Benjamin Franklin was rumored to have fathered more than a dozen illegitimate children. True or not, one of the children sired out of wedlock became famous in his own right.
William Franklin was born to a woman who may, or may not, have been named Deborah. In fact, it is possible that the woman who bore him was his father's common law wife and the woman who raised him. A shroud of secrecy has covered the familial connection for reasons that must have only been understood by the Franklin family. All that is known with relative certainty is that William was Benjamin Franklin's son and that he was very much a part of his father's life.
William had the opportunity to travel with his father and received most of his education in England. Although some imagine him to be the child who was rumored to be with Benjamin Franklin during his kite experiments, it is highly unlikely. William was 21 years old by the time those experiments took place and was already a captain in the American Regiment.
Why Benjamin Franklin's son remained a Loyalist to the crown while his father argued for independence is a matter of debate. Perhaps it was due to the early years spent in England, or might have been related to the fact that he knew he was a rising star in English politics. Whatever his reason for loyalty to King George III, William Franklin was not swayed by his father's intense desire to see America break away from the monarchy.
By the time the Revolutionary War broke out, William Franklin was Royal Governor of New Jersey, a plum position for a royal favorite. His father urged William to reconsider his position, but to no avail. The differences in politics led to a rift that never healed in the Franklin family.
William was taken into custody by the Provincial Congress of New Jersey shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. He was held for nearly three years, working the entire time to convert those he came into contact with to the Loyalist cause. Released in a prisoner exchange, William moved to the British occupied New York City, but became frustrated by his inability to convince the British that guerrilla warfare was the only way to fight fire with fire.
When William left for England in 1782 he fully expected that the British would continue to squash the American rebellion. He returned to England a hero of sorts and became a spokesman for Loyalists.
Benjamin Franklin met his son's stubbornness step for step. As a peace treaty was signed, the elder Franklin refused to support financial consideration or amnesty of any kind to Loyalists who opted to leave America. His son was no exception.
Father and son remained estranged for the remainder of Benjamin Franklin's life. Although William did reach out to his father in 1784, Benjamin did not appear interested in reciprocating. It was, perhaps, no surprise that William received very little in his father's will. Benjamin once told friends that had England won the war, he would have nothing to leave his heirs at all.