Royal Governor’s Arrest To Be Re-Enacted On June 22

PERTH AMBOY — The Proprietary House Association will hold its annual reenactment of the arrest of Royal Governor William Franklin at The Proprietary House, 149 Kearny Avenue, Perth Amboy, on Saturday, June 22, at 2 p.m. with a new script and a new cast.

Kevin S.D. Connelly brings many years of acting experience to the role of William Franklin, having appeared on stages in New York City and New Jersey. His latest appearance was as Shelby in Laura, for Soar Productions at the Sandy Hook Theatre. “I would like to share my experience of being arrested at Propriety House with much more deserving politicians of our day,” Connelly jokes.

General Nathanial Heard, who led a detachment of militia troops from Woodbridge to arrest the Governor, will be portrayed by Ed McGuinn. William Franklin’s wife, Elizabeth, will be played by Kimberly Reddan, and their son, William Temple Franklin, by Kevin Connelly, Jr. Also appearing will be Jakob Trinidad as John Lazenby, Steven Allegretta as Private Preston, and Tony Sattilaro as Josiah Aubrey.

The new script is by Association First V.P. Greg Caggiano. There are some elements remaining, such as parts of the narration, from the original, decades-old script used by the association, author unknown. In late 2011, Caggiano, and actors at the time, Gene Hoyas and Kurt Epps, began to tweak the script by adding some new characters and dialogue. Following the cancellation of last year’s reenactment, Caggiano took it upon himself to make even further revisions and additions, turning a once 20 minute mini-play into a more serious performance.

William Franklin was the illegitimate son of Benjamin Franklin, and is often depicted as the boy with the elder Franklin during his legendary “kite experiment,” where electricity was conducted from lightening. William grew up to be appointed as the Royal Governor of the Colony of New Jersey in 1763. Royal Governors were considered the official representatives of the Crown’s interests in their respective colonies. Franklin’s time in office included signing the charter establishing Queen’s College in New Brunswick, which is today known as Rutgers University.

In those days, New Jersey was divided between East and West Jersey, and the Royal Governors split their time between the two capitals, Burlington in West Jersey and Perth Amboy in East Jersey. But there were no “government buildings” as we would think of them. Governors and legislators lived and met wherever they could rent space. The East Jersey Board of Proprietors—wealthy and influential landowners left over from the proprietary colony period—decided in 1762 that they would build an official Governor’s Residence in Perth Amboy. Not only would this make life better for the Governor, but it would add to the prestige of the city. That house is what we now call The Proprietary House.

William Franklin’s time there, however, would be short. The dissent of the coming revolution was already very strong. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin visited his son at The Proprietary House, hoping to convince him to join the cause of the rebellion. The House echoed with their arguments for some three days, but neither would budge from their positions. William would remain a staunch Loyalist to the end.

In January of 1776, New Jersey’s Provincial Congress ordered William Franklin to be held under house arrest at his Perth Amboy mansion. He was ordered not to conduct any government business, but defiantly called for the assembly to convene as usual that spring. On June 19, 1776, a militia unit under the command of General Nathaniel Heard of neighboring Woodbridge arrived to place the Governor under arrest. He was sent to prison in Connecticut, never to see his wife Elizabeth or their home in Perth Amboy ever again. Elizabeth Franklin remained at the house until the British briefly occupied Perth Amboy in 1777, allowing her to flee to British-held New York where she died. William Franklin was released in a prisoner exchange 1778 and remained a leader in the loyalist communities of New York and Nova Scotia before being exiled to England 1782. He died there in 1814.

The arrest of Franklin marked the end of Great Britain’s claim on New Jersey as an English colony. But it is also a poignant reminder of how the difficult choices people were forced to make had very real personal costs. William Franklin and his father would never reconcile.

The reenactment of Franklin’s arrest is the highlight of The Proprietary House Museum’s events, providing a reminder of the rich history at the House and Perth Amboy.

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