J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

John Crane's Wounded Foot

Yesterday I had a tetanus shot, and that put me in mind of Col. John Crane of the Continental Artillery. [Yes, this will eventually make sense.]

John Crane (1744-1805) was a house carpenter in Boston. In the early 1770s, he became a sergeant in the town's militia artillery company. Like several other men in that company, he participated in the Boston Tea Party, reportedly being knocked cold by accident and hidden in a pile of wood chips. Probably fearing arrest and seeking better business prospects, Crane and his friend Ebenezer Stevens left Boston for Providence a few weeks later.

Crane returned to the Boston area in 1775 as a captain in the Rhode Island Artillery, stationed in Roxbury and then at a forward position on Boston Neck. He showed such skill in commanding his battery and aiming his guns that by the end of the year he was commissioned a major in the Continental Army's artillery regiment, much to Thomas Crafts's mortification.

In the 1820s, William Eustis cited Crane as an example of an excellent officer who came from the ranks of craftsmen, not gentry. Eustis wrote:

After the evacuation of Boston, he marched to New York. Whenever a British ship of war appeared in the East, or North river, or any firing was heard, Crane was on horseback, and galloped to the scene of action. Being reproached on an occasion when he exposed himself alone, riding through Greenwich street, under the constant broadsides of a passing ship, he replied, “The shot is not cast which is to kill me.”

Not long after, a frigate run up the East river, and anchored on the Long Island side, near Carlaer’s hook. Four field pieces were ordered to annoy her. They were only six pounders. Crane, as usual, was present and pointed the pieces. His sight was remarkably true, his aim was sure.

He had from habit and the acuteness of his vision, the faculty of seeing a cannon ball on its passage through the air. A falling shot from the ship he kenned in a direction to strike, as he thought, the lower part of his body, not having time to change his position in any other way, he whirled himself round on one foot, the ball struck the other foot while raised in the air, carrying away the great toe and ball of the foot. Thus ended his usefulness for the campaign.

He was afterwards removed to New Jersey, and surviving the perils of a partial jaw lock, so far recovered as to go home on furlough.
There's the tetanus connection! Crane's immune system was strong enough to fight off lockjaw. He returned to service under Gen. Henry Knox and ended the war as a colonel.

At that time, Crane was among the Continental Army officers who were upset at Congress's slow pay—an effort that led them to create the Society of the Cincinnati. Crane also indignantly refused a disability pension at that time, declaring, "No, sir; they never shall say that I eat their bread when I have done serving them." He followed Knox and other artillery colleagues in becoming a landowner in the part of Massachusetts that became Maine. Crane's businesses didn't flourish, however, and his wounded foot became disabling. He tearfully accepted a federal pension a few months before he died.

(Now that I look again at what Eustis wrote, reprinted in Dr. James Thacher's Military Journal During the American Revolutionary War, I suspect that Crane's "friend and brother-officer, who well knew the nature of his wound," and later arranged for that pension, was Eustis himself. Eustis was a doctor trained by Dr. Joseph Warren. He served as surgeon for the artillery regiment in 1775, then as a hospital surgeon. In the early republic he was a Democratic-Republican politician, rising to be Secretary of War and Massachusetts governor.)

[CORRECTION: I originally typed 1807 as the year of Crane’s death instead of 1805. ADDENDUM: Narrowing down the date when Crane was wounded.]

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

John Crane settled in the area now known a Whiting, Maine. His grave is there with a new grave stone befitting of a true Revolutionary War hero. The lumber business he established there was in business until the late 1800s and was operated by his sons and grandsons.

John Crane
Richardson Texas
4th great grandson of John Crane

Jean said...

As was said in the previous comment, John Crane is buried in Whiting, Maine at the church graveyard. I visited the area in the summer 1992. He's my 7th great-grandfather. Three of his daughters married three of Col. John Allan's (my other 7th great grandfather) sons.

Jean Flores
danandjeanflores@aol.com

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the info. I understand Crane went into the lumber business in Maine with another former artillery officer from Boston, Lemuel Trescott. He seems to have moved up to (what was then) that part of Massachusetts in the early 1790s.

Crane's commander Henry Knox also settled in Maine after the war, building a mansion called Montpelier there. Knox had the advantage of a wife who inherited lots of land from her Loyalist father. Nevertheless, he almost went bankrupt because of reverses in the price of land.

Crane's need for a pension late in life indicates that he, too, had business problems in Maine. The estates there might not have been that profitable in the long run.

Scott said...

Counting Col. John Crane's generation and my gen, I'm 7 gens removed from Col. John. I'm a 6th gen grandson, from the first set of 11 grandchildren from Col. John's son, John, Jr. Texas John, you probably trace your lineage to one of the 11 grandchildren of Col. John. Do you know his name?

I respectfully question your 4th gen placement unless your greatx3 grandfather was Aaron Hayden Crane(born 6/13/1845) My grandfather, Allan Crane (b. 1888) is a 4th gen. I didn't think any 4th gens were still alive.

I was raised in early childhood in Eastport, ME, about 25 miles from Whiting. I visited Col. John's grave many times. His headstone was replaced in 1998 or 1999 (?). He died July 21, 1805.

He established the lumbermill on Whiting Mill Pond. Allan Crane was president of Crane Lumber when the mill burned down in 1956. I was there to see the flaming end of an era.

Col. John has a colorful history, and I have knowledge of much of it; dates, Revo;utionary War history, places, events, actions, post war, Maine, etc. What I don't have is a picture or sketch. I'd love to see one if it exists.

Scott Crane
scott.crane@uhsinc.com

J. L. Bell said...

Scott Crane and I rechecked our sources because we had collected three different death dates stated for Col. John Crane.

The period newspapers and a photo of his current gravestone agree on this date:
21 Aug 1805.

Scott also notes that while the newspapers calculated the colonel's age when he died as 61, he was only 60 because his birthday came in December. (To add to the confusion, some newspapers reprinted the death notice inaccurately and said the colonel was 41 years old!)

Anonymous said...

Col. John Crane is my 4th great grandfather, John Crane Jr., my 3rd great grandfather, Samuel, my second great grandfather, John, my great grandfather, Arthur, my grandfather, Newton, my father.

John Crane
formerly of Richardson, TX and now of Lady Lake, Florida

Michael Crosby said...

Don't know if I'm able to post pictures in the comment section, but I was in Whiting a month ago and took a picture of Col Crane's tombstone. I'd be happy to add the picture or forward it to the author.

Michael Crosby--Grandson of Merton Crosby and Amelia Crane Crosby

J. L. Bell said...

A Blogger comment can’t include an image, but it can include a link to an image elsewhere on the web.