Benjamin Franklin, has always been set apart from the other leaders of the American Revolution as eccentric. The Loyal Son, furthers the exploration of Benjamin Franklin's unconventional life by exposing his unique family relationships, which up until now, I knew little about. I found this biography of Franklin and his son fascinating. For me, the best parts were their roles in the militia during the French and Indian War and their dealings with the Native Americans. I was never aware that Benjamin Franklin championed the rights of the Natives. Nor did I know anything about his illegitimate son and what a major role he played in the colonies. Overall, I think anyone who enjoys learning about events leading up to the American Revolution will love this book.

  • Bob H

    This is an important and well-researched new biography, two biographies really, one of William Franklin, royal governor of New Jersey during the Revolution, and of his famous father, Benjamin. The book follows William's life, from the 1760s on, as he rose in colonial society, and as Franklin would become more and more involved in the revolutionary movement. The war between Loyalist and Continental would divide father and son, and each would play a major role on their respective sides, William as

    This is an important and well-researched new biography, two biographies really, one of William Franklin, royal governor of New Jersey during the Revolution, and of his famous father, Benjamin. The book follows William's life, from the 1760s on, as he rose in colonial society, and as Franklin would become more and more involved in the revolutionary movement. The war between Loyalist and Continental would divide father and son, and each would play a major role on their respective sides, William as "the most influential, the most revered, and probably the most powerful American loyalist," the author tells us. We learn much about William's imprisonment and mistreatment at revolutionary hands, and his continuing estrangement from his father. It's a well-told and important story of a prominent American of those times -- and a reflection on his father Benjamin as well.

  • Grumpus

    This was a Goodreads First-Reads win.

    It took me a while to get through this one. The beginning was a little slow but as the history moved into the Revolutionary War, the book became a lot more interesting. I've previous read much about Benjamin Franklin, but I never knew his son was the Governor of New Jersey and that they were on opposite sites during this time. It was heartbreaking to read how their once close relationship deteriorated. I cannot begin to imagine what that must be like. So much

    This was a Goodreads First-Reads win.

    It took me a while to get through this one. The beginning was a little slow but as the history moved into the Revolutionary War, the book became a lot more interesting. I've previous read much about Benjamin Franklin, but I never knew his son was the Governor of New Jersey and that they were on opposite sites during this time. It was heartbreaking to read how their once close relationship deteriorated. I cannot begin to imagine what that must be like. So much sacrifice from our founding fathers.

    This is a must read if you are a fan of US history as there was so much new material that I had not known previously.

  • BAM The Bibliomaniac

    Many thanks to Daniel Mark Epstein, Ballantine Books, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

    The book begins with a fictionalized account of Benjamin Franklin traveling home with his infant son born out of wedlock. Although it is in no way based in fact, it is a beautiful story, and I immediately wanted this to be developed into its own book. It has such promise.

    War is what faces the colonies during the 1740s with the French and Indians. This infant son

    Many thanks to Daniel Mark Epstein, Ballantine Books, and Netgalley for the free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

    The book begins with a fictionalized account of Benjamin Franklin traveling home with his infant son born out of wedlock. Although it is in no way based in fact, it is a beautiful story, and I immediately wanted this to be developed into its own book. It has such promise.

    War is what faces the colonies during the 1740s with the French and Indians. This infant son whom Benjamin and his common-law wife reared fought bravely at the same time Benjamin retired from publishing.

    William, like his father, was a bit of a ladies man, and they were both quite popular when they were sent to England as representatives of the Assembly. It was at this time that Benjamin began an accounting of monies owed to him by William that would until the end of his life.

    Soon it became apparent that William was a Loyalist and Benjamin was a Patriot, a difference of opinion that would cast a shadow on their relationship for the rest of their lives. One of the few times anyone could swear to hear Benjamin argue was with his son over his loyalties. Benjamin was for revolution and colonists' rights; William believed that King's rule was in the right. William would be " the last royal governor conducting the king's business in America." He soon became quite unpopular.

    Regardless of the role Benjamin played during the American revolution, which included postmaster general, scientist, and spymaster, it had no effect on how William was viewed or treated. He was a Tory and therefore, the enemy. He was a disgrace. William's son, Temple, also born out of wedlock, often felt caught in the middle of these two enigmatic men; he loved his father, but he was ruled by his grandfather and hopelessly spoiled by him. (Temple would continue the family tradition and also father an illegitimate child.)

    Epstein does an excellent job of bringing to light the story of a family torn apart by war. These two strong-willed men would never reunite although the love for one another was never in question. Personality traits come to the surface. I learned quite a bit about one of our nation's founding fathers. Excellent piece of work!

  • Shaun

    I’ve seen this book at Costco, and am surprised it’s gotten so relatively few reviews on goodreads. I never know much what to say about history books without lecturing, so all I can do is comment on the book itself really. The writing style was engaging, easy to follow, entertaining, and instructional. I’ve read quite a bit about Franklin and never knew about his Loyalist son. It’s a good reminder that at its core, the American Revolution was in fact a civil war; we kind of paint the sides more

    I’ve seen this book at Costco, and am surprised it’s gotten so relatively few reviews on goodreads. I never know much what to say about history books without lecturing, so all I can do is comment on the book itself really. The writing style was engaging, easy to follow, entertaining, and instructional. I’ve read quite a bit about Franklin and never knew about his Loyalist son. It’s a good reminder that at its core, the American Revolution was in fact a civil war; we kind of paint the sides more as black and white, Loyalist or Colonial, but don’t remember so much that the war divided fathers and sons, brothers, cousins, and so on. To select such a prominent founder and show how his own son was on the other side is a revelation. Great addition to the study of Ben Franklin and the American Revolution.

    ** I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review**

  • Louise

    Why did this apple fall so far from the tree? Daniel Mark Epstein doesn’t ask or answer this question, but he has combed the records and created a dual biography of father and son in turbulent times.

    Benjamin Franklin’s first diplomatic mission abroad was to obtain funds from the Penn's (proprietors of the colony that bears their name) to assist in defending Pennsylvania colonists against Indian attacks. While in England he saw a corrupt system and had to prostrate himself to it to achieve his m

    Why did this apple fall so far from the tree? Daniel Mark Epstein doesn’t ask or answer this question, but he has combed the records and created a dual biography of father and son in turbulent times.

    Benjamin Franklin’s first diplomatic mission abroad was to obtain funds from the Penn's (proprietors of the colony that bears their name) to assist in defending Pennsylvania colonists against Indian attacks. While in England he saw a corrupt system and had to prostrate himself to it to achieve his mission. This experience and surely that of being a self-made man put him on the Revolutionary path.

    It appears that his son William saw a career path with the British. He got his (first) job as colonial Governor of New Jersey through his father’s connections. His wife was British. He invested in a land deal that would make him (his father, and other investors) very rich, but it depended on the British government. The demands of his job were such that he earned the ire of the colonists. Turning back was a bridge too far.

    While Benjamin was in France, negotiating an alliance, William was one of the highest profile Tories in the colonies. His actions did not help his father’s delicate position at home or abroad. When under patriot house arrest William used his name and position to get a situation nearer to a Tory enclave. When he got there he made contacts and abused a parole by issuing (fake) pardons (by which Tories could masquerade as patriots). When moved to a “real” prison for his offense he put George Washington (who knew him as young man) on the spot by asking for a reprieve to see his dying wife. When that did not come through sympathy for him/his father and his poor health may have had a role in his release in a prisoner exchange. He used this freedom to set up a spy and guerilla warfare unit against the colonists. He encouraged reprisals, which led to the “Asgill Affair” where revenge (for reprisals) led to international sympathy for a 19 year old scapegoat and bad press for both Washington and both Franklin's (although William seemed oblivious to it falling back to him). It also stalled the peace process since sympathy was felt all the way to France for young Asgill where the diplomat, Franklin used his precious political capital to spare Asgill and diffuse the incident..

    Ben Franklin’s benevolent image is tarnished in this story. His (common law) marriage seems to be one of convenience. He got a mother for the illegitimately born William, and she got protection from a spouse that may have been dead. Deborah loved him very much and suffered from his long absences. He was a ladies’ man in his travels, and was surely disloyal to her. He did not attempt to be at her side when he knew she was dying.

    While Franklin is an active father, introducing William to the worlds of diplomacy and business, there is something not quite right about the wealthy father giving a bill to his son for expenses incurred while they traveled together. Maybe he considered William a spendthrift, later in life he is always short of money despite a salary of $200,000 in today’s terms (p. 86). William surely saw his father’s flirtations which he knew would be hurtful to the woman who raised him. Benjamin (to our knowledge) never told William about his biological mother. As William became more committed to the British, there seemed to be some gloating by Franklin in the way he took William’s son under his wing. (He does not give his grandson a bill for the travels.) After the war, William hopes for a reconciliation that doesn’t come.

    I’ve been curious about this relationship and I’m glad Daniel Mark Epstein has put this together. While I was most interested in family dynamics, as shown in this review, this is a history. If you are interested in the American Revolution, you will want to read this book.

  • Jean Poulos

    Shortly before his death, Franklin wrote his son, William, “nothing has ever hurt me so much…as to find myself deserted in my old age by my only son; and not only deserted, but to find him taking up arms against me, in a cause wherein my good name, fortune, and life were all at stake.”

    Ben Franklin kept his private life very private. It is only recently information about his personal life has been coming out. He married in his twenties and also fathered an illegitimate son, William, whom he adopt

    Shortly before his death, Franklin wrote his son, William, “nothing has ever hurt me so much…as to find myself deserted in my old age by my only son; and not only deserted, but to find him taking up arms against me, in a cause wherein my good name, fortune, and life were all at stake.”

    Ben Franklin kept his private life very private. It is only recently information about his personal life has been coming out. He married in his twenties and also fathered an illegitimate son, William, whom he adopted. They enjoyed many years together working on scientific and diplomatic matters. By 1776, William was the Royal Governor of New Jersey. William stayed loyal to England during the Revolutionary War. He was captured and imprisoned during the war, while Ben lived in luxury in Paris.

    The book is well written and impeccably researched. Epstein drew on unpublished correspondence as well as published works. Epstein illustrated the public issues that drove the father and son apart. Epstein stayed neutral and maintained a balance but not uncritical of either man. The book reads more like a novel than a history book. This is a dual biography of the father and son. I am sure that this problem of divided loyalties played out in many families during the revolution.

    Daniel Epstein is a well-known biographer. I particularly enjoyed his biography on Abraham Lincoln. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book was sixteen and a half hours long. Scott Brick does a great job narrating the book. Brick is an actor and a multi-award-winning audiobook narrator.

  • John Cooper

    This remarkable book makes a rare achievement, telling an unfamiliar story about a seemingly familiar subject (Benjamin Franklin). Somehow most of us missed learning that Benjamin's only son William, a close contemporary of George Washington, was for a decade the loyal colonial governor of New Jersey, who stubbornly held on to his position years into the Revolution, when all of his fellow servants of the Crown had fled. Benjamin at this time was in charge of the revolutionary government's intell

    This remarkable book makes a rare achievement, telling an unfamiliar story about a seemingly familiar subject (Benjamin Franklin). Somehow most of us missed learning that Benjamin's only son William, a close contemporary of George Washington, was for a decade the loyal colonial governor of New Jersey, who stubbornly held on to his position years into the Revolution, when all of his fellow servants of the Crown had fled. Benjamin at this time was in charge of the revolutionary government's intelligence and communications operations. You can imagine that this led to a bit of tension in the family.

    All the turns to the story, both emotional and eventful, are best left for the reader to discover. Not having studied the American revolution in detail, I learned much, both about its political origins and about how it felt to live in this country at the time. (The war was more brutal than I had understood.) And the characters of both Benjamin and William are both portrayed with complexity and subtlety, which kept me interested when other details seemed overwhelming.

    More than most careful, highly researched works, Epstein's dual biography is full of warmth and personality. All of the many characters that surround such eventful lives are sketched vividly, such as Ben's daughter Sally and Ben's lifelong Tory friend William Strahan. If I were to quibble, it would be over a point of style that sometimes caused me to stumble: Epstein has a habit of mentioning an event and its consequences, and then with little transition, returning to the beginning of the event to narrate it in detail, making a mess of one's mental chronology. But this is literally the only quibble I have; I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys any sort of history.

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