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Meet (Sir) Francis Bernard Esq. – New Jersey’s Royal Governor

Our curiousity started with a round table discussion: who is Francis Bernard and should there be a statue of Sir Francis Bernard to recognize his service to New Jersey? Read the story and tell us what you think at the end.

It is almost as though the Francis Bernard who governed Massachusetts shortly before the Revolution and the well-liked Bernard who led New Jersey during the French and Indian War were different men. Bernard had arrived in New Jersey at the age of forty-five and had waged vigorous war on the French and made peace with the Delaware native Americans.

Bernard witnessed the rapid dissipation of happy sentiment stemming from Anglo-American victory in the French and Indian War and the first stirrings of colonial radicalism. The writs of assistance case, the Stamp Act riots, and the ensuing boycotts of British manufactures all happened on his watch. In American history, Francis Bernard is usually described as the unpopular royal governor of pre-revolutionary Massachusetts, but in New Jersey he should be remembered as a skillful, energetic, successful and well-liked executive who man-aged the colony’s part in prosecuting the war with the French. He also maintained a happy relationship with the legislature despite potential conflict over money issues, and he avoided partisanship and entanglement in local politics. Perhaps most important of all, he was the only governor of New Jersey in nearly three centuries to show much concern for the relationship between native North Americans and Euro-Americans.

Source: Harvard University 1885 Documents Relating to the Colonial, Revolutionary and Post-revolutionary History of the State of New Jersey
Volume 9

In New Jersey, as Royal Governor Bernard took decisive military measures to improve the Minisink defenses, but he understood that the best defense against frontier raids was a peace founded on an informed Indian policy that sought to resolve disputes. Other, larger forces made his pro-gram more successful than it might have been in isolation, but it is worth noting that after his departure the Indians of New Jersey were again forgotten. 

Francis Bernard’s Journey – Royal Governor of New Jersey and Massachusetts

The principal biographical details of Francis Bernard’s life are reasonably familiar to historians of the American Revolution. Bernard was the son of an Anglican rector, Rev. Francis Bernard, but both his natural parents died while he was still a child. He was raised largely by his mother’s second husband, a scholarly cleric, and a maternal aunt. He was his educated at England’s oldest public school, Westminster, before entering Christ Church College, Oxford. After training at the Inns of Court, he married into an aristocratic Presbyterian family. A lawyer by profession, Bernard left the town of Lincoln in the East Midlands in 1758, at age forty-six, to become governor of New Jersey; within eighteen months, he was promoted to the governorship of Massachusetts.

As the Historian for Bernards Township, New Jersey formerly known as Bernardston, in honor of Francis Bernard, Esq., I’ve summarized and interpreted the life of Francis Bernard.

Bernard’s Official Portrait c1767.
A portly man of medium height, Bernard was depicted by portrait by John Singleton Copley at sixty years of age, full of face with ruddy cheeks and aquiline nose, dressed in the velvet coat of an English squire and a barrister’s short periwig, without the regalia of office his daughter Julia thought lent him a more “dignified and distinguished . . . appearance and manner.” Source: Harvard Art Museum
  • You were born in Brightwell, England, on July 1712.
  • You’re the son of Reverend Francis and Margery Bernard.
  • You graduated from Christ Church, a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England and passed the Bar in 1737.
  • In 1741 you marry Amelia Offley whose family helps your consideration for a job as governor in the colonies.
  • You are approved as the Royal Governor of New Jersey on January 27, 1758. Your journey starts in April 1758 and arrived in Perth Amboy with your wife and 4 kids on June 14, 1758 (six to 10 week voyage). You had 10 children, six sons and four daughters, in your family. You were 45 years old.
  • You described your house as a “War office” in Perth Amboy province of Nova-Caesarea (New Jersey).
  • You were sent to NJ for a purpose. Deal with the Indians and settle the province. You are credited with securing the peace with the Unami  and Lenape Indians and the settlement for Indian claims in the Treaty of Easton (PA) in 1758. Fourteen tribes attended and accepted the Treaty of Easton. At the conclusion they would “bury a hatchet” signifying a token of lasting peace between the settlers and the Indians.
  • You secure over 3,000 acres for the “aborigines” and settle a town called Brotherton for them, building 10 houses for the new inhabitants.
  • You secure the Charter of Bernardston, authorized and signed by King George II formally recognizes Bernardston, New Jersey on May 24, 1760.
    • “…a perpetual township and community in word and in deed to be called none but the Township of Bernardston…,to choose annually a constable, overseers of the poor and overseers of the highways for the Township…Witness our trusty and well beloved Francis Bernard, Esq., our captain general and governor in chief of our said province of New Jersey…”
  • Your success as Governor of New Jersey earns you the governorship of Massachusetts (August 2,1760) and you treated it as a promotion.
  • Thomas Boone would be your replacement as Royal Governor of New Jersey. Though he assured his patron that you would leave New Jersey “with regret” and praised “the pleasantness” of Perth Amboy, you complained that it was “wholly secluded from refined conversation & the amusements that arise from letters arts & sciences,” and so we know you look forward to moving to Boston.
  • Given his short time in Jersey, he was sent to Massachusetts as there seemed to be a stronger need there. You move into “The Province House” in Boston.
  • In October 1760 – King George II dies. George III became king of Great Britain and Ireland in 1760 at the age of 22, following his grandfather George II’s death. This would prove difficult for your reign as governor.
  • In 1762, you have a stroke that hurts and limits your effectiveness for the rest of your life.
  • There is “most perfect harmony” in Massachusetts when you arrive, but having to enforce unpopular British taxes soon makes you a hated figure.
  • You’re between a rock and a hard place – get Britain what they needed, but represent the colonists and the colonists feel less represented every year you serve as Governor in MA.
  • Your political opinions make you very unpopular.
  • You become a public adversary of James Otis Jr, Samuel Adams and his cousin John Adams.
James Otis Jr. Esq., 1755. Otis was undoubtedly the key figure in stirring resentment against British policies during the early to mid-1760s. Hutchinson always believed him to be motivated by jealousy and resentment rather than ideology, although Otis certainly understood better than Hutchinson the role ordinary people would soon play in political affairs. Otis later voted to remove Bernard from his Governorship.
  • You are accused of being an alarmist to the crown;  over zealous on the need for British troops in MA until the Earl of Hillsborough listens and sends troops from Canada to Boston. Think this was the beginning of the end of your reign in MA.
  • After asking for troops to be sent to Boston to help suppress the riots, things go from bad to worse.
  • You are labeled a “Friend of the Crown” and “a politician that couldn’t be trusted” with the positions of the colonialists, there were efforts to impeach and remove you as the Governor of MA.
  • On a positive note, on November 6, 1766, you approve a Proclamation authorizing November 27, 1766 as a “General Day of pubic Thanksgiving” where no labor would be done in Massachusetts.  Modern Thanksgiving was later proclaimed for all states in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln.
  • After your six letters to to the Earl of Hillsborough go public, soon after you are removed from service. On June 27, 1769 the 109 members of the House unanimously voted to send a petition to the King requesting your dismissal from office. Parliament passes the governorship to Thomas Hutchinson.
  • August 1, 1769 is your last day. At the age of fifty-seven you return to England, where you were knighted by the monarchy.
  • You spend your remaining days in England as an advisor to King George III.
  • Dissent turns to aggression and the revolutionary war commences.
  • You  die a Whig and loyalist to the British crown on June 16, 1779 in Aylesbury, England (about 45 miles northwest of London).
  • Statue? For what you did in MA – Probably Not. For what you did in New Jersey? I think so. You can vote below!
An artist rendering of what Bernards Township might look like if it had a statue of Francis Bernard on the Bernards Township (Basking Ridge) towne green. We have been unable to locate any statue of Sir Francis Bernard in any of the places named after him.

Bernard’s New Jersey Accomplishment – The Treaty of Easton

Like other governors, much of Bernard’s time was taken up with the difficult problem of persuading the New Jersey assembly to part with resources needed to keep Britain’s war effort afloat. Bernard’s first major success was to assist in negotiating a peace treaty with the Delaware Indians and other disaffected tribes.

Treaty of Easton in October 1758 – Known as possibly Governor Bernard’s greatest accomplishment as Royal Governor in New Jersey, honoring the Native Americans and ensuring the safety of colonial settlers in New Jersey.,

The Charter of Bernardston, New Jersey – May 24, 1760

A charter is a document that gives colonies the legal rights to exist. Charters can bestow certain rights on a town, city, university, or other institution. Colonial charters were approved when the king gave a grant of exclusive powers for the governance of land to proprietors or a settlement company. The charters defined the relationship of the colony to the mother country as free from involvement from the Crown.

For New Jersey, on June 24, 1664, James, Duke of York, granted Lord Berkeley and Sir George Carteret, ownership of a swath of land between the Hudson and Delaware Rivers. The charter referred to these lands as “New Jersey” in honor of Carteret’s defense of the English Channel island of Jersey during the English Civil War.

The Charter of Bernardston, New Jersey which was approved May 24, 1760 is Bernard’s greatest gift to Bernards Township recognizing alongside Bridgewater and Bedminster’s royal charters recognizing formal boundaries, representation, and designation from King George II to the citizens of these areas. Today there are two days that represent this event: Charter Day Street Festival and Bernards Township Day – A Day of Community Service and Pride.

Click Here to read our story about the Charter of Bernardston, New Jersey and how this document was actually a template recreated each time a Charter was established.
Bernards Township Day May 24 Day of Community Service
Bernards Township Day May 24 Day of Community Service honors Governor Bernard’s recognition of Bernardston, now known as Bernards Township in New Jersey.

Thanksgiving Proclamation – Thank You Governor Bernard

On a positive note for those from Massachusetts, on November 6, 1766, you approved the Proclamation authorizing November 27, 1766 for a “General Day of pubic Thanksgiving” where no labor would be done in Massachusetts.  Modern Thanksgiving was proclaimed for all states in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln.

What Else is Named after Governor Francis Bernard?

The Charter of Bernardston, authorized and signed by King George II formally recognized Bernardston in the Province of New Jersey on May 24, 1760. At the time, Bernardston included the current areas of Basking Ridge, Lyons, Liberty Corner, Bernardsville and Far Hills. The area would later be renamed Bernards Township. Vealtown, New Jersey, a town first settled around 1715 and located in Bernards Township, was renamed Bernardsville in Bernard’s honor in 184 Bernardston, Massachusetts was incorporated during his Massachusetts administration and is named for him. Bernardston, Massachusetts was incorporated during his Massachusetts administration and is named for him. Bernard also named Berkshire County, Massachusetts (after his county of birth). On July 17, 1761, the town of “Barnard, Vermont” was chartered by a New Hampshire grant, named after Sir Francis Bernard, the 1st Baronet and Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay.

The villages, hamlets, and towns honoring Royal Governor Francis Bernard. Petition for a Statue of Francis Bernard in New Jersey

Now that you’ve read the history of Francis Bernard, do you think he deserves a statue for his service to New Jersey?

Click to Sign the Petition if you agree Sir Francis Bernard deserves to be honored in New Jersey.

So now you know Sir Francis Bernard’s accomplishment as the Governor of New Jersey. If you believe he deserves recognition, sign the petition-Click Here

Additional Research

Francis Bernard was the apotheosis of British colonialism and an implacable arch-enemy of the American struggle for self- government. Bernard’s adversaries included some of the Revolution’s most venerated leaders, such as Otis’s friend Samuel Adams, the most influential of Boston’s popular politicians, and Samuel’s cousin John, a promising lawyer and future U.S. president.

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