From NKAA, Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (main entry)

Craine, W. C. [William C.]

(born: 1867  -  died: 1919) 

William C. Craine, born in Harrodsburg, KY, is listed in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census as an actor. At that time Craine was living in Chicago, IL on Evanston Avenue in a boarding house along with other actors and entertainers. Also a tenor singer, he had sung with and managed the Shattuck and Mendelsohn Quartettes [source: "Principal comedians and vocalists engineering fun and song with the Big Minstrel Festival," The Freeman, 12/30/1899, p. 9].

Craine was the principal tenor soloist with the Big Minstrel Festival in 1899. The year before, he was with Harry Martell's company "South Before the War" [source: "Stage. The Freedman post office," The Freeman, 10/15/1898, p. 5, col. 3, item 5]. While with the company he was a special representative (writer) with The Freeman newspaper; one of his articles appeared in the paper on 4/8/1899, p. 5, col. 3, item 1].

In September of 1899, Craine performed in Rusco and Holland's Big Minstrel Festival that opened in St. Louis, MO [source: "The Stage, edited by J. Harry Jackson. The Freedman post office," The Freeman, 9/16/1899, p. 5, col. 4, item 3]. He was with the Big Minstrel Festival until the winter of 1900 when he stayed in Boston, MA but did not mention to the media that he was getting married [source: The Freeman, 11/3/1900, p. 5].

Craine was the husband of Bertha Simmons, an actress who was born in Virginia; the couple married in Boston on 12/26/1900 [source: Massachusetts, Marriage Register, 1900, p. 327]. It was the first marriage for William (33) and the 2nd marriage for Bertha (35). They were married by Henry H. Jones, Minister of the Gospel, 80 Oakland Place, Brockton, MA.

In 1901 William Craine was performing in Buffalo, NY [source: The Freeman, 7/13/1901, p. 5]. He also performed at the Pan American, Toronto Minstrel Exposition, and the London Canada Exhibition [source: The Freeman, 9/21/1901, p. 5].

In 1904, Craine was director of "A Trip to Africa," starring John Larkin[s] as the king and Dora Patterson as the queen [source: "The State by Woodbine," The Freeman, 10/29/1904, p. 5]. The show did not receive a favorable review in The Freeman. [John Larkins would become the producer of the musical "A Trip to Africa," and in 1910 he and Sissieretta Jones were the stars in this successful version, which was billed under the heading of "Black Patti Musical Comedy Company." Larkin played the role of King Rastus and Raz Jinkins and Sissieretta Jones (aka Black Patti) the role of Princess Lulu [source: Blacks in Blackface, by H. T. Sampson]. 

Although the show was a success, by 1910 Craine was no longer singing or performing professionally; he was a waiter and his wife Bertha was the housekeeper at a lodging home they managed on Acton Street in Boston [source: 1910 U.S. Federal Census]. William C. Craine is listed as a waiter in the Boston Directory, 1909, p. 469, up through the 1920 directory, p. 462--listed as living first on Acton Street, then at 28 Holyoke. 

William C. Craine died in Winthrop, MA, March 11, 1919 [sources: Massachusetts, Death Index and "Gave home for aged people," Savannah Tribune, 10/30/1920, p. 1]. 

He left the home for the aged at 90 West Cottage Street in Boston, MA to be managed by the board of William C. Craine, Inc.: Rev. H. Jones, President; Mr. O'Bryant, Vice President; Mrs. Bertha Craine, Treasurer; Mr. A. H. Scales, Superintendent; and Rev. Mrs. S. E. Deveaux, Matron and Secretary. 

William Craine was the son of Phillip (born around 1827) and Susanna Jones Craine (c. 1830-1879) according to information he provided prior to his marriage. In the 1870 U.S. Census, Susan Craine is listed without a husband but with the children. At this time, no record has been found in the census listing Phillip Craine, who was a Civil War veteran and had been enslaved by John Bush in Mercer County, KY when he enlisted in the U.S. Army on 8/29/1864 at Camp Nelson, KY [source: "Records of Musters made by Capt. U. C. Kenney,"  p. 371, no. 1751, no. 18 on roll in the U.S. Descriptive Lists of Colored Volunteer Army Soldiers, 1864].

Phillip Craine served with the 5th U.S. Colored Cavalry, stood 5 feet 9 inches tall at 37 years of age, and was born on a farm in Mercer County. He is listed on various records as the father of William Craine; Belle Craine (1855-1916), a grocer in Louisville, KY [source: Kentucky Certificate of Death Registered #1054]; Joseph Craine (1867-1925), a grocer and later a janitor in Louisville  [sources: 1910 U.S. Federal Census and Kentucky Certificate of Death Registered #4634]; and George E. Craine (1858-1929), a musician and  storekeeper in Louisville [source: Kentucky Certificate of Death Registered #4489].

The two other children, Pilandrer Craine and Anna Craine, are included in the household in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census [last name spelled Crane]. After the death of their mother Susanna Craine in 1879 [source: Kentucky Death Records], William Craine and his brother Joseph were raised by their sister Belle Craine [source: 1880 U.S. Federal Census - last name spelled Crane]. Both Belle and her mother Susan had been laundry women; the family had moved to 4 Green Street in Louisville by 1878 [source: Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville for 1878, pp. 176 & 177, with their last name spelled Crane]. In 1891, Belle Craine served as secretary of Zion Temple No. 1 [source: "Society Directory" on p. 4, col. 4 in the Ohio Falls Express newspaper, 7/11/1891].

Both Joseph and William Craine were grown and on their own at an early age. William had started working as early as 1882 as a laborer, according to Caron's Directory of the City of Louisville for 1882, p. 207. By 1884 he was a waiter at the Sandiford Hotel, then a waiter at the St. Cloud Hotel before leaving Louisville around 1889 [sources: Caron's Dirctory of the City of Louisville, 1884, p. 209 through 1889, p. 260; the last name is often spelled Crane or Crain]. 

Kentucky County & Region

Read about Mercer County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.
Read about Jefferson County, Kentucky in Wikipedia.

Kentucky Place (Town or City)

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Item Relations

Cite This NKAA Entry:

“Craine,W. C. [William C.],” Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, accessed July 18, 2024,

Last modified: 2023-07-05 17:57:30