In The Loyal Son, award-winning historian Daniel Mark Epstein throws the spotlight on one of the more enigmatic aspects of Franklin’s biography: his complex and confounding relationship with his illegitimate son William. When he was twenty-four, Franklin fathered a child with a woman who was not his wife. He adopted the boy, raised him, and educated him to be his aide. Ben and William became inseparable. After the famous kite-in-a-thunderstorm experiment, it was William who proved that the electrical charge in a lightning bolt travels from the ground up, not from the clouds down. On a diplomatic mission to London, it was William who charmed London society. He was invited to walk in the procession of the coronation of George III; Ben was not. The outbreak of the American Revolution caused a devastating split between father and son. By then, William was royal governor of New Jersey, while Ben was one of the foremost champions of American independence. In 1776, the Continental Congress imprisoned William for treason. George Washington made efforts to win William’s release, while his father, to the world’s astonishment, appeared to have abandoned him to his fate.
Daniel Mark Epstein is the author of biographies of Abraham Lincoln and Walt Whitman, Aimee Semple McPherson, Nat King Cole, and Edna St. Vincent Millay, as well as nine volumes of poetry. His verse has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review, among other publications. The American Academy of Arts and Letters awarded Epstein the Rome Prize in 1977 and an Arts and Letters Award in 2006. Daniel Mark Epstein lives in Baltimore.
Description courtesy of Ballantine Books.