September 7, 2016
Layman William Crane (1790-1866) was instrumental in establishing in Maryland the Maryland Baptist Union Association (MBUA), African-American Baptist work, and a fund for retired ministers and their widows. He created and financed the first attempt at a Maryland Baptist news journal in 1849 with the True Union at a time when the MBUA was barely a teenager with only twenty ministers and twenty-four churches. He was also active beyond the state level, most notably in the Triennial Convention. Crane was part of the first great generation of denominational administrative leadership.
By his own pen, Crane wrote: “I was born in Newark, N.J., on the fifth day of May 1790. My great grandfather was one of the eight individuals who moved from Connecticut and commenced the original settlement of that town about 1655.” At age 22 Crane moved to Richmond to sell shoes. Though bankrupted by economic depression and fire in 1821, he rebuilt his modest worth to about $30,000 before he came to Maryland. He called his modest wealth money “the Lord, in the regular course of my business, had thrown into my possession.”
In Crane’s 20 years in Richmond he saw the number of Baptists multiply by four. He later wrote that all his endeavors seemed able to support themselves, “while Baltimore and the state of Maryland are admitted to be the most neglected regions, so far as Baptists are concerned, in our whole country, with perhaps the exception of New Orleans.
“The query arose in my mind ‘why cannot I go to Baltimore, and do just what the Lord may help me to do? Why can’t He bless the business ability which has been given me to sustain my family in Baltimore as well as in Richmond, and open to me a far wider field of doing good?”
Soon after arriving in Baltimore in 1834, Crane invited an ex-slave he had known in Virginia to begin “colored’ work in Maryland. Earning his living as a carpenter, Moses Clayton began a Sunday School in an old school building. He also held services there on Sunday with a congregation of impoverished free blacks, a majority of whom were usually members of his immediate family. From these small beginnings, the first African-American Baptist church in Maryland was constituted February 20, 1836.
In comparison to most Southern Baptists, William Crane held liberal views toward African-Americans. He supported the colonization movement. Crane named slavery as one reason for his removal to Baltimore. In this work, he also condemned laws forbidding interracial marriage and attempts to justify slavery by appeals to the Bible
Sunday Schools had no stronger support in Maryland than William Crane. He once said, “He viewed Sunday Schools as instruments of Bible teaching, evangelism, and church growth.” Crane’s attitude toward Sunday Schools was woven into the fabric of the MBUA. Sunday Schools became the basis for church growth in Maryland. Southern Baptist historian Hugh Wamble noted of Maryland Baptists: “I know of no state group of Baptists for whom the correlation between the starting of churches and the presence of Sunday Schools was more common or universal.”
Crane, along with J.W.M. Williams, funded the buying of land and construction of meetinghouses which congregations were then invited to occupy.
Crane considered Bible study important for every Christian and had cards printed with a plan for reading the whole Bible in a year to hand out to all who would take them. (see William Crane’s plan below)
A Plan For Reading The Bible Through–EVERY YEAR
During January, read Genesis and Exodus During July, read to 50th of Isaiah
During February, read to 10th of Deuteronomy During August, read to 20th of Ezekiel
During March, read to 15th of 1st Samuel During September, read to end of the Old Testament
During April, read to 15th of 2nd Kings During October, read to end of Luke
During May, read to 5th of Nehemiah During November. read to end of I Corinthians
During June, read to 100th Psalm During December, read to end of the New Testament
About sixty-five to seventy-five pages per month, or about two pages for every week-day, and four pages for every Sunday.
The author of the above simple plan has rigidly adhered to it as a daily devotional exercise, for thirty-one years; and feeling that this is the “bread of life,” he is afraid now, to discontinue it.
Reader, paste this on the inner cover of your Bible, and try it.
Baltimore, Jan.1, 1864
Material used in this biography was taken from:
You Are A Great People, by W. Loyd Allen