Crane Powder and Crane Paper Help Arm The American Revolution

“My friend, the child Independence is about to be born; be liberal and give him an easy delivery.”

Thomas Crane, Massachusetts colonial powder master, who would go door-to-door soliciting money, clothes and supplies for the families of local soldiers.

As Massachusetts powder master, Thomas Crane of Stoughton (Canton) was in the middle of things. We noted earlier that he had to scramble and conspire to put musket and cannon ammunition in the hands of the militia defending Breed’s Hill. It was after that famous battle that the commanding General George Washington began building a wartime infrastructure, with the full assistance of the Massachusetts colonial government.

One of their early decisions, while in session in Watertown, would create a nexus of powder and paper that would allow the war for independence to proceed with well-armed forces – a decision that would cement the importance of the Liberty Paper Mill to the American revolution.

In late 1775, the Continental Congress, as well as the Massachusetts House of Representatives, began discussions about building powder mills in Andover and Stoughton.

In January, 1776, perhaps spurred by the assurance from Col. Henry Knox that he would arrive shortly in Cambridge with the cannons from Fort Ticonderoga, the Massachusetts House of Representatives resolved:

Whereas, this Court on the 5th day of January current, passed a Resolve empowering Mr. Putnam, Mr. Crane, and Mr. Vose, to purchase the remains of a Powder-Mill at Stoughton, and land and privileges convenient to improve the same….. and they hereby are fully authorized and empowered to purchase or hire, as they shall judge meet, the Land and advantageous Stream at Stoughton, where they have, or shall agree to erect a Powder-Mill for such a term of years, and for such yearly rent as they shall, think proper, and that they, in behalf of this Colony, take a deed or lease of the same, as they shall agree to purchase or hire.

We are not sure who Mr. Putnam is, but we do know that Mr. Crane is Thomas Crane, and Mr. Vose is Daniel Vose, a partner with Stephen Crane in the Liberty Paper Mill.


Our old friend Paul Revere appears in this story as well. The Massachusetts House and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia directed Revere to travel to Pennsylvania to learn the mysteries of gunpowder manufacturing from Oswald Eve, who owned and operated the only significant powder mill in the colonies at the time.

Philada. Novr. 21st 1775 I am requested by some Honorable Members of the Congress to recommend the bearer hereof Mr. Paul Revere to you. He is just arrived from New England where it is discovered they can manufacture a good deal of Salt Petre in Consequence of which they desire to Erect a Powder Mill & Mr. Revere has been pitched upon to gain instruction & Knowledge in this branch. A Powder Mill in New England cannot in the least degree affect your Manufacture nor be of any disadvantage to you. Therefore these Gentn & myself hope You will Chearfully & from Public Spirited Motives give Mr. Revere such information as will inable him to Conduct the bussiness on his return home. I shall be glad of any opportunity to approve myself.

Sir Your very Obed Servt. Robt Morris
Evidently, Mr. Eve was indeed protective of his monopoly. He complied with the request for a tour, but gave Revere no information about how powder is made. But Revere, already an accomplished mechanic, chemist and metallurgist was able to demystify the process sufficiently to assist Crane and Vose in setting up and begin operating the mill.

Construction began in February of 1776, and was in full operation by May. Coincidentally, it was in February of 1776 that Ezekiel Cheever, Commissary of Military Stores in the Continental Army, and Richard Devens, Massachusetts Commissary General, began purchasing large amounts of cartridge paper from the Liberty Paper Mill.

Accounts of the time tell us that there was never enough specially-made cartridge paper so Cheever, Devens and others purchased thousands of pounds of less-expensive “whited brown” writing paper, likely for cannon cartridges.

The powder mill was built on the Neponset River, a ways upstream of the Liberty Paper Mill. It successfully supplied the Continental Army until October 30, 1779, when it was “blown to atoms,” as powder mills were known to do.

In 1801, as Zenas Crane was setting up his paper mill in Dalton, Revere, now 65, returned to the powder mill location and created what would become the famous Revere Copper Works.

His superintendent? Thomas Crane.

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Conserving (and making) Precious Ammunition

On June 17, 1775, as British regulars were marching up Breed’s Hill outside of Boston, a command reached the Massachusetts riflemen from Gen. Israel Putnam and Col. William Prescott: “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes” to encourage soldiers to make each shot as effective as possible. This might have seemed an odd command, since most of the militia were fresh off the farm and could pick off a squirrel at 100 yards and have it dressed for supper before it hit the ground.

The problem was ammunition; actually the lack thereof. To date, the armed rebellion had taken no real course toward organized warfare. As a result, supply chains had many weak links, including those for powder and cartridge paper. It wasn’t until after the Battle of Bunker Hill that a formal system of commissaries and ordnance stores were created to support activities of a standing army.

The man in charge of procuring gun powder was Thomas Crane of Stoughton. He had the unenviable task of rounding up powder from several small operations all over New England. The man in charge of making the paper was Stephen Crane at The Liberty Paper Mill. He had made relatively small amounts of what is described as cartridge paper in the mill’s ledger, but that would change soon.

Together, though acting separately, Stephen Crane and Thomas Crane were able to deliver powder and paper to a father and son team who risked their lives making cartridges for the militia.

As early as 1773, William Burbeck was purchasing cartridge paper from the Liberty Paper Mill. Burbeck, like Henry Knox, was a self-taught expert; in this case the science of pyrotechnics. He created the fireworks used to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, and was the former owner of the Green Dragon Tavern, where the Loyal Nine and Sons of Liberty regularly met. In 1769, he was appointed to serve as an artillery expert at Castle Island in Boston Harbor. In a very odd twist, in 1770, when the British took possession of the island, Burbeck stayed on as the ordnance storekeeper.

Sometime before August of 1773, Burbeck had become sufficiently restless and uneasy under the new regime, and slipped out of Castle Island to Boston,  where he continued his original occupation – that of a carver – and began making and selling cartridges for the militia. In 1774 he received an appointment through his friend Dr. Joseph Warren to superintend the “laboratory” to prepare the artillery belonging to the Colony for the expected conflict.

On April 21, two days after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Burbeck managed to escape Boston. He described part of the experience in a deposition a year later:

These may Cartify all whome it may Concarn, that on the 21 Day of Aprl. 1775 two Days after ye Battle of Lexington; I saw Mr. Williams of Noddles Island in Boston & that after some Conoversation with him setting forth my Concern how I should git out of town, Expecting every minute that I should be sent for; to go Down to that Castle – he told me that he would Carry me over to Noddles Island if I would Resque it that he would Do the same for ye good of his Country; And am Sure that if we had been taken Crossing of water must have been confind. to this Day, or otherway more severly punished. that I owe my Escape intirely to Mr. Williams as all other Communication to ye Country was stopd. And that the Very next morning after; A party of men & Boat was sent after me And Serchd. my house & Shop to find me – that after we got to ye Isand Mr. Williams ordered one of his men to Carry me over to Chelsea by which means I am now in Cambridge.

While William was in Cambridge, his son Edward remained in British-occupied Boston undertaking the most dangerous task of making ammunition for the Colonial Militia.


The following is an excerpt from a letter written in 1892 by his 81-year-old grandson, George Henry Cook to Eward Carleton Burbeck:  “. . .he continued the business of carver after his father went to Castle Island as a gunner; that he with his family were living in Boston at the time of the Battle of Bunker Hill; that while Boston was in possession of British forces under Gen. Howe, he made cartridges for his father, who was manufacturing ammunition for Washington’s army. This he did in the night with his blinds closed, so as not to be observed by the British, and secretly managed by the milkmen, and others, to convey them to his father. But the eagle-eyed watch of the British sentries got an inkling of what he was doing, and his friends spirited him away with wife and children over the Charles River in the night, by which he escaped arrest.”

Editor’s Note:

We will see much more of powder and paper, Cranes and Burbecks, as the new Colonial Army begins to mature.

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Witness to The Boston Massacre

In October of 1768, in response to growing unrest in Boston following imposition of the Townshend Acts, a fleet of British men-of-war with two regiments on board were moored in Boston harbor. The troops were landed and marched to the Boston Common, where they were soon reinforced by two regiments from Ireland. This was an obvious attempt by the British government to – in today’s parlance – “shock and awe” the people of Boston and of all New England.

They were not well-received, with conflicts breaking out regularly. It took two years for the kettle to reach temperature, and on a cold winter day in March, it boiled over.

Long afterwards John Adams wrote of the event: “On that night the foundation of American Independence was laid.  Not the battle of Lexington or Bunker Hill, not the surrender of Burgoyne or Cornwallis were more important events in American history than the battle of King street on the 5th of March, 1770. The death of four or five persons, the most obscure and inconsiderable that could have been found upon the continent, has never yet been forgiven by any part of America.”

Daniel  Webster, speaking of the event, remarked : “There were good men trying to prevent a riot, and some assured the soldiers that they would not be hurt. Among others, Henry Knox, subsequently the general, was present, who saw nothing to justify the use of firearms, and with others remonstrated against the use of them; but Captain Preston, as he was talking with Knox, saw his men pressing the people- with their bayonets, when in great agitation he rushed in among them.”

Paul Revere's famous engraving of the Boston Massacre.

Henry Knox at the time was a 19-year-old apprentice at a book store in Boston. He would open his own store a year later, and purchased a good deal of paper from the Liberty Paper Mill through the end of 1774. History tells us that Knox devoured books about military tactics, especially about the use of artillery. In 1769, he joined a local artillery company called The Train.

Much more about Henry Knox later on. For now we have his first-hand account of what became known as The Boston Massacre from “The Trial of the Soldiers,” by Frederic Kidder, 1870.

 I, Henry Knox, of lawful age, testify and say, that between nine and ten o’clock, p.m., the fifth instant, I saw the sentry at the Custom-house charging his musket, and a number of young persons crossing from Royal Exchange to Quaker Lane; seeing him load, stopped and asked him what he meant ? and told others the sentry was going to fire. They then huzzaed and gathered round him at about ten feet distant. I then advancing, went up to him, and the sentry snapped his piece upon them, Knox told him if he fired he died. The sentry answered he did not care, or words to that purpose, damning them and saying, if they touched him, he would fire. The boys told him to fire and be damned.

Immediately on this I returned to the rest of the people and endeavored to keep every boy from going up, but finding it ineffectual, went off through the crowd and saw a detachment of about eight or nine men and a corporal, headed by Capt. Preston. I took Capt. Preston by the coat and told him for God’s sake to take his men back again, for if they fired his life must answer for the consequence; he replied he was sensible of it, or knew what he was about, or words to that purpose; and seemed in great haste and much agitated.

 While I was talking with Capt. Preston, the soldiers of his detachment had attacked the people with their bayonets. There was not the least provocation given to Capt. Preston or his party, the backs of the people being towards them when they were attacked. During the time of the attack I frequently heard the words, “Damn your blood,” and such like expressions.

 When Capt. Preston saw his party engaged he directly left me and went into the crowd, and I departed : the deponent further says that there was not present in King street above seventy or eighty people at the extent, according to his opinion.”

From "Architect of the Capitol," a fresco mural by Constantino Brumidi adorns a room at the U.S. Capitol. Crispus Attucks is shown engaging British soldiers in the center.

Two more Liberty Paper Mill customers were involved in separate incidents with British soldiers just prior to the massacre. These altercations certainly must have contributed to the actions that followed.

“Robert Pierpont, (local merchant) of lawful age, testifies and says, that going to see a sick neighbor between the hours of seven and eight on Monday evening, the fifth current, two soldiers armed, one with a broad sword, the other with a club, passed him near the hay market, going towards the Town-house, seeming in great haste. In a few minutes they returned and hollowed very loud, “Colonel.” Before the deponent reached Mr. West’s house, where he was going, they passed him again, jo’ined by another, with a blue surtout, who had a bayonet, with which he gave the deponent a back-handed stroke, apparently more to affront than hurt him.

On complaint of this treatment, he said, the deponent should hear more of it, and threatened him very hard, and further saith not.” (In addition to being an eyewitness to the massacre, Pierpont was the city’s coroner and conducted the autopsy of Crispus Attucks, one of five killed that day.

Francis Archibald Jr. was another witness, walking along with Liberty Mill customer, printer John Hicks:

“About ten minutes after nine, I saw a soldier, and a mean looking fellow with him with a cutlass in his hand; they came up to me; somebody said, “Put up your cutlass, it is not right to carry it at this time of night.”

He said “Damn you, ye Yankee boogars, what’s your business?” He came up to another that was with me and struck him. We beat him back, when seven or eight soldiers came out of the barracks, with tongs and other weapons; one aimed a blow at a young fellow, John Hicks, who knocked the soldier down. As he attempted to rise, I struck him down again, and broke his wrist, as I heard afterwards.

I went to King Street, and when the guns were all fired, I saw several persons dead.”

Boston's Old State House. The Boston Massacre took place just steps from the building. It is fitting that the Declaration of Independence was first read in Boston from this balcony by Liberty Paper Mill customer Thomas Crafts.

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Crane Through the Eyes of Nat White

During the 1940s, artist Nat White, whose work can be found in dozens of advertising campaigns in the middle of the 20th century, created a series of advertising illustrations for Crane. The set to follow was used to accompany stories about Crane’s early history. He followed with several more series, which I’ll put up soon. Enjoy the art of Nat White.

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Bob Weber–Crane Cartoons

Bob Weber intro

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Revere and Devens 86 Years Later

I wrote earlier about Paul Revere’s Midnight Ride, noting that Liberty Paper Mill customer Richard Devens was waiting in Charlestown for Revere to arrive by boat over the Charles River.

In one of those strange twists of fate and history, this scene would repeat itself in an eerily similar fashion more than 85 years later near Leesburg, Virginia, in a battle that became known as Ball’s Bluff.

Instead of the Charles River in Massachusetts, Colonel Charles Devens (great-grandson of Commissary General Richard Devens) was waiting on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. It was October 20, 1861. Brigadier General Charles P. Stone had ordered Devens and his 15th Massachusetts Infantry to attack a Confederate camp at daylight. Two companies of the 20th Massachusetts Infantry would also cross the river to protect Devens’ return. (The 20th Massachusetts was nicknamed The Harvard Regiment; all its members were graduates.)

Late that night, Devens’ five companies, along with Colonel William R. Lee’s two companies of the 20th Massachusetts, began crossing the Potomac from Harrison’s Island to Ball’s Bluff. Five companies of the 15th Massachusetts, and Major Paul Joseph Revere (grandson of Paul Revere), and five companies of the 20th, remained on the Maryland shore as support

Early the next day, Lee sent a note to Revere that Devens has been engaged in a skirmish and that “we are determined to fight.” Revere began crossing his five companies of the 20th with two mountain howitzers from the island to the bluff.

There were just enough boats for Revere to get the 20th Massachusetts and the howitzers to the battle. But when things went badly, there weren’t enough boats nor enough time to get all back to safety. Devens, injured in the battle, was able to swim to safety. Revere and Lee, both wounded, were not so lucky. They were captured and spent several months in a Confederate prison camp.


Devens distinguished himself throughout the war. His troops were the first to occupy Richmond after its fall in April of 1865.

He was named a judge of the Massachusetts superior court, from 1867 to 1873, and was an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court from 1873 to 1877, and again from 1881 to 1891. From 1877 to 1881, he was Attorney General in the Cabinet of President Rutherford B. Hayes.

Fort Devens in central Massachusetts, which opened in 1917, was named in his honor.


After Revere’s prisoner exchange, he participated in the campaign on the James River, and at Antietam was on General Sumner’s staff. There he was complimented for his gallantry, having received a severe wound. Upon his recovery he was promoted as Colonel of the 20th Regiment.

He was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg, defending a pivotal position during Pickett’s Charge.

An unusual monument—a puddingstone boulder—was erected in memory of Revere and the 43 other men of his company who died at the Battle of Gettysburg. The 30-ton colossus, dedicated in 1886, was imported by train from Roxbury, Mass., where many of the soldiers grew up. Now, it can be visited on Hancock Avenue, near the immortalized “copse of trees” and the Confederate High Water Mark.


Dr. Edward Hutchinson Robbins Revere, a brother, enlisted as an assistant surgeon in the 20th. While his brother was proving his gallantry at Antietam, Dr. Revere was killed by an exploding shell while caring for a wounded soldier.

First cousin, Joseph Warren Revere, also served in the Civil War, rising to the rank of Brigadier General. But his conduct at the Battle of Chancellorsville caused him to be court-martialed. President Lincoln overturned the court’s ruling, but accepted his resignation.

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Pomp Lovejoy and ‘lection cake

An interesting character along the way…

The following is from “Andover Stories: Pompey Lovejoy – ‘lection cake and ginger root beer

By Pam Smith
Andover Historical Society

His gravestone still stands in the Lovejoy lot of the South Church cemetery. His epitaph reads “Born in Boston a slave; died in Andover a free man; February 23, 1826; Much respected as a sensible; amiable and upright man.”

pomp lovejoy grave lo-res

Pompey Lovejoy was born in 1724 as a slave to Captain William Lovejoy. Pompey took his last name from the family he served. At age 9, he and his master moved to Andover. The captain was so fond of “Pomp” that in 1762 he granted him an early freedom “from all slavery and servitude.” Later, Capt. Lovejoy’s will stipulated that Pompey “be given some choice acreage so that he might better enjoy his later years.” Pompey’s land was located close to the road that led to the pond that would eventually bear his name.

On Dec. 26, 1751, Pompey wed Rose, a servant of Andover’s John Foster. A remnant of Rose’s 200-year-old wedding dress may still be seen at the Andover Historical Society.

Pompey and Rose built their cabin on the land inherited from Captain Lovejoy. It was said “he crooned songs while he fried his ham and eggs. He darned his own socks if they ever were darned.” It was written that he played the fiddle until “his fingers grew stiff” and “his elbow lost its elasticity.” And it was said, “They had smiles for you even if Pomp was ‘bad with rheumatiz’, or Rose was laid up for a spell.”

At 52, Pompey served one and a half days in the Revolutionary War under Captain Henry Abbot’s company. He never saw combat because by the time the Andover soldiers arrived in Lexington the battle was over. A march to chase the retreating British enemy lasted until dark and only resulted in a tiring 35-mile march.

Pompey was a town fixture. The custom of New England Town Meeting days provided special occasions where the townspeople could socialize and discuss politics. Pompey and his wife would host gatherings at their cabin in the woods, and they were in charge of making the ‘lection cake and ginger root beer.

It was said “Pity the town meeting house crowd on election day if Pompey was not custodian of the cake and beer. Woe to the funeral wake if Pompey did not mix the grog and serve it.”

Editor’s Note: Pomp Lovejoy visited the Liberty Paper Mill twice. In May of 1781 he purchased 1 ¼ dozen press papers, and in May of 1782, bought one dozen press papers. He paid with 121 pounds of rags from Andover.

Pomp Lovejoy lection cake lo-res

Pomp Lovejoy’s ‘lection Cake

1 pound sugar

4 pounds flour

1 pound butter

½ pint sweet lively yeast mixed with warm milk.

(I cut the recipe by 75%, and it’s very interesting, and very good in an 18th-century sort of way.)

Any bakers out there? I would love to have a real recipe that tells what to do with the dough/batter.

Email me at

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Keeping Good Company

We noticed, during an internet search, that Crane stationery was quite popular among the prominent ladies and gentlemen of 1898. From The American Stationer:

A few noted people and the paper they use: Collated from leading stationers who have kindly furnished us with the information. It goes to show how popular our papers are with the leading people in every field in life.

Mrs. Ex-President Cleveland uses Crane’s Blue Bond 21.

Mrs. George Gould, nee Edith Kingdon, uses Crane’s Grecian Antique 20 for her choice correspondence and the Crane’s Super Cream stock for her ordinary notes.

Mrs. Cyrus Field is another great admirer of Crane’s Grecian Antique, which she says suits her style of writing.

Jay Gould’s daughter uses Crane’s Blue Buckram Bond, a stub pen being her favorite for writing.

The ladies of the Bonaparte family in Baltimore use Crane’s Parchment Vellum 70, and write with the large fashionable hand. The paper is stamped with their crest in gold, and consists of two stars in shield, and bars accosted, surmounted with a crown, the emblem of royalty.

Mrs. William B. Astor has long used Crane’s Extra Superfine, and will have no other.

Madame Modjeska has a decided preference for Crane’s Bond and Parchment Vellum, and oscillates between the two.

General A.S. Webb had adopted Crane’s Kid Finish Cream as his preference.

The ladies of Ex-Mayor Hewitt’s family all use Crane’s Extra Superfine White Wove.

Mrs. Senator Stockbridge’s notes are on Crane’s Silver Gray paper in the extra superfine.

Miss Dorothy Phillips, the celebrated Washington beauty, thinks Crane’s Old Style the best paper made, and prefers it.

General Schofield endorses her opinion and Crane’s Old Style always bears his autograph.

W.J. Florence, the actor, writes easily on Crane’s Old Style, which he thinks is great, and Joseph Jefferson, “Old Rip Van Winkle,” prefers Crane’s Silver Gray Super 60.

The Legation of Japan all use Crane’s Extra Superfine White Wove.

A.G. Bell, Esq., of telephone fame, cares only for Crane’s Extra Super 80 Pound.

Hon. Henry Cabot Lodge prefers Crane’s Distaff.

Senator Edmunds, of Vermont, also prefers Crane’s Distaff.

Hon. William M. Evarts has long used Distaff and will have no other.

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Edison Relies on Crane, Again

On November 7, 1931, W. Murray Crane Jr. received the following letter from The Edison Institute of Technology in Dearborn, Michigan, again proving the quality and durability of Crane papers, as well as their continued role as the medium of innovation:

“Just 50 years ago, you sold to the Edison Machine Works on Goerk Street, New York City, some paper which they used for insulation between copper discs on what was known at that time as the “Jumbo” dynamo. There were only 23 of these dynamos made and as far as we can learn, there is only one left at the present time, and we have that one in Dearborn.

“The above machine was the first one to be started in the Old Pearl Street Station of New York City, which was the first central station in America for supplying incandescent electric lighting service on a commercial basis.

“We are planning to reproduce at least one section of the Old Pearl Street Station at Dearborn and in preparing to do this we found it necessary to tear down this old generator and reinsulate some of its parts, as in fifty years some of this insulation had become thoroughly dried out and quite brittle, and we considered it inadvisable to try to use it under those circumstances.

“In taking some of the round flat copper discs apart, which were on each end of the armature, we found that they were insulated from each other by some paper which was made by your company in 1881. We are pleased to enclose a sample of this paper, thinking it might be of interest to you, as you will notice that with the exception of the extreme outer edge, the paper appears to be in first-class condition.”


Mr. Crane wrote back, in part:

“You will be interested to know that we have equipped a portion of one of our mills about 100 years old as a museum…and assure you that the sheet which you have sent us will very shortly be added to our exhibits therein. We know, of course, that Mr. Ford is interested in similar ventures himself and we hope some time when he is motoring through, he will stop here and see our museum.”

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The Beauty of British Patents

I had the occasion recently to leaf through a couple of Crane patent portfolios from the mid-1890s. Most are quite boring in both their content and appearance. Not so when you come to British patent documents. Here are some adornments I came across today:

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