Ichabod B. Crane:  The Real Soldier and Possible Literary Character Namesake

by John P. Walsh


Ichabod Bennet Crane was an American career military officer who, it has been speculated, was the possible namesake of the fictional schoolmaster of Washington Irving’s short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Crane was born in Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), New Jersey on July 18, 1787.  He was a member of a military family, the son of General William Crane.  In 1809 he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps and was assigned to the USS United States under the command of then Captain Stephen Decatur.  In April 1812, Crane resigned from the Marines and accepted a commission in the United States Army as a captain in command of Company B, 3rd Artillery.

During the War of 1812, Crane served in New York State and saw action on the Niagara Frontier.  Following assignment as an artillery battery commander at Fort Pike, Sacketts Harbor, New York, he participated in the capture of Fort York in April 1813.  On May 27, 1813, he was with the American forces that captured Fort George.  The operation to capture Fort George was planned by then Colonel Winfield Scott.   It included an amphibious assault with the main landing taking place on the south shore of Lake Ontario between the village of Newark (now Niagara-on-the Lake) and Two Mile Creek. 

After the War of 1812, Crane continued his military service.  He was assigned to various military duty locations including the Buffalo Barracks in Buffalo, New York.  The Buffalo Barracks Compound was built in 1839 and encompassed all the land from present day Allen Street to North Street and Delaware Avenue to Main Street.  The structure that would later be incorporated into the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site started life in 1840 as the Barrack’s officer’s quarters.

Crane performed military service in the Black Hawk War (1832), the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), the Upper Canada Rebellion (1837-1838), and the Mexican-American War (1846-1848).  He received his final promotion to the rank of colonel in 1843 and was given command of the 1st Artillery.

Colonel Crane died on October 5, 1857 while still on active duty, having served 48 years as an American military officer.  He was buried in Asbury Methodist Cemetery in New Springville on Staten Island.

Crane’s son, Charles Henry Crane (1825-1883), had a military career as well.  He was a physician who became a brevet brigadier general and later Surgeon General of the United States Army (1882-1883).  At the time of Abraham Lincoln’s death, he was one of the President’s attending physicians.

The name “Ichabod Crane” is probably best remembered as the name of the main character of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Irving never categorically admitted that his character’s name was inspired by Colonel Crane.  Nevertheless, it is thought that Crane and Irving most likely met in 1814 at Sacketts Harbor, New York while Irving was present there as an aide-de-camp to New York Governor Daniel D. Tompkins.  Tompkins was at Fort Pike at that time on an inspection tour of the area’s defenses.  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was first published in 1819.  The name “Ichabod” is at least somewhat distinctive and memorable.  Whether there is a connection between Colonel Crane’s name and that of Irving’s fictional schoolmaster will likely remain a matter of debate.


Barbuto, Richard V., Staff Ride Handbook for the Niagara Campaigns 1812-1814, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2014.

Ichabod Crane (colonel), In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia Retrieved 9:19, October 24, 2022.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia Retrieved 10:40, October 25, 2022.

Charles H. Crane, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia Retrieved 9:21, October 24, 2022.

Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural National Historic Site, In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia Retrieved 15:58, October 26, 2022.

Illustrations and Photographs

Barbuto, Richard V., Staff Ride Handbook for the Niagara Campaigns 1812-1814, Combat Studies Institute Press, 2014, pages 93 and 105.

Library of Congress, 1848 daguerreotype of Ichabod B. Crane, Colonel, 1st Artillery, U.S. Army.

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