PERTH AMBOY – The Proprietary House, former residence of New Jersey’s Royal Governor William Franklin, has a new onsite coordinator and is open for tours.
The Proprietary House Association hired historian and author Gordon Bond to serve as onsite coordinator, responsible for scheduling and conducting tours as well as program development.
Two guided tours are available by appointment on Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. Other days are possible with advanced notice. The house is also open on the second Sunday of each month for “Tours and Tea” where visitors can take a guided tour and then enjoy tea and homemade bake goods in the cozy tea room (formerly the Governor’s vault and wine cellar) Admission is free, though donations are accepted to support the maintenance and restoration of the building.
“I’m amazed at how much history is embodied by this house,” Bond says. “It’s been home to the wealthy and powerful, but also a resort hotel, a minister’s retirement home, and even a flophouse. It encompasses lives and stories from the wide range of human experience. I learn more every day and look forward to sharing it with people.”
The house was built in 1764 by the East Jersey Proprietors, who intended it as a fitting residence for the new Royal Governor of New Jersey at the time, William Franklin. History remembers him as Benjamin Franklin’s illegitimate son. But he was also an able politician who was instrumental in the establishment of Queens College (now Rutgers University). Where his father threw his lot with the Colonists in their struggle for independence from Great Britain, William remained loyal to the crown.
In 1775, Benjamin Franklin visited his son at the House and tried in vain to convince him to join the revolution. The younger Franklin remained steadfast and would be arrested at the House as New Jersey’s last Royal Governor. His wife, Elizabeth, remained until able to escape to British-occupied New York City, where she died having never seen her husband again after his imprisonment (he was later freed in a prisoner exchange). As much as it was a revolution, it was also a civil war that tore families apart—and The Proprietary House was at the center of the storm for one of the most famous families.
The grand house was almost lost to history, abandoned after the war and gutted by fire. It was purchased by Perth Amboy merchant John Rattoon, who renovated it into the fashionable Brighton House hotel, complete with an added floor and new wing. According to Bond, what none of his guests or neighbors seem to have known, was he had been a spy for the British during the war—codenamed “Mercury”—who passed messages between British officer Major John Andre and American Major General Benedict Arnold in the period before he fatefully moved to West Point.
The Brighton House suffered from an economic downturn and a loss in trade during the War of 1812, and the property changed hands and was transformed several times over the next century and a half. Now owned by the State of New Jersey, The Proprietary House serves the community as leased commercial space while The Proprietary House Association runs the basement and first floor as a museum.
You can learn more about the history of The Proprietary House and schedule tours or rentals at www.TheProprietaryHouse.org.
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