Monday, June 1, 2015

Memory Mondays: William George Crane

William George Crane (1771-1834)
Veteran of the War of 1812-14
By Sandra Sales

George Crane was born in Scotland in 1771. In 1803, at 32 years of age, he was in Upper Canada after retiring from the British Army. By May 6th of that year, he was in York (now Toronto) when his path crossed with another ex-military man, Thomas Talbot. This Thomas Talbot had left England early in February in possession of instructions from the Colonial Secretary to the Lieutenant Governor granting him 5,000 acres of land and permission to establish an agricultural settlement in the wilds of Upper Canada. 
Talbot was heading for a stretch of land on the north shore of Lake Erie. Some of this area had been surveyed by 1803, but skilled people would be needed to build an infrastructure for the settlement. He offered George nine dollars per month to work for him and George accepted. (Source: The Talbot Papers.) As they made their trip from York to Niagara and further up the lake they were joined by three other employees—William Powers, Samuel Rogers (hired May 11th in Niagara for $9 per month) and Patrick Whealand (hired in New York on the 6th of April for $11 per month)—as well as Deputy Surveyor William Hambly. On May 21, 1803, they landed at a spot which Talbot named Port Talbot. This was the heart of the countryside that became home to George Crane for the rest of his life.
George Crane worked at Port Talbot for three years as Talbot prepared for his first settlers. George was part of a crew that cleared the land and, despite the stumps, planted crops such as corn and potatoes. He may have done any number of tasks. There is even an entry in the Talbot Papers giving George money for the soleing of Thomas Talbot’s shoes. He may have helped with the construction of buildings, such as cabins, barns, a blacksmith shop, a cooper shop and a sawmill, when a carpenter and his apprentice were brought from Niagara in 1804. The staff continued to grow as Talbot hired domestics. One of these was Isabella Findlay from Glasgow, Scotland, who helped the housekeeper, Mrs. Powers. Isabella and George married, and in 1806 the couple became the Talbot Settlement’s first settlers. He was 35 years of age and she was about 19.
George and Isabella were allotted Lot 15 on Concession 11, about four miles up the lake at a point of land called Plum Point, visible from Port Talbot. Their settlement duties would have been to build a log house, clear the land and the road allowance in front of the lot, and plant crops within two years. The deed to the property could then be obtained with the payment of a fee. Talbot likely provided them with seed for wheat, barley, peas and oats. They may also have planted Indian corn. George and Isabella started their family with William, born on the 20th of December, 1807 (baptismal record), and Charles in 1809, by which time neighbours had started to arrive a little farther west. George and Isabella added to their family with Peter in 1810, and by 1812 they were expecting Anthony. Then the War of 1812-14 broke out.
There were many names of note in the War of 1812. While George Crane wasn’t necessarily one of them, he is representative of the men who needed to fight to preserve their farms, families and community. In an agricultural community such as Port Talbot, citizen soldiers for the most part lacked any formal military training. General Isaac Brock, chief in command of the British military in Upper Canada and acting Lieutenant-Governor of the province, was anxious to correct this deficiency. Brock “called for the formation of unpaid volunteer companies called flank companies that were to be armed, accoutered, and partially trained,” who could “provide a body of loyal young men that could be called on in an emergency.” Men were put into flank companies only after they had mastered the basic duties of a soldier, generally after at least one year of service with their regiment. The requirement for both fitness and experience meant that they consisted mostly of men in their late twenties to early forties. (Source:

Even then, Colonel Talbot, commissioned on February 27, 1812, had trouble recruiting volunteers. Farmers felt they couldn’t leave their harvests and families. Most of the settlers in the Talbot Settlement were the same age as George Crane. They had young families and were just starting to clear the land. Nonetheless, George Crane volunteered in 1812. He had previous military experience with the British Army and became part of the Flank Company 1st Regiment Middlesex Militia.
 On August 11th, 1812, Major General Brock was on his way to capture Fort Detroit. He was transporting 350 militia volunteers who had boarded boats at Port Dover, including the 1st Regiment Middlesex Militia, when inclement weather forced them to pull their boats on shore and spend the night on the beach at Port Talbot. The Middlesex Regiment also participated actively in the Battle of Lundy’s Lane, Niagara, on July 25th 1814 and at the Battle of the Thames.
Besides these engagements, there were worries at home. At first, the small community was not greatly affected, but that changed over time. The sparsely populated settlement was attacked several times in 1813, and the raids in the summer of 1814 were unrelenting as American soldiers and sympathizers marauded along Lake Erie between Detroit and Brantford, raiding homes, burning mills and crops, and stealing horses. On September 9, 1814, General McArthur, accompanied by Andrew Westbrook, invaded Port Talbot with 600 undisciplined mounted Kentucky soldiers, 50 U.S. rangers and 70 Indian allies. In the absence of Talbot and the militia, the settlement was completely plundered: The grist and saw mills and many houses and barns were burned, crops and livestock destroyed, and all the flour in the settlement ruined. The settlers were left with little but the clothes on their backs. The community never fully recovered from the destruction.
As a result of a raid by Captain Walker on August 16, 1814, George Crane put in a claim for a horse, cow, cash, gown, muslin, great coat, cloak, gloves and a gun.

George Crane served as a Private under both Captain Gilman Willson and Captain David Secord in 1812.  He served as a Sergeant under Captain Leslie Patterson (1813-1814), Captain Gilman Willson (1814), and Captain Leslie Patterson (1814, 1815). He received a Land Claim Certificate which meant he was entitled to make a land claim for his service.  

After the war the family continued to grow to 11 children in all: Isabella, 1814; Marie, 1816; Hannah, 1818 (baptismal record); Susan, Feb 25 1820 (baptismal record); Jane, 1822; Alexander George (baptized May 15th 1825); and Adam, September 5, 1826. Eventually, members moved away. William went to the Oregon Territory, Charles to Rockford, Illinois and others married and moved off the home farm.

George Crane died intestate in August of 1834 at the age of 64 and Isabella died on October 24, 1854 at the age of 67. George was buried on the farm overlooking the lake. Isabella was buried in St. Peter’s Anglican Church Cemetery, Lakeview Line, Wallacetown, Dunwich Township where there is a memorial to them both. Their oldest son William inherited the farm. 

Colonel Thomas Talbot speaking to the Loyal and Patriotic Society of Upper Canada

“Colonel Talbot has the honor of stating to the Loyal and Patriotic Society that on the 16th of last month the enemy, amounting to upwards of one hundred men, composed of Indians and Americans painted and disguised as the former, surprised the settlement of Port Talbot, where they committed the most wanton and atrocious acts of violence by robbing the undermentioned fifty heads of families of all their horses and every particle of wearing apparel and household furniture, leaving the sufferers naked and in the most wretched state” - dated at York, September 2, 1814

There is a sluggish, little stream in Dunwich, which at certain
periods may be said, without too great a stretch of the imagination, to flow into Lake Erie. At other times it is quite stagnant, being dammed back by a sandbar across its mouth. The isthmus thus formed is dry and solid, a thoroughfare for men and teams, until a stiff south-easter comes along and unceremoniously tears open the channel again.

On either side are lofty cliffs of sand, extending for many miles along the shore. Here and there they overhang the lake, which is constantly gnawing at their feet. Huge fragments fall from the top directly into the water. The process has been going on for ages, and thus the lake grows ever wider and shallower. At times a tall tree will remain for years, clinging to the very edge with its roots almost bare of soil. But at last it yields, and topples over. If it strikes the cliff-side, it remains reversed, its top buried in sand, its roots tending skyward. But the lake gnaws steadily below. Sooner or later the inexorable current seizes its reluctant prey.

The creek is bordered by rich, though narrow, flats and verdant hillsides. Enough of the forest still remains to diversify the landscape, which forms one of the most picturesque bits of scenery along the lakes.

It was at the mouth of this little stream that Colonel Thomas Talbot landed with four followers on the 21st day of May, 1803. He seized an axe, and with his own hands chopped down the first tree, thus formally inaugurating the new settlement. Since that day the spot has been called Port Talbot, the stream Talbot Creek, and the region the Talbot Settlement. From it extends the Talbot Road, eastward to Fort Erie, and westward to the Detroit River.

Source: James H. Coyne The Talbot Papers p.33
Sec. II., 1907. 3.

Through the War of 1812 Graveside Project, Private William George Craneand others will be remembered with a ceremony in St. Peter's Anglican Church Cemetery on Sunday, July 12 at 1pm during Backus-Page House Museum's Living History Weekend July 11-12, 2015

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