The War for American Independence has borne many names being forever cemented into the annals of history. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, The Marquis de Lafayette and Benedict Arnold are just a few that come to mind. Their lives have been researched and analyzed extensively and their stories told countless times. Many of the higher ranking officers of the war have also received similar treatment for their contributions. Still, there is long list of dedicated patriots who have seen very little or no recognition for their contributions to preserve liberty in America. One such Patriot is Colonel John Crane, commanding officer of the 3rd Continental Artillery.
John Crane was born December 7, 1744 to Abijah and Sarah Crane in Braintree Massachusetts. Not much is known about his early life, but it is stated in several sources that during the French and Indian War, Crane served in the stead of his father, who was drafted into one of the provincial units from Massachusetts. After the war, Crane became a housewright, opened a shop in Boston, and in 1767 married Mehitable Wheeler. It was also around this time that Crane joined the growing Sons of Liberty in Boston. In 1768, Crane also joined a newly formed Company of Artillery in Boston that was started by a gentleman named David Mason. Mason was soon succeeded in command by Captain Adino Paddock who had received extensive training from British artillery in the 1760's. Paddock was by profession a chaise-maker. The new company was composed principally, if not altogether, of the mechanics of Boston, and was distinguishing by its superior discipline, by the exactness of its manoeuvres and the accuracy of its firings. Other future leaders of American artillery, such as, Winthrop Sargent, Ebenezer Stevens, and even Paul Revere were part of this company as well. It was later discovered that Paddock was a fervent tory, fleeing to England where he later served a military command on the Island of Guernsey.
On December 16th, 1773, John Crane was part of the contingent of the Sons of Liberty that launched tea into Boston Harbor in defiance of British taxes and restrictions. His shop was utilized by the Sons beforehand to meet and prepare for the action. Legend has it that during the event, Crane was knocked unconscious by a falling crate of tea, and was carried to the docks by his comrades and put on a bed of wood shavings. After recovering from his injury, Crane remained in Boston until British reprisals, known as the Coercive Acts, began to cripple his business. Crane then took his family and relocated south to Providence Rhode Island. While living in Rhode Island, Crane remained active in military activity, and joined the Rhode Island Train of Artillery. In April, of 1775 the Train was dispatched to Boston after the actions at Lexington and Concord took place. At this time, the unit was further bolstered by merging with the Providence Fusiliers. Crane was a Major in the company.
During the Siege of Boston, Crane and the men serving under him fought with great distinction. Crane was in command of the Roxbury station of the siege. It was on this theatre that he first displayed an undaunted courage, and a knowledge of the art of gunnery, not often displayed by old artillery officers. In December of 1775 Crane entered fully into continental service, serving in Colonel Henry Knox?s Artillery Regiment as 1st Major. After the evacuation of Boston, he marched to New York. Whenever a British ship-of-war appeared in the East or North rivers, 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." In New York, Crane again greatly proved his skill as an artillerist. He had from habit and the acuteness of his vision, the faculty of seeing a cannon ball on its passage through the air. This ability came to Crane?s aid in September of 1776 when, monitoring British vessels, 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. Crane was quickly removed to the safety of New Jersey, where, while recovering, Crane suffered and survived a case of partial lockjaw. Once he was well enough to move, he was frloughed to recuperate at home.
Upon his return to the Continental Army, John Crane was promoted to Colonel, and became on January 1st of 1777 the Commanding Officer of Crane?s Artillery Regiment (in August of 1779 it was redesignated the 3rd Continental Artillery). Crane?s Artillery Regiment was organized throughout the spring of 1777, with men hailing mainly from Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The unit fought with distinction in many engagements throughout the war, with companies from the regiment participating in the Saratoga Campaign, the Defense of Philadelphia, Monmouth Courthouse, the Siege of Rhode Island, and the later actions in New Jersey. Crane himself was quite active during the Army?s stay at Valley Forge in the winter of 1778.
Crane, as well as other artillery officers, was under the threat of being court marshaled while encamped at Valley Forge. He was charged for “Ungentleman and Unofficerlike behavior” by A Major Forrest. These charges were brought up when, On the 13th instant I (Crane) issued orders for A Court Martial to sit the next day at 10 O'Clock, for the Trial of Capt. Francis Proctor, Senr for Repeatedly leaving Camp without permission, and thereby Neglecting his duty. (of which Court Major Forrest was appointed President) I attended at the time ordered for their Siting; and Continued there untill eleven O’Clock, at which time they had not Met. about the same time I Received a Letter from Colo. Tilghman, which Occasioned my Absence a short time. when I Returned found the Court had met and adjourned: after Adjudging that Capt. Proctor ought to be Released from his Arrest: Upon which I told the President it was an Unusual way of proceeding to Acquit A Prisoner without hearing, or making any proper enquiry, for the Prosecuter or his evidences: for which he gave me for Answer that he knew his duty as well as I did: and If I had a mind to disapprove of the proceedings of the Court, they could Try him again: my reply was that he Should not be Tried again by the same Court. The same day I issued Orders, disapproving the Judgement of the Court; and ordered it to Sit the 15th instant at 10 O’Clock: They met and Adjourned to the 16th instant at 1 O’Clock: at which time they met; and without any further orders proceeded to the Trial of Capt. Francis Proctor Senr a Second time notwithstanding I had previously told the President that he Should not be tried again by that Court. about 12 O’Clock the Same day I received a Billet from Capt. Doughty, the Judge Advocate Requesting me to Send him Lieut. Arnold’s Arrest, and the Evidence to Support the charge: and they would immediately go upon his Trial: which I immediately complied with: in every part. About 2 O’Clock the Same day I Recieved another Billet Requesting my attendance to give Evidence: I considering that I knew nothing of the affair, of Lieut. Arnold; Only what I was told by the Officers who Reported him; to whom I had Refered them for Evidence; also having a Number of Recruits who had then Just arrived from Boston and waiting for me to distribute them to the Several Companies of my Regt I sent Capt. Doughty a Note informing him that I had Company and Could not Attend and thought the Evidence I had Mentioned would be sufficient Soon after I Recieved the inclosed Letter which I pray your Excellency would Examine and order what shall be done upon the Matter—which will greatly.
The matter was soon after resolved and Crane continued to serve as Commanding Officer of the 3rd Continental Artillery through the duration of the war. In the late stages of the war, the 3rd Artillery was redeployed to the Hudson Highlands theatre of operations. In September of 1783 was given a brevet promotion to Brigadier General, and was placed in charge of the Corps of Artillery, succeeding Henry Knox as the Commanding General of the Artillery in the Continental Army. Crane resigned from the army less than two months later. Crane was also a part of the discontented officers at the end of the war that came to be known as the Newburgh conspiracy. He felt, indignantly, at the treatment they had received. This may have led to his resignation.