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CRONYN, BENJAMIN – Volume X (1871-1880)

d. at London, Ont., 21 Sept. 1871


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CRANE, SAMUEL, businessman and politician; b. 1794 in Massachusetts; m. before 1827 Eunice ——, and they had two sons and eight daughters; d. 13 Nov. 1858 in Prescott, Upper Canada.

Nothing is known of Samuel Crane’s early life but by May 1820 he had moved to Lower Canada and had joined Levi Sexton, Cornelius A. Van Slyck, and Alpheus Jones as a partner in a forwarding firm at Lachine, Montreal’s western outport. The partnership was involved in shipping between Montreal and ports along the upper St Lawrence River and on Lake Ontario. It had offices in Upper Canada at Prescott and in New York State at Genesee River and Ogdensburg. Until 1824, through a monopoly granted by the state of New York, only American steamships could stop at ports in that state, and the partners’ ability to serve both sides of the border was vastly improved by their part-ownership of the Ontario, the first American steamship on the Great Lakes. The firm was thus well equipped to take advantage of the increasing volume of traffic on the river. Since the War of 1812 there had been a steady growth in imports of merchandise into Upper Canada and exports of agricultural produce from that province.

Over the following years Crane was involved in a number of other partnerships, most notably that formed in 1822 with W. L. Whiting of Prescott, which, situated at the head of the Galops Rapids, had developed since the war as an important port for the trans-shipment of freight from river-boats to lake-boats. These early years of the forwarding trade were characterized by frequently changing partnerships and business connections. At the same time, however, as more and more steamboats were brought into the trade, there was a movement towards consolidation in order to control competition and to cope with rapidly increasing overhead costs. By early 1828 Crane had moved to Prescott, possibly to become resident partner in John Macpherson and Company which, with John Macpherson of Kingston as its senior partner, operated establishments at Prescott and Montreal. Crane certainly became a partner some time before January 1831, when the firm was dissolved. Immediately, however, he and Macpherson formed a new firm. After several years of transitory business connections, Crane had finally found a stable partnership, which would be known variously as Macpherson and Crane, Macpherson, Crane and Company, and S. Crane and Company. The firm prospered and dominated the forwarding trade for the next 22 years. In the process the partners acquired a reputation as enterprising and reliable businessmen. Crane became known as an incessant worker who, in the estimation of an agent for R. G. Dun and Company, made “a perfect slave of himsf” in the pursuit of his work. So single-minded was this pursuit that he earned a name for being “cold, almost to repulsion,” according to the Journal of Education for Upper Canada.

The reasons for the partners’ success are obscure, but a step taken early in their association played an important role. On 15 Dec. 1836 they formed a partnership with the Ottawa and Rideau Forwarding Company, which controlled access to the recently completed Rideau Canal by means of its ownership of the lock at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, near the junction of the Ottawa and St Lawrence rivers. By thus assuring themselves of easy access to the Rideau route, Macpherson and Crane secured an important competitive advantage over their rivals, who had to continue using the hazardous St Lawrence or towing their boats through Sainte-Anne’s Rapids. Crane and his partner protected this vantage when, in 1837, they made an agreement with all other major forwarding firms to charge common freight rates. A public lock at Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue was completed in 1842 but the monopoly held by Macpherson and Crane and the Ottawa and Rideau company had ended the year before when the latter agreed to tow rival barges through its lock.

The pre-eminence of Macpherson and Crane as forwarders was well established by 1841, when they controlled 12 of the 20 steamers engaged in the Montreal to Kingston trade. In addition they owned 40 barges and 5 schooners for transport on the Great Lakes. Major warehousing facilities were maintained at Montreal, Bytown (Ottawa), Kingston, and Prescott. Large ship-building yards were kept running at Montreal, Prescott, and Kingston. To operate these various concerns more than 650 men were employed by Macpherson and Crane. They maintained their leading position throughout the 1840s, adding establishments at the western Upper Canadian ports of Hamilton, Port Stanley, and Amherstburg. As well, in 1850 they expanded into Lake Champlain to provide a connection with Boston and New York. During his rise as a forwarder, Crane had personally devoted some time to other business pursuits. In 1833 he was elected a director of the Saint Lawrence Inland–Marine Assurance Company. Three years later he and others attempted without success to secure a charter for a bank at Prescott; in 1837 Crane became a director of the Commercial Bank of the Midland District. By 1852 he had as well acquired or built a distillery and a steam grist-mill in Prescott.

Despite the advances made by Crane’s firm, in the spring of 1853 it sold several of its vessels and withdrew completely from the passenger business. Later that year, on 21 December, Macpherson and Crane sold most of their remaining vessels and terminated their long involvement in the forwarding trade. This turn of events may have a number of explanations. The previous year David Lewis Macpherson*, a partner in the firm since 1842, became heavily involved in railway construction and apparently withdrew from the partnership. His corresponding withdrawal of capital may have necessitated the sale of passenger vessels. Furthermore, the imminent completion of the Grand Trunk Railway, with its threat of year-round competition, must have made the future of marine shipping seem precarious. This prospect was the more ominous since Macpherson and Crane had already suffered through two losing years. Yet another factor may have been the devastating fire which destroyed their warehouses and wharf at Kingston on 12 Nov. 1853; their notice to sell appeared shortly thereafter.

Crane continued his partnership with Macpherson for they still shared a variety of business interests. They had some assets left to sell, including several vessels and barges, and numerous accounts to settle and collect. Their major debtor was the firm of Henderson and Holcomb, which had purchased the bulk of their business. When the latter firm failed in 1857, it still owed Macpherson and Crane upwards of £20,000. This staggering loss led in turn to the bankruptcy of Macpherson and Crane and to the dissolution of their partnership on 10 Nov. 1857. The failure devastated Crane and, it was believed, contributed to his failing health and death the following year.

Although almost exclusively concerned with forwarding and other business interests, Crane had made a brief venture into politics. A reformer, he entered a by-election in Grenville in 1838 but withdrew over the issue of the poll’s distant location, in Merrickville. Elected for Grenville in the general election of 1841, he sat until 1844 but evidently did not take an active part in parliament. He was appointed to the Legislative Council on 16 Jan. 1849 but again he does not appear to have played a significant role. On 17 March 1858 his seat was declared vacant because of absence.

Harry Pietersma

ACC-O, St John’s Church (Prescott, Ont.), reg. of baptisms, 20 March, 29 April 1827; 4 March 1830; 6 March 1833; 22 June 1834; 27 May 1835; 21 April 1837; 29 Jan. 1839; 21 Jan. 1841; 30 Aug. 1842; 25 Dec. 1846; reg. of burials, 15 Nov. 1858, 8 Dec. 1863. AO, RG 21, United counties of Leeds and Grenville, Prescott, census and assessment rolls, 1828. BLHU, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 15: 202, 213. PAC, RG 31, A1, 1842, 1848, 1851, Prescott. QUA, Macpherson, Crane and Co., letter-books, 1845, 1857. Can., Prov. of, Legislative Assembly, App. to the journals, 1841, app.EE. “The forwarding interest,” Canadian Merchants’ Magazine and Commercial Rev. (Toronto), 1 (April–September 1857): 332–34; 3 (April–December 1858): 238–40. “The Honorable Samuel Crane,” Journal of Education for Upper Canada (Toronto), 12 (1859): 27–28. U.C., House of Assembly, Journal, 1832–33, app.: 90–101. Brockville Recorder, 17 Jan. 1833; 19 Dec. 1834; 31 Oct., 7 Nov. 1837; 2 April 1846; 24 July 1851; 4 Feb., 25 Nov. 1858. Canadian Courant and Montreal Advertiser, 22 Nov. 1820. Chronicle & Gazette, 29 June 1833, 26 Nov. 1836, 7 June 1837, 8 Dec. 1838, 27 May 1840. Chronicle and Weekly Advertiser (Merrickville, [Ont.]), 23 Oct. 1857. Church, 11 Aug. 1853. Daily British Whig, 6 Feb., 7 March 1850; 12 April, 12, 30 Nov., 23 Dec. 1853; 22, 27 April 1854; 7, 14 April 1855; 23 April 1856. Kingston Chronicle, 26 March 1819; 17 March 1820; 13 April 1821; 3 May 1822; 28 March 1823; 25 May 1827; 6 March 1830; 22 Jan., 9 April 1831. Montreal Gazette, 28 Feb., 28 March 1823. Montreal Transcript, 10 Oct. 1839. Prescott Telegraph, and Counties of Grenville and Dundas Advertiser, 3 May 1848, 1 May 1850, 5 Nov. 1851. Statesman (Kingston), 15 Nov. 1843. Political appointments, 1841–1865 (Coté; 1866). D. D. Calvin, A saga of the St. Lawrence: timber shipping through three generations (Toronto, 1945). H. C. Klassen, “L. H. Holton: Montreal businessman and politician, 18171867 (phd thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1970). Duncan McDowall, “Kingston, 18461854: a study of economic change in a mid-nineteenth century Canadian community” (ma thesis, Queen’s Univ., Kingston, 1974). Prescott, 1810–1967, comp. J. A. Morris (Prescott, 1967). R. B. Sneyd, “The role of the Rideau waterway, 18261856 (ma thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1965). G. N. Tucker, The Canadian commercial revolution, 1845–1851, ed. H. G. J. Aitken (Toronto, 1964). Tulchinsky, River barons. A. L. Johnson, “The transportation revolution on Lake Ontario, 18171867: Kingston and Ogdensburg,” OH, 67 (1975): 199209.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Harry Pietersma, “CRANE, SAMUEL,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 21, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/crane_samuel_8E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/crane_samuel_8E.html
Author of Article:   Harry Pietersma
Title of Article:   CRANE, SAMUEL
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 8
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1985
Year of revision:   1985
Access Date:   September 21, 2023