Frontier Baptist Preacher
By J. H. Spencer
LEWIS CRAIG was born in Orange county, Va., about the year 1737. He was raised on a farm, receiving a very limited education, and, in early life, was married to Betsy Landers. He was first awakened to a sense of his guilt and condemnation, about the year 1765, under the preaching of Samuel Harris. Of his struggles while under conviction, John Taylor says: "Mr. Craig's great pressure of guilt induced him to follow the preachers from one meeting to another. And when preaching 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 himself, 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 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."
Very soon after Mr. Craig's conversion, and before he was baptized, he was indicted by the grand jury, "for holding unlawful conventicles, and preaching the gospel contrary to law." When the jurymen 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 at this time an exceedingly wicked man, was one of the jury. He was so deeply impressed by the meekness of Mr. Craig, and the solemnity of his manner, that he did not recover from the awful impression until he found peace in Jesus, about eight months afterwards. He subsequently
became one of the most distinguished Baptist ministers of his generation, and, in his turn, endured great persecution, "for preaching the gospel contrary to law." Mr. Craig was probably prosecuted no farther 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 three 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 county, 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. Tradition has it, that Joseph Craig, a very eccentric man, cried out in a stentorian voices: "Arise ye dead and come to judgement!" whereupon many persons dropped down, as if pierced through the heart.
"During their confinement," says J.B. Taylor, "Elder Craig preached through the grates to large crowds, and was the means of doing much good." Mr. Craig remained in jail a month, and was then released. He at once hastened to Williamsburg, and soon secured the release of his brethren. Their imprisonment seems to have increased their zeal, and they went forth with renewed energy in their glorious work. As has been stated, Mr. Craig was ordained to the pastoral office, in November, 1770. But this did not prevent his preaching abundantly in all the surrounding country. In 1771, he was arrested in Caroline county, where he was committed to prison and remained in jail three months. Before he left Virginia, he was instrumental in gathering at least three churches
in Dover Association -- Tuckahoe, Upper King & Queen, and Essex. During a revival in Upper Spottsylvania, in 1776, over one hundred were added to its membership. This church prospered as long as Mr. Craig remained with it in its first location. But the time now drew near when the Lord of the harvest would send him to a new field of labor among the dark wide forests of the great wilderness beyond the mountains. He was now in the vigor and strength of manhood -- a little under 45 years of age. He had been fourteen years in the ministry, had enjoyed extraordinary success, and had had a wider and more varied experience than most men have in a life-time.
Mr. Craig continued to serve Upper Spottsylvania church as pastor, till 1781, when he moved to Kentucky. So strongly was the church attached to him, that most of its member came with him, At exactly what time in the fall they started has not been ascertained. But Mr. Craig was on the Holsten river on the road leading from his former home, by way of Cumberland Gap, to his destination in Kentucky, on the 28th of September, 1781; for on that day, he aided in constituting a church at that point, then the extreme western settlement in Virginia.
Dr S. H. Ford, in the Christian Repository of March, 1856, says of Craig and his traveling charge: "About the 1st of December, they passed the Cumberland Gap, . . . and on the second Lord's day in December, 1781, they had arrived in Lincoln (now Garrard Co.), and met as a Baptist church of Christ at Gilberts Creek. Old William Marshall preached to them, with their pastor, the first Sunday after their arrival." John Taylor, in a biographical sketch of Lewis Craig, says: "I think he moved to Kentucky in the fall of 1781." Dr. J.B. Taylor, another of his biographers, says: "It has already been stated that in 1781, he removed to the West;" and Dr. R. B. Semple, in his history of the Rise and Progress of the Baptists in Virginia [p. 153], says: "But, in 1781, to the great mortification of the remaining members, Mr. Craig with most of the church, moved to Kentucky."
There seems to be no disagreement among the historians of the period as to when Gilberts Creek church was located in Kentucky. Some modern writers have been misled by Asplund's Register of the Baptists in America, for 1790, which
records the name of a Gilbert's Creek church, constituted in 1783, in the same locality. But this was a Separate Baptist church, gathered at the date specified, by Joseph Bledsoe. The original Gilberts Creek church had been dissolved, as we shall presently see, several years before Asplund's Register was published.
This ancient church had but a brief history in Kentucky. Dr. Ford thinks it numbered about 200 members when it was first organized on Gilberts creek. It continued to prosper under the care of Mr. Craig, till 1783, when he and most of the members moved across Kentucky river, and formed South Elkhorn church. The old organization continued to diminish in consequence of the removal of its members to the north side of the river. Alter the removal of Mr. Craig, George Stokes Smith and John Taylor were among its members, and supplied it with preaching, for a time. But these ministers also moved to the north side of the river, and left the church in a state of destitution. In its enfeebled condition, it entered into the constitution of Elkhorn Association, in September, 1785, and requested that body to send a committee to look into its standing. The request was granted, and a committee, consisting of "Lewis Craig, James Rucker, Wm. Hickman and Wm. Cave, or any three of them," was appointed to visit the church. At the meeting of the Association, in August, 1786, "the committee on Gilberts Creek church, reported that it was dissolved."
Immediately after moving to Fayette county, in 1783, Mr. Craig gathered South Elkhorn church, and was chosen its pastor. He occupied this position, about nine years, laboring abundantly in all the surrounding country. During this period, Elkhorn Association was formed, and many other preachers moved to that region of the country. Feeling that his labors were not needed here, and probably being somewhat mortified by the loss of his property through some unfortunate land speculation, he moved to what is Bracken country, about 1792, and "was in a manner the father of Bracken Association." John Taylor closes his biography of Lewis Craig in the following language:
"As an expositor of the Scriptures, he was not very skillful, but dealt closely with the heart. He was better acquainted with men than with books. He never dwelt much on doctrine, but
mostly on experimental and practical godliness. Though he was not called a great preacher, perhaps there was never found in Kentucky, so great a gift of exhortation as in Lewis Craig: The sound of his voice would make men tremble and rejoice. The first time I heard him preach, I seemed to hear the sound of his voice for many months. He was of middle statue, rather stoop shouldered, his hair black, thick set, and somewhat curled, a pleasant countenance, free spoken, and his company very interesting, a great peace maker among contending parties. He died suddenly, of which he was forewarned saying, I am going to such a house to die, and, with solemn joy, went on to the place, and, with little pain, left the world."
[J. H. Spencer, A History of Kentucky Baptists, 1885, pp. 28-32; reprint, CHR&A, 1984. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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