If you've seen the name "Crispen" before, you've probably seen it spelled "Crispin". That's another branch of our family, a branch who knew how to spell.
Crispus is Latin for "curly haired". I don't know a one of my relatives, living or dead, who ever had a curly hair on his head, but that's not going to stop me from claiming everybody named Crispus ("Curly"), Crispinus ("Little Curly"), or Crispian ("Moe") as a relative.
The first writer to take note of our illustrious family was Livy in his Perriochae, who says -- about events that happened around 208 BCE -- "Claudius Marcellus T. Quintius Crispinus coss. speculandi causa progressi e castris insidiis ab Hannibale circumventi sunt. Marcellus occisus, Crispinus fugit." -- "When consuls [Marcus] Claudius Marcellus and Titus Quinctius Crispinus, on a reconnaissance mission, had advanced from their camp, they were surrounded by Hannibal in an ambush. Marcellus was killed, Crispinus escaped."
Miss Thomas, my 9th grade Latin teacher, would have had a conniption if I'd tried to get away with that translation. "fugo, fugere, fugi, fugitus" means "flee." So a better translation would be, "Marcus was killed, Crispinus ran away." Ronald Hock adds insult to injury by remarking "[his] career had no unique character at all."
Caius Sallustus Crispus (86 - 35 BCE) (you probably know of him as Sallust) was a friend of Julius Caesar, a Senator, a soldier, and a historian of some note.
Horace verbally takes on a Crispinus in his Satires (between 40 BCE and 30 BCE). Crispinus was a Stoic philosopher and (according to one translator) a "loquacious moralizer." Approximate score: Horace 387, Crispinus 0.
There's a Crispus in the Bible: "Crispus, the ruler of the Synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized." (Acts 18:8 RSV) Tradition says Crispus was baptized by Paul, but you'll notice that the text doesn't actually say that.
A Crispinus was captain of the Praetorian Guard during the reign of Claudius, and he was richly rewarded for his capture of Asiaticus around 47 CE. Tacitus, who had little good to say about the Claudians, paints an unsavory picture of Claudius's role in this incident in his Annals, but somehow Crispinus evades his censure. Probably an oversight.
There's a Crispus Caesar (305-326 CE), eldest son of Constantine. Constantine had him put to death, and although the reason is unclear (there were rumors involving his stepmother Fausta), it was probably for some especially shocking offense, since his memory was also condemned. If only Suetonius had been around to write about it!
St. Augustine, when he wasn't busy writing his Confessions, would dash off angry letters to Crispinus, Donatist Bishop of Calama, chastising him for his participation in the Donatist heresy. "You ought to have been influenced by the fear of God," scolded Augustine in a famous letter. Augustine's friend Possidius challenged Crispinus to a debate. Crispinus wisely declined and instead sent an priest (also named Crispinus) to try to assassinate Possidius.
Our family can actually claim a saint; in fact, a pair of saints: St. Crispin (d c. 286 CE) and his brother St. Crispian (d c. 285 CE), patron saints of the cobblers. October 25, their day, was also the day of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and the occasion for a rousing speech from Henry V you probably learned in school.
Not so well known is this recent poem by Colyne Stewart, which begins "O that we had a holiday upon this day, an excuse for sloth, a reason not to work." Now that's better.
Another ancestor, Milo Crispin, founded an inn in Colnbrook, England in 1106, not far from the present Heathrow airport. We've had dinner there (the Ostrich), and enjoyed the tales of the landlord who was hanged in the 17th century for installing a trapdoor in one of the bedrooms, which dropped his guests into a vat of boiling water. Though this landlord's name was Jarman, I'm sure that was merely an alias, and he was a Crispin.
Another atypical Crispin is Blessed Crispin of Viterbo (1668-1750). Not quite a Saint, he was beatified by Pius VII.
And that brings us to Joseph, a spelling-impaired Crispen like us, who first appears in Pennsylvania in 1750. He disappears from the records not long after that, indicating that his journey from England (or perhaps Northern Ireland) to America was probably not part of a grand tour, but a flight. We naturally assume there was an angry potential father-in-law chasing Joseph with a shotgun, but it may be the first American Crispen was fleeing, not the altar, but the gallows.
Crispens have stayed in Pennsylvania ever since, mostly in the Pittsburgh area. As did I until I traveled to Baltimore to meet my true love and then off to Oklahoma and Alabama.