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From our Archives...Colonel John Franklin

Traitor or Hero? Colonel John Franklin was a well-known man in the early days of Athens and Tioga Point. He was born in Canaan, Connecticut in 1749. He served in the Sullivan Expedition, 1779. He was a familiar name in the controversy surrounding the Connecticut Land Claims. Mr. Franklin will be mentioned in more detail later.


From A History of Old Tioga Point and Early Athens: It is impossible to understand the history of Tioga Point and vicinity without some knowledge of the land controversy between Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The late Honorable Stanley Woodward of Wilkes-Barre said, “The struggle between the Connecticut colonists and the representatives of William Penn, from a present point of view is unique and should be interesting. To comprehend it accurately requires a review of certain historical facts and conditions which underlie the epoch, and disclose its true character.” It is wise to attempt to fathom their most serious problems.


The Connecticut pioneers were progressive Puritans. The Pennsylvanians were Quakers, Dutch, German, Scotch-Irish with different characteristics. In that time, the country was flooded with literature on the subject. It is said that for the most part, the publications were solely from the Connecticut point of view and that an impartial view could not be taken.


Mr. Charles Upham, biographer of Timothy Pickering (Colonel Continental Army) said, “Upon balancing the facts and evidence, we are brought, not to the conclusion usually the result of a fair consideration of the whole subject in like cases that both parties were in the wrong, but that both were substantially in the right.” Pickering represented Pennsylvania and there is little question that his ability and sound common sense, was the greatest factor in the final settlement of controversy.


So, what were the boundaries designated in the charters granted by King Charles to Connecticut colonists, and to William Penn? The English having discovered North America from latitude 42° and 48° and made entry upon it. The British Crown at once assumed a right to it.

In 1662, King Charles the II granted land to Connecticut colonists bounded by Narraganset Bay on the East and South Sea on the West, or as James I already granted in 1620 from sea to sea between latitude 41° and 42° In 1681, the same King Charles II granted to William Penn lands having the 42° for their northern border, thus overlapping by one degree the grant made nineteen years earlier! We have but to consult the records and maps of the time to be convinced Charles II was well aware of the errors.


Connecticut colonists made the point that they had the prior grant, therefore it could not be set aside. But Fisher (author of Making of Pennsylvania) says, “The right of the sovereign to grant land was just the reverse of the rights of a private individual. With the King, it was the last grant which was valid and all prior grants were void.

John Franklin was a captain during the Sullivan campaign. He organized a militia that scouted up and down the river. He was well respected by his men. Following the war, he became a leader of like-minded followers to question the boundaries of the Connecticut Land Claim.

Again from A History of Old Tioga and Athens:

No sooner than the Revolutionary War ended, Pennsylvanians appealed to Congress to settle the dispute. This was called the Decree of Trenton in 1782. In short, it was agreed, per Honorable Governor Henry Hoyt that:

"The cause has been well argued by both sides. We are unanimously of opinion that Connecticut has no right to the lands in controversy and preemption of all the territory lying within the Charter of Pennsylvania, claimed by Connecticut, do of right, belong to Pennsylvania." Much more on this topic can be found in our archives.


In 1795 Franklin traveled through New England and Eastern N.Y. with notes in hand, telling the piteous story of the Connecticut settlers. Being a natural orator, he soon had the whole country roused and ready to support him on any endeavor! Franklin said, "We were determined to oppose any authority from Pennsylvania until we could have a regular establishment on constitutional principles and our lands in some way secured to us." According to Franklin, there were more than 600 effective men among the settlers. All that seemed necessary therefore was to bring on a sufficient force to wrest the territory from Pennsylvania. Franklin was planning an uprising and in 1787, a warrant was issued for his arrest. In August of 1787, Pickering had written to Benjamin Franklin saying, "Peace of country depends on immediate execution of the confirming law. Franklin (John) is very industrious to infuse suspicions into settlers."


An excerpt from the Supreme Executive Council in September, 1787: Several papers containing intelligence of an armed banditti, having assembled at Tioga in a riotous manner, with intention to resist the government was laid before the council. Pennsylvania had a right to regard this as treasonable. A few days later a proclamation was read and approved by council offering $400 for Franklin's arrest.


On October 2nd, 1787 Franklin was arrested for high treason and carried to Philadelphia and thrown in jail. He spent two years imprisoned. Thus ended the great project and high hopes concerning Athens and creating a new state. Some disturbances still occurred, however over the next few years.


Franklin was brought to trial in November, 1788 but it was cancelled and he was returned to prison, transferred to Easton and released in May 1789. In 1792 Franklin was pardoned by Governor Mifflin.


In 1792 Franklin was commissioned High Sheriff of Luzerne and Lt. Colonel of the militia. In 1795 and 1796, he was sent to Assembly as a representative of Luzerne. It was apparent he still had a lot of public support. In 1797-98 he went to Connecticut to inquire about the Intrusion Act. Franklin became more aggressive and was indicted in 1802 for conspiracy for opposing the law. An attempt was made to remove him from his position. However, the landowners took his side and saved the day! It is said this election was his last triumph and his ardor cooled. He was long revered as a wise counselor and he delighted in telling the story of the struggles of the Connecticut pioneers. John Franklin died in 1831 and is buried in East Athens.


So much more can be learned about Mr. Franklin by visiting our archives at the museum. You can judge for yourself if he was indeed a traitor or a hero!


The Tioga Point Museum is open 12-5p on Tuesdays and Thursdays throughout the year. You are invited to come and explore!


Shared by Sandy Chamberlain



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