The Pioneer Baptist Preacher
His Life, Labors and Character
By Lewis N. Thompson, Pastor
Lewisburg and Ewing Baptist Churches
North Fork, Mason County, Ky. 1910
The proceeds from the sale of this sketch of the life of our illustrious Baptist pioneer are to be given, by the writer and the Woman's Missionary Unions of the Lewisburg and Ewing Baptist Churches, as a contribution toward the erection in his memory of a proposed monument. I wish to express here my appreciation of the interest shown by the ladies of these two Unions in this undertaking and to extend my thanks for their promised aid. Lewis N. Thompson.
"I tell you 'twere better to cherish that soul
That soldier that battles with thought for a sword,
That climbs the steep ramparts where wrong has control,
And falls beaten back by the rude, trampling horde.
Ay, better to cherish his words and his worth
Than all the Napoleons that ever cursed earth."
At the meeting of the Bracken Association of Baptists, held at Millersburg, August, 1909, the writer and the Honorable John H. Jackson, of Minerva, and Mrs. Adrian B. Ratliff, of Sharpsburg, were appointed by that body as a committee to solicit funds for the erection of a suitable monument at the grave of the Rev. Lewis Craig, whose body lies buried near Minerva, Mason County.
Naturally we became anxious to know something about Lewis Craig, for we had heard little of him, and we must confess that our ignorance was somewhat embarrassing. Who was I to ask money to rear a monument to one of whose life and labors I knew so little? On making inquiry here and there I found that others knew no more than I, and so I sat about gathering such information as would assist me in presenting my cause in a way that would gain the attention of our Baptist brethren. Then, as I proceeded with my investigations, the thought came to me that these things should be written and published, in order that all Baptists, who wish to know, may have, in brief form, a sketch of the life, labors and character of one of our mighty heroes of faith.
In pursuance of this thought we have decided to place before you the facts as gathered from many sources. We indulge the hope that, as you read, your zeal may be renewed, your interest in true heroism be kindled anew, and that, if no more, you may gladly assist us in this work of honoring "our dead", who, though dead, yet speaks to us of the great mission of life-that of publishing the Glad Tidings of Good News, and of living and laboring for the churches of God.
This monument should be raised to that grand old Baptist hero - should have been raised long ago, for it is not to our honor as Baptists - as lovers of that soul-liberty for which Lewis Craig fought and suffered that his grave remain unmarked. We should do this not only in his honor, but for the sake of the glorious cause that fired his very soul, the proclamation of which led his persecutors to hound him to jail, in an effort to silence his mighty voice in the great conflict for religious and civil liberty.
You may say - men do say –Lewis Craig built his own monument, and it shall "last when Egypt's fall"; but let us build one that the eye of man may see, and call to mind the glorious life of our most illustrious dead; and it may chance that the one who sees may be awakened to higher things in life, for --"Each man makes his own Stature, builds himself. Virtue alone out builds the Pyramids; Her monuments shall last when Egypt's fall.""The aspiring soul is fired to lofty deeds
By great men's monuments, and they make fair
And holy to the pilgrim's eye the earth
That has received their dust."
HIS LIFE AND LABORS
Lewis Craig was born in Orange County, Va., about the year 1737, according to Dr. J. H. Spencer; about 1740 according to Dr. James B. Taylor. He was the son of Tolliver and Polly Craig. Tolliver was the only child of English parents, and was born in Virginia about the year 1710. At the age of twenty-two he married Polly Hawkins and settled in Orange County. These were the parents of eleven children, seven sons and four daughters. They all became Baptists; three of the sons were Baptist preachers - Lewis, Elijah and Joseph. Betsy, the youngest daughter and child, married Richard Cave, one of Kentucky's pioneer Baptist preachers.
We learn nothing regarding the early life of Lewis Craig, other than that he was reared on a farm, and that he received a very limited education. Early in life (how early we have not learned) he married Miss Betsy Landers. We find no record as to number of children born to them, but in his will, written June, 1821, he mentions four sons - Lewis, Elijah, John and Whitfield. Lewis and Elijah are named as his
executors. This will was probated in the Mason County Court at the September term, 1825.
According to Mr. George W. Ranck, author of "The Traveling Church", he died in the summer of 1825, in his eighty-fifth year; according to Collins, the eighty-seventh.
We come now to the most important event in his life, that of his new birth. Up to the year 1765, or thereabout, he had lived, according to his own statement, "in all kinds of vanity, folly and vice", but now there came a change, an "awakening", which was wrought by the preaching of Samuel Harris. A deep sense of his guilt and condemnation came upon him. "He was convicted of sin" - his sin and his guilt. Of this period in his life Rev. John Taylor writes:
"Mr. Craig's great pressure of guilt induced him to follow the preachers from one meeting to another. And when preaching was ended he would rise up in tears and loudly exclaim that he was a justly condemned sinner, and with loud voice warn the people to fly from the wrath to come, and except they were born again, with him, they would all go down to hell. While under his exhortation the people would weep and cry aloud for mercy. In this manner his ministry began before he himself had hope of conversion, and after relief came to
him, he went on preaching a considerable time before he was baptized, no administrator being near, many being converted under his labors."
Shortly after his conversion, and before his baptism, he was indicted by the grand jury "for holding unlawful conventicles, and preaching the Gospel contrary to law". It is recorded by Dr. J. H. Spencer that "when the jury by whom he was being tried went to a tavern for refreshments, he treated them to a bowl of grog, and while they were drinking it, got their attention and spoke to them to the following purport: 'Gentlemen - I thank you for your attention to me. When I was about this courtyard, in all kinds of vanity, folly and vice, you took no notice of me but when I have forsaken all the vices, and am warning men to forsake, and repent of their sins, you bring me to the bar as a transgressor. How is all this?'"
John Waller, who was so profane and reckless that he was known as "Swearing Jack" and the "Devil's Adjutant", was one of the jury and the "meekness and solemnity of manner" of Mr. Craig impressed him so deeply that he could not be rid of it, and was finally, in about eight months, says Spencer, converted, and became a Baptist preacher - "the most picturesque of the early Baptist ministers of Virginia" - a whole-souled defender of the people whom he had once so bitterly opposed
and reviled. Dr. Spencer says of him in this connection: "He subsequently became one of the most distinguished Baptist ministers of his generation, and, in his turn, endured persecution 'for preaching the Gospel contrary to law.' Mr. Craig was probably prosecuted no more in this case."
"On the 4th of June, 1768, Lewis Craig, John Waller and James Childs were seized by the sheriff while engaged in public worship and brought before the magistrates in the meeting-house yard. They were held to bail in a thousand pounds to appear at court two days afterwards. They were arraigned before the court as disturbers of the peace. In his speech the prosecuting attorney said: 'May it please your worships, these men are great disturbers of the peace; they cannot meet a man on the road, but they must ram a text of Scripture down his throat."
"Mr. Waller, who had been educated for the law defended himself and his brethren so ingeniously that the court was much puzzled. However, the prisoners were required to give security not to preach again in the country for the period of twelve months. This they refused to do, and were committed to jail. As they passed along through the streets of Fredericksburg, on their way to prison, they sang the old hymn beginning:
'Broad is the road that leads to death.'
A great crowd followed them and the scene was awfully solemn." - (Spencer.)
"During this confinement," says J. B. Taylor, "Elder Craig preached through the grates to large crowds, and was the means of doing much good". He remained in jail a month and was released. Hastening to Williamsburg, he soon secured the release of the others. The letter following was brought by him from the deputy governor to the king's attorney:
"Sir - I lately received a letter signed by a goodly number of worthy gentlemen who are not here, complaining of the Baptists; the particulars of their misbehavior are not told, any further than their running into private houses and making dissensions. Mr. Craig and Mr. Benjamin Waller are now with me, and deny the charge; they tell me they are willing to take the oath as others have. I told them then I had consulted the attorney-general, who is of the opinion that the general court alone had a right to grant licenses, and therefore I referred them to the court; but on their application to the attorney-general, they brought me his letter, advising me to write to you. Their petition was a matter of right and you ought not to molest these conscientious people so long as they behave themselves in a manner becoming pious
Christians and in obedience to the laws - till the court, when they intend to apply for license, and when the gentlemen who complain may make their objections and be heard. The act of toleration (it being found by experience that persecuting dissenters increases their numbers) has given them the right to apply, in a proper manner, for licensed houses for the worship of God according to their consciences; and I persuade myself, the gentlemen will quietly overlook their meetings till the court. I am told they administer the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, near the manner we do, and differ in nothing from our church but in that of baptism and their renewing the ancient discipline; by which they have reformed some sinners and brought them to be truly penitent; nay, if any man of theirs is idle and neglects to labor and provide for his family as he ought, he incurs their censures, which have had good effects. If this be their behavior, it were to be wished that we had some of it among us. But, at least, I hope all may remain quiet till the court.
I am, with great respect to the gentlemen, sir, your humble servant, John Blair.
"Williamsburg, July 16th, 1768."
"When this letter came to the attorney he would have nothing to say in the affair. Waller and the others reri1ained in jail for forty-three
days and were discharged without any conditions. There is a report that Patrick Henry made one of his great speeches in their behalf. While they were in prison they continued to preach to the crowds that assembled. Mobs tried by their fuss and stir to prevent their being heard, but many did hear and were saved. The spread of the Gospel and of Baptist principles was equal to all their exertions. The Baptist cause became formidable to its enemies."
As was usual with these heroes of that day, and other days, their persecutions only served to increase their zeal, strengthen their courage and fired their hearts to larger efforts. They came forth from jail and went to. work with greatly renewed energy. Like those of old, this servant had the spirit of his Lord, and he and his fellow laborers knew that "the servant is not above his Lord".
Mr. Craig was baptized in 1766 or 1767, but was not ordained to the ministry until November, 1770. He had not been idle during this time, for he had gone "preaching abundantly in all the surrounding country", and many had been converted under his preaching.
On November 20th, 1767, the first Baptist church north of Rappahanock and James rivers was organized, the "result of the efforts of Lewis Craig". This church was called Upper Spottsylvania, afterwards called "Craig's", and
consisted of twenty-five members. For three years it was without a pastor. In November, 1770, Lewis Craig, having been ordained, became its pastor, and remained such till 1781.
In 1771 he was again arrested in Caroline County and placed in jail, and remained there for three months. "He had several times preached there and was quite successful He continued to visit this place to cultivate the seed sown; believers were added from time to time; Satan took alarm and stirred up opposition to Mr. Craig. A warrant was issued and he was arrested."
During his eleven years' pastorate of Upper Spottsylvania Church he had succeeded in gathering at least three churches in Dover Association. These were Tuckahoe, Upper King and Queen, and Essex. Upper Spottsylvania had prospered under his leadership, and many had been added to its membership, there being over one hundred additions in t.he year 1776. He had evidently served this church well and wisely, as well as "preaching abundantly in all the surrounding country"; but a change is at hand for this pastor and his people. No hint of any disagreement between himself and his charge is heard of - far otherwise, as we shall see.
The mind of Lewis Craig had turned toward the wilderness of Kentucky, and the time had
come when the scene of his operations as preacher and church organizer was to be shifted. Capt. William Ellis had visited Kentucky in the year 1779. He had come, it is said, on this trip in the interest of the Craigs, Ellises and Wallers, there existing some kind of connection between these families. All of these were evidently satisfied with the investigations of Capt. Ellis, for all broke up their homes in Virginia and journeyed to the Blue Grass Region of Kentucky and settled near each other. This change took place in the year 1781. Lewis Craig was "now in the vigor and strength of manhood" - being a little beyond the age of forty. He had been in the ministry about fourteen years; his success had been extraordinary; his experience was wide and varied - beyond that of most men - and he was now well fitted for this new field of labor. But was he going alone? Did he, like so many preachers, leave his church behind? The answer to these questions reveals one of the remarkable things in modern history. He was not going alone; nor were the Craigs, Ellises and Wallers the only families that came with him; neither did he leave his church, as so many do - must do. Almost the whole church had a mind to "go West and grow up with the country". One writer puts it thus: "So strongly was the
church attached to him that most of its members came with him."
So, one Sunday morning early in September, 1781, the church gathered with its beloved pastor for one final season of worship at the house where they had met so often and so long, and, also, to bid farewell to those whom they were to leave behind on the morrow, for on that day this congregation was to start in a body for Kentucky. We may be sure that that strange gathering created quite a sensation, for nothing like this had ever occurred. Gathered here was a whole flourishing church, pastor, officers, members, all ready for departure over the mountains, through bitterest hardships, into the then wild West. How this all came about - such singular unanimity - no writer tells us, but that such did happen is a fact, and a fact that meant much to the coming State of Kentucky - much every way; for, not only was a free church coming, but in it and with it were coming some of the best families of old Virginia to make homes here, and pave the way to freedom and civilization. The day was set, the time for their departure was at hand, and this host of stout - hearted Baptists had assembled for the last time at their place of public worship - a very beautiful and fitting thing to do. What does that speak to us of love and devotion to the one spot where
they had met so often, to sit together in humble worship of the great God?
As they are all gathered it may be well for us to take a look at a few of the more prominent ones who are preparing to cast lot with those of the "Dark and Bloody Ground", either on this expedition or a later one. There were many Baptist preachers here of Spottsylvania and adjoining counties; among these we notice Lewis Craig, the leader; Elijah Craig, "the 'bold exhorter", who had known much jail service for conscience sake; Joseph Craig; Ambrose Dudley; William E. Waller; William Ellis, the aged; John Waller; Joseph Bledsoe, father of Senator Jesse Bledsoe, of Kentucky; William Cave; Simon Walton, and Capt. William Ellis. All these, excepting the aged William Ellis, either came at this time or shortly afterward. (William E. Waller came in 1783; Elijah Craig in 1785; Ambrose Dudley in 1786.) These were all mighty men of God.
Capt. William Ellis, son of the patriotic Ellis, who was imprisoned in 1775 for denouncing British tyranny, was chosen as the leader of this outgoing host. Having visited the new territory, he was familiar with the route and was chosen for this and other reasons. Lewis Craig was the religious leader, of course, and was the ruling spirit of this movement. What a wonderful
man he must have been! Well does Mr. Ranck speak of him as "the magnetic pastor of Upper Spottsylvania Church", for such he was.
But this Sabbath is preaching day at Upper Spottsylvania as well as "Farewell Sunday". The congregation was large - too large for the little meeting-house - and a pulpit was erected in the yard and their pastor arose to speak to them. Let us quote from Mr. Ranck, who gives them. Let us quote from Mr. Ranck, who gives a delightful account of this last worship here, as conducted by Lewis Craig:
"The man who arose to address them was then about forty-one years of age. He was not an Apollo in figure, for he was of ordinary stature and was stoop-shouldered, but his eye was expressive, his voice musical and strong, and his manner earnest and impassioned. They all knew him. Many of them had participated with him in the 'great awakening' which followed the efforts of the zealous Samuel Harris in 1765, and well remembered the day when he so boldly arraigned the famous grand jury of which 'Swearing Jack' was a member. Some of them had been arrested with him on that memorable fourth of June, 1768, when he was seized by the sheriff while conducting public worship in the very building they now surrounded and had sung with him 'Broad is the road that leads to death', as they moved toward the Fredericksburg jail, while others in the
crowd had not only witnessed this first case in Virginia of actual imprisonment for preaching contrary to the laws for the maintenance of the church establishment of England, but had heard the eloquent Patrick Henry, even then the acknowledged champion of popular rights in the colony - who had journeyed fifty miles on horseback to defend them. Many of them bad heard the unflinching Craig preach through the grated window at Fredericksburg, others had ministered to him during his subsequent imprisonment in Caroline, and all had rejoiced in the prosperity of Upper Spottsylvania Church which had continued to grow from the time he became its regular pastor in 1770 until this autumnal Sunday in 1781.
"After the usual preliminary services he spoke. Only echoes of that farewell sermon have reached us. Tradition says that he recalled the sudden rise of the Baptists in Virginia ten years before the Revolution; their persistent struggle for religious liberty and their increase in spite of oppressive laws, royal power and a 'roaring dragon'. That he claimed for his people that, though the opening of the Revolution had found them already worn and weary from the long campaign for conscience sake, they had fought as gallantly for their civil rights as they had battled for their religious freedom. That he reminded them of the encouraging fact that
now, when the country was scorched and wasted and impoverished by the war, the rich and illimitable acres of a western Caanan [sic] were offered to them almost 'without money and without price', and declared in earnest and impressive words that it was a higher power that had pointed out the way and that the same farseeing Providence that had ruled all the events of their past was leading forth to the 'wilderness' and would lead them to the end. He is said to have closed with one of his characteristic exhortations and with farewell words of solemnity and feeling as only such an occasion could inspire. The eyes and hearts of all were full, indeed. How deeply they were moved we may faintly imagine when we remember that they believed as he believed, and that they had passed as he had through the days and the scenes he had depicted,
"Unfortunately, but one other feature of these last touching services has survived - the farewell tribute offered by John Waller, beginning with this stanza:
'Great sorrow of late has filled my poor heart,
To think that the dearest of friends soon must part;
A few left behind while many will go
To settle the desert down the Ohio.'
"Mr. Waller's powers as a poet were not Miltonic, but he had been to the people who heard him much more than a poet, and his sympathetic words brought many an answering sob.
"The remainder of the day, after the dinner that the neighbors had provided, was spent in tearful communings, agonizing embraces and heart-rending scenes, for the emigrants knew what this separation meant. Some of them were aged, some were feeble, many were helpless women and not a few were poor. A weary journey of nearly six hundred miles stretched out before them. * * * * * * No wonder their hearts were breaking. They knew that for them there would be no return; that they were leaving home and old Virginia forever. * * * * The crowd slowly dispersed. The sun went down upon a strangely silent camp. For the first time the emigrants slept in their wagons slept after many a prayer and many a tear.
"Before daybreak the next morning Capt. Ellis was astir and giving orders, and the repeated blasts of a horn completely changed the scene. In a few moments all was noise and bustle and excitment [sic]. There was no time now for anything but a 'campaign' breakfast, the gathering of horses and cattle, a general hitching up and the storing away of pots and skillets and eating utensils, and at the rising of the sun a mighty sound of tramping feet, clattering
hoofs, creaking wagons and barking dogs announced that the start was made and the memorable journey commenced.
"This modern exodus was no small affair for its day and generation. The moving train included, with church members, their children, negro slaves and other emigrants (who, for better protection, had attached themselves to an organized expedition), between five and six hundred souls, and was the largest body of Virginians that ever set out for Kentucky at one time. And not only the members, but nearly everything else pertaining to Craig's Church, was going. Its official books and records, its simple communion service, the treasured old Bible from the pulpit - nearly everything, in fact, but the building itself was moving away together - an exodus so complete that for several years Upper Spottsylvania Church was without either congregation or constitution. There were few in that long procession, as it moved out upon the old Catharpin road, who did not turn to give a last lingering look at that silent, sunlit sanctuary. How little the sad gazers dreamed that days would ever come when that quiet, unpretentious building would echo with the thunders of one of the most tremendous struggles that modern times was destined to know. The church was located in the region in which occurred the battles of Frederickstburg,
Chancellorsville and the Wilderness." (See "The Traveling Church", by G. W. Ranck.)
The church building was injured, but not destroyed, during the Civil War. Craig's Church of today occupies the same site as in 1781, and includes much of the original hand-made material that existed in Colonial and Revolutionary times.
We cannot attempt to follow this traveling church from the old meeting-house to its resting place in Kentucky, for that is foreign to our purpose, however interesting that may be, and it is very interesting, as you may see by reading "The Traveling Church".
At the close of the third week in September these Pilgrim Baptists rested on the Holston river at the place now known as Abingdon. Lewis Craig assisted in organizing a church here on the 28th of September. The records of the Providence Church show that there was a company of Baptists here. We give in this connection a copy of the record, as found in the History of Kentucky Baptists, by Dr. J. H. Spencer: "A company of Baptists came from the older parts of Virginia to Holston river in December, 1780. Robert Elkin, minister, and John Vivian, elder, and in 1781 they, with other Baptists, formed themselves a body, in order to carry on church discipline, and, in September, 28th, 1781, became constituted by
Lewis Craig and John Vivian. * * * Lewis Craig was at this time a Separate Baptist minister and was now on his journey to Kentucky, as known circumstances sufficiently prove, with the church that settled on Gilbert's creek, in December of that year."
Owing to the state of the weather there was a halt of some three weeks on the Holston river, but Mr. Craig was not idle. The church proceeded with its regular work, and the pastor was busy preaching, and this preaching brought forth fruit, for there were baptisms, as well as strengthening of faith to those who heard his hopeful preaching.
Late in October, or early in November, the church abandoned this halting place and moved forward, and about the first of December, some three weeks after leaving the North Fork of the Holston river, the travelers crossed the Cumberland Gap. They pressed onward, and before the middle of December they had reached the point chosen as a settling place - having decided to locate on a tributary of Dick's river, now known as Gilbert's Creek, two and a half miles southeast of the present town of Lancaster, Garrard Comity, which was at that time part of Lincoln county. The first thing done, now that the Pilgrims had reached their destination, was to make a clearing in the woods and establish "Craig's Station", "and there", says Mr. Ranck,
"in that lonely outpost, before the close of the second Sunday in December, 1781, they had gathered and had worshipped around the same old Bible they had used in Spottsylvania and had been preached to by their pastor, Lewis Craig, and by William Marshall, uncle of the celebrated Chief Justice Marshall of Virginia. And so met the first church that ever assembled in Central Kentucky - a church that had been organized long before and whose strange transplanting constitutes one of the most remarkable episodes connected with the early settlement of the Commonwealth".
In speaking of the pioneer Baptists of Kentucky, Davidson, in his History of Presbyterian Churches in Kentucky, says: "To them belongs the credit of having been the first to inaugurate the regular public worship of God and the organization of churches." And Capt. Ed Porter Thompson, in Young People's History of Kentucky, says: "The first organized Baptist church was that of Rev. Lewis Craig, at Craig's Station, on Gilbert's Creek, in Garrard County, a few miles east of Lancaster. This church was organized in Spottsylvania County, Virginia, and the members traveled together to Kentucky - a church on the road, regularly constituted for business as well as worship. The first one organized in Kentucky (1783) was on South Elkhorn, five miles south of Lexington." This
is the agreement, so far as I can learn, of all the historians.
Having finished the fort, the settlers proceeded to locate land and build cabins. One of the first buildings erected was a church. It was located on a hill some half mile from the fort. Here, "in spite of privations and in spite of the tomahawk and the scalping knife, Lewis Craig pushed on the work of his Master not only at Gilbert's Creek, but at other frontier settlements also, for in 1782, that year of Kentucky's gloom and sorrow, he gathered and constituted a church at the forks of Dick's river and preached at Squire Boone's Station, on Clear Creek, near the present Shelbyville, the first sermon ever delivered in Shelby County or in that part of the State. But the pioneer Baptists, thrifty as well as devoted, were soon attracted by the magnificent land in what is now so widely known as 'The Blue Grass Region,' where Capt. Ellis had already settled, and early in the fall of 1783 Craig and most of his congregation moved to South Elkhorn, about five miles from Lexington, where they established the first worshiping assembly of any kind organized north of the Kentucky river. This removal would have been a death-blow to the church at Gilbert's Creek but for the timely reinforcement from the old 'stamping ground' in Virginia. Craig and his party had barely reached South Elkhorn
when William E. Waller, brother of the long converted 'Swearing Jack', and himself a Baptist minister, with a number of others of the same faith arrived at Gilbert's Creek from Spottsylvania County, and about the same time the body of Baptists from the adjoining county of Orange, that Mr. Craig had constituted at the Wolf Hills (Abingdon), came safely through the wilderness and settled near the station. For the best part of three years they had watched and waited at the little post on the Holston for a favorable chance to set out on the blood-stained and Indian-haunted trail to Kentucky - a chance Which came with the formal ending of the Revolutionary War in 1783. Later on in the same year John Taylor, the Baptist minister and historian, with his family and servants, also reached the settlement, after a three months' trip from Virginia, and thus alternately weakened and strengthened and sometimes reorganized the church at Gilbert's Creek, which existed during the period of immigration and with fortunes still varying for many years thereafter. It declined during the late great war between the States, and by 1865 the brick house which had succeeded the little log church on the hill had become a ruin and ceased to be used. Later on the congregation disbanded, and now little remains to mark the site of the most notable sanctuary of the early Kentucky pioneers
but the graves and gravestones of its departed members in the old church yard that surrounds it. Is there a spot in this Commonwealth more worthy of an enduring memoria1 than the silent hill top where finally rested the ark of 'The Traveling Church' - a memorial to perpetuate the story of that heroic march and in honor of those undaunted champions of civil and religious liberty, the Pilgrim Fathers and Mothers of the West?" (Traveling Church.)
We come now to the church at South Elkhorn, organized, as we have seen, by Mr. Craig in 1783. This was the first church organized in Kentucky. He was pastor here for nine years, but labored in the meantime "abundantly in all the surrounding country". During this period Elkhorn Association was formed, and many other Baptist preachers moved to that region of the State. Elkhorn Association was organized in 1785. Mr. Craig was the moderator of the preliminary meeting for the organization.
While he was pastor of South Elkhorn Church he organized, with the assistance of Rev. John Taylor, Great Crossings Baptist Church, May 28th, 1785; then in April, 1786, he organized a church at Bryant's Station; and in July, 1786, he organized Town Fork Church. It would seem that he was connected with the organization of most of the early churches of Elkhorn Association.
The year 1792 finds him ready for another change of field. Because of some unfortunate land deals he became embarrassed and decided to make this last change. He moved to Mason County and purchased a farm about three miles from Dover, on the road to Minerva. (This farm belongs now to Mr. Andrew Tobin.) He left his old home behind, but did not leave the spirit of an organizer, for he went to work at once, and by 1793 he had gathered and organized the Bracken Church, near the town of Minerva. He was the first pastor. He is recognized by his biographers as "the father of Bracken Association". "This is the eldest daughter of the old Elkhorn fraternity, and the fifth association constituted in Kentucky. According to an arrangement made by Elkhorn Association, messengers from eight churches met at Bracken meeting-house, near the present site of Minerva, in Mason County, on Saturday, May 28th, 1799. A sermon was preached by the venerable David Thomas. James Turner was chosen moderator, and Donald Holmes clerk. After proper consideration, Bracken Association was constituted in due form. Five of the churches, viz: Washington, Mayslick, Bracken (now Minerva), Stone Lick and Locust Creek, had been dismissed from Elkhorn Association. The ministers of the new fraternity were Lewis Craig, David Thomas, Donald
Holmes and Philip Drake. The venerable and illustrious Lewis Craig was regarded the father of this Association." (Spencer.)
He remained pastor of Bracken Church up to and including the year 1807. In the year 1808 he preached the introductory sermon at the Association, and in 1812 he was a messenger from Bracken Church. From that date his name is not found in the old minutes of the Association.
In 1808, when he preached at the Association, which met at Mayslick, his text was, "Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generations following". He was not a messenger that year, but the minutes make this statement: "Bro. Lewis Craig was invited to a seat with us."
In the year 1794 we find him at work on the first court house ever built in Kentucky - the old Washington court house. Washington was the first county seat in the State. It was established in 1786 by the Virginia Legislature, but wag laid out the year before by Rev. William Wood and Arthur Fox. William Wood was a Baptist preacher. The court house was not built till 1794, and our church builder and church organizer' did the stone mason's work on that historic old house. Early on the morning of the 13th of August, 1909, this old landmark
was struck by lightning and was totally destroyed by fire. Since 1848, the county seat having been moved to Maysville, the court house had been used as a school building. In the Lexington Herald of January 16th, 1910, we find the following in regard to this old landmark from the pen of Sue M. Caldwell:
"In 1794 the court house was built by Lewis Craig, who combined the professions of stone mason and preacher. A faithful pioneer of the Baptist church, the Bracken Association, at its recent meeting at Millersburg, took steps toward erecting a suitable monument over his grave at Minerva, Mason County, a movement more timely than the Association realized, since the monument erected by his own hands, which had stood for one hundred and fifteen years as a testimonial to the honest, enduring character of his work was so soon to be destroyed. Chiseled on a stone above the main door were the initials of the builder, L. C., and the date, 1794. The structure stood upon a slight elevation about one hundred and fifty feet back from the street."
Lewis Craig brought the first Baptist church to Kentucky that was ever on her soil; he organized the first Baptist church ever organized in Kentucky (South Elkhorn); he organized the first Baptist Association in Kentucky; he built the first church house of any kind in the
State; he was the organizer of many of our first churches, and the "father of Bracken Association" and also built the first court house of our State. Neverehtless [Nevertheless], no stone marks the grave of this wonderful pioneer preacher and builder. Have we honored him as he deserves to be honored? Really, have we honored him at all?
From the year 1812 we find no record of his doings up to his death. One writer says that he remained actively at work up to the day of his departure. This is the only conclusion that one could reach, for hitherto he had been a very busy man and his health remained good to the end. We cannot believe that he laid by to rust out. He died, as has already been recorded, at the home of his granddaughter, Mrs. Craig Childs, near Minerva, in the summer of 1825. His body lies in a grave on the road from Dover to Minerva, unmarked and unkept, and yet Lewis Craig was one of our most illustrious pioneers. Why have we thus failed to honor him? Let Baptist people lay this to heart.
[Section Two is here.]
[Lewis N. Thompson, Lewis Craig: The Pioneer Baptist Preacher - His Life, Labors and Character, 1910; via Adam Winters, SBTS Archivist, E-Text Collection. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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