The Canton Public Library is pleased to offer for public viewing a local treasure on loan from the Canton Historical Society--the c. 1823 Crane’s Guards Militia flag. This unique hand-painted silk flag honors the creation of the Crane’s Guards Militia and was donated to the society by the Sons of Union Veterans; it is believed to be the second oldest militia flag in the Commonwealth. Restoration of this remarkable textile once thought hopelessly decayed was funded largely by Canton CPC funds, with 10% of the cost coming from the Historical Society’s own treasury.
Formed in 1823, the Guard was named in honor of Canton resident Elijah Crane (1754 – 1834), a local farmer and innkeeper who also served as Canton’s first Town Clerk as well as on the first Board of Selectmen. In addition, Crane was Canton’s first representative to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and served as Sheriff of Norfolk County for two separate terms, most notably from 1812 to 1834. During the Revolutionary War, Major Elijah Crane served with the Massachusetts Militia at the so-called Lamb’s Den during the Siege of Boston. Crane’s Guards were attached to the Second Regiment, Second Brigade, First Division of the Massachusetts Militia.
Now newly restored, this two-sided silk flag originally commissioned by Major General Crane was presented to the home guard militia as thanks to the men who honored him by naming the unit for him. “By Arts and Arms, We Conquer” the flag declares above the Commonwealth seal. “God Armeth the Patriot” warns the banner clutched between eagle talons. A Native American is depicted just below these words--a post-Revolutionary War image though this one a rare early version for the state seal—with an arrow in his left hand pointing downward, signifying peace. Near the bottom of the flag Is “Crane’s Guards” with their founding date of March 1822.
The other side of the flag shows an image of a small white church with militia in front, familiar Blue Hill in the distance. The early settlers knew that geologic landmark as “Great Blew Hill”; it is a reference point still used today in directions and to denote location. The words “In Defense of Liberty” and “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” appear here alongside Major Crane’s signature.
Before the flag’s restoration was underway, hopes were to be able to display both sides of the flag; however only the side showing the state seal is currently available for viewing, the reverse resting on a specially-designed honeycomb pressure mount in an archival housing designed to protect this fragile textile. Two years of preservation efforts by Deirdre Windsor of Windsor Conservation in Dover meant working at a micro-level on the fibers. What had once been crumpled silk, flakes of paint and sections of fringe all but forgotten in a bag lying in a lead-lined cabinet at the Canton Historical Society was patiently pieced back together into a large and beautiful flag.
After an initial thorough cleaning, the flag was carefully humidified to allow the silk to relax in order to then begin to re-create those parts of the flag that were completely missing. A cotton fabric, dyed to match the silk, filled in the missing parts and was attached with fine polyester thread. The frame surrounding the fabric mount is fitted with ultraviolet filtering glass so that sunlight will not damage this historical treasure. Painstaking care and museum-quality materials and technology all intersected to preserve for many years to come this community treasure which reminds us of Canton’s place in our nation’s history.
Comeau, George T. “True Tales from Canton’s Past: Crane Guards.”
The Canton Citizen 05 May 2016.
Comeau, George T. “True Tales from Canton’s Past: A Bag of Silk.”
The Canton Citizen 04 Jan 2019.
Canton Citizen. “Historical Society to Unveil Crane’s Guard flag.”
The Canton Citizen 16 May 2019.
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