Have You Met My Sister?

by Anne Motto, Curator of Collections
February 28, 2023

Before his move to Morristown, Augustus Crane and his four siblings lived among a tight-knit circle of family, friends, and friends who became family through marriage. Perhaps not surprisingly (as exemplified by the Cranes and their associates), in the comparatively small world of their 1830s New York mercantile class, one’s future partner was frequently found within one’s immediate social sphere. Thus, when Augustus’s beloved elder brother, John Josiah, set sail for Canton, China (today Guangzhou) as supercargo on the ship Clematis, it is unlikely he knew he was beginning a journey that would not only encompass two years and thousands of miles, but also ultimately result in two marriages.

Elsey Crane Briggs (1811-1851)

John Josiah left New York aboard the Clematis in early June 1833. His friend, Capt. George Briggs of the ship Morrison followed a week or two later, carrying a letter for him from his elder brother Benjamin Franklin Crane (top photo). The two friends grew close during their stay in Canton, and when both returned stateside in Spring 1834 for a brief respite, John Josiah introduced George to his sister, Elsey. Romance quickly bloomed, and not long after John Josiah sailed once again, his cousin sent him a letter happily informing him that George Briggs was courting Elsey. He was in her estimation, “a warm and honest hearted sailor… and will make her a kind husband.” They became engaged a year later.

NY Evening Post marriage announcements, November 1835 & May 1838

Following a second round trip for both men concluding in May 1835, George returned the favor, introducing John Josiah to his youngest sister, Sarah Henrietta Briggs. Only two months later, John Josiah wrote to George’s father to express “that I have formed the most tender affection & attachment for her that our nature is capable of. To you as her father I make this acknowledgement with a view of obtaining your sanction that… at some future period she may be bestowed on me as partner for life.” George married Elsey that November, and in 1838, John Josiah married Sarah. So, while their road to matrimony brought them to the far corners of the Earth, their wives were indeed found much closer to home.