Alicia Crane WilliamsMy Daughters of the American Revolution lineage is filed through Bernice Crane of Berkley, Massachusetts. I have other ancestors that I could have chosen, but I chose Bernice for a special reason – he is definitely my most interesting patriot ancestor.

Bernice and his wife Joanna (Axtell) Crane were Tory sympathizers at the beginning of the Revolution. One family story says that Bernice Crane, a sea captain, “carried word to the Torries in New York until the Whigs ran his small craft ashore, when he became a patriot.” This decision was likely also influenced by the tar and feathering of his next door neighbor and cousin, Lemuel Crane.

Another story is about how Joanna “was able to get tea from the British when none of his neighbors had any, and that at the time of the Battle of Bunker Hill, she had invited a friend to a private tea-drinking at her house in the belief that the British Army would be victorious.”

Despite his reluctant enlistment, Bernice went on to give about two years’ of service in the Rebel cause. Joanna’s application for a pension, filed in 1836 when she was ninety, states that he “served at Winter Hill near Boston in Col. French’s regiment for two months or more (Jan. 1776), also in company of Capt. Josiah Gibbs for 15 months near Howlands Ferry in Rhode Island in 1777 and 1778. Also Capt. Brown in 1780 and 1781. Private in all. She thinks he served as substitute in last two.”[1]

Bernice died in 1828 at the age of 86. He and Joanna had six children, of whom the second, Benjamin, born in 1768, was the father of my ancestor, Rev. Silas Axtell Crane, an Episcopalian minister, and of Caroline Crane who became the second wife of George Perkins Marsh, considered to be America’s first environmentalist as well as U.S. minister to the Ottoman Empire and to Italy.[2]

It is from Caroline (Crane) Marsh’s memoirs that we learn about Joanna: “Small in person, with eyes full of vivacity and fire, and many had been the pranks of her madcap youth… Mrs. Crane used to sit smoking her pipe in the chimney corner and lived to the ripe age of a hundred years.”

I am grateful to all my patriotic ancestors, but, really, how could any of the rest compete with a story like that?


[1] U.S. Pension W22858.


About Alicia Crane Williams

Alicia Crane Williams, FASG, Lead Genealogist of Early Families of New England Study Project, has compiled and edited numerous important genealogical publications including The Mayflower Descendant and the Alden Family “Silver Book” Five Generations project of the Mayflower Society. Most recently, she is the author of the 2017 edition of The Babson Genealogy, 1606-2017, Descendants of Thomas and Isabel Babson who first arrived in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637. Alicia has served as Historian of the Massachusetts Society of Mayflower Descendants, Assistant Historian General at the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, and as Genealogist of the Alden Kindred of America. She earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in History from Northeastern University.

12 thoughts on “Patriots

  1. Thank you so much for this blog post! I think Joanna Axtell is my first cousin, six times removed. It’s great to see some of my research confirmed. I’m a new member at NEHGS, and I’m learning a great deal.

    1. Hi cousin!. Axtell not a common name, so glad to see it still around. The family has its own interesting back story with the Regicide and all, too.

      1. We have a Hannah Axtell of Sudbury, Mass., who married Edward Wright in our ancestry. Their daughter Dorothy married into the Brooks line, one of my wife’s Massachusetts lines through her mother. Would she be connected to these do you think? Especially as it’s not a common name? We know very little about her. Thanks for the interesting post!

  2. Off point, but so interesting. My gg grandfather fought in the Civil War for the North, and they did not pay him. So, he then went and fought for the South, and they did not pay him either.

    When my male cousin applied for membership in one of the societies, he told them his gg grandfather fought for both the North and the South, and they responded they did not care as long as he fought; and he was qualified to apply for his designation.

  3. Great Story! I have a good number of ancestors who served in the Revolution and some descendants have become members of the D.A.R. However, there is one 4th great-grandfather who seems to have a pretty cool story but I can’t find much about his service. My source of info is an old family letter which states that he had something to do with sabotaging a bridge and dealing with Tories trying to get into his home. I’m wondering how to find the supporting info for the story. He served in Connecticut. My copy of this letter is typed from the original and whoever did that could not make out the name of the bridge. They wrote “Lock” Bridge with question marks. Could it have been “Neck” Bridge? Looking for good source of CT Revolutionary history and/or account of this episode – have searched online and found some things but haven’t really found what I’m looking for. His name was Capt. William Whedon (or Wheadon or Wheaton).

    1. Janice, among the possibilities is that he acted as a private citizen and thus had not enlisted in an official unit and was not eligible for a pension. Does the town history for where he lived give any information about local battles?

      1. Thanks for your interest! The info I have is that he was Captain of a Company that took a bridge (this is from the letter). They wrote “Lock???” Bridge. Also described an incident when Tories smuggling goods that were seized and taken to Captain Whedon’s house. Then Tories tried to get into the house (dressed as Indians) to get the goods but were dealt with (severely I would say) by members of the household. Have this letter which was written by a 3rd great-aunt (something like that) who heard the story from her father – a son of William Whedon. These events were in New Haven, CT.

  4. What a fascinating woman! Wish I’d known her. My mom’s Crane ancestors were from Newark, NJ. Around 1900 when genealogy was becoming a big thing Mom’s great aunt applied for DAR membership because she knew for certain her GG grandfather had fought. Come to find out he’d fought for the British, so Aunt Mamie got quite a surprise.

  5. Wonderful family story, Alicia, as always told with your delightful combination of historical accuracy and humor.

  6. Just ran across your blog, and the name of Lemuel Crane caught my eye, he was a cousin of my descendant my 4th gg John Thomas Gilbert Crane, whose granddaughter married my 2nd gg William Bartlett Reynolds.
    -Jonathan Reynolds,

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