Baptist History Homepage

      He was not an Apollo in figure for he was barely of ordinary stature and was stoop shouldered, but his eye were expressive, his voice musical and strong and his manner earnest and impassioned. - George W. Ranck, The Travelling Church.

Lewis Craig
By James B. Taylor

     This is a name well known in Virginia. It is interwoven in the history of many of her churches, and will continue to live in the memory of the pious, while time endures. To Lewis Craig, and his brother Elijah, may we look as among the principal instruments of introducing the gospel in the eastern part of our State.

     The family with whom they were connected are said to have been eminently pious. The parents, and all their children, seven sons and four daughters, were members of the Baptist Church. Lewis is said to have been first awakened under the preaching of Samuel Harriss, and to have remained for some time in deep distress. In following the preacher from place to place he would sometimes break out in solemn exhortation to others, while he confessed that he was himself without hope. He ultimately rejoiced in Christ, and in 1767, when about twenty-seven years of age, was baptized and began to preach. He was far from possessing a cultivated mind, but being a sensible man, and having a very musical voice, with agreeable manners, and, especially, going forth under the constraining influence of the love of Christ, he excited much interest among the people he addressed. He traveled almost constantly, and the large congregations which everywhere attended his ministry were entreated to escape the Divine wrath, with the most impassioned earnestness. Nothing could exceed the burning zeal with which he persuaded men to be reconciled to God. His sermons consisted in a plain pungent exhibition of the evil of sin, and its ruinous consequences, with the glad tidings of redeeming love through a Saviour. Hundreds of his hearers found in these announcements the means of salvation. The gospel came to them not n word only, but in power, in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.

     These successful results were principally manifested in the Counties of Orange and Spottsylvania. The first Baptist church organized, between the James and Rappahannock Rivers, called Lower Spottsylvaina, afterwards Craig's, was the fruit of his efforts. This church was constituted in 1767. Three years after this period he received and accepted an invitation to preside over them as pastor. Additions were regularly made to their number; but in 1767 an extensive revival was enjoyed, when more than one hundred were baptized. The church continued to prosper until 1781, when their pastor removed to the western country; a large number of the members of the church left the State with him, and a serious decline was experienced.

     Before Elder Craig's departure to the West, he was counted worthy of his Master to suffer painful trials in the discharge of his ministerial duties. Various means were employed to alarm and cause him to give up his practice of preaching the gospel. He thought of the Saviour's dying love, and determined to go forward even at the expense of life. At length he was arrested by the sheriff of Spottsylvania, and brought before three magistrates, in the yard of the meeting-house, who bound him, with others, in the penalty of two thousand pounds, to appear at court two days after. They attended and were arraigned as disturbers of the peace. The prosecuting attorney represented them to be a great annoyance to the county by their zeal as preachers.

     "May it please your worship," said he, "they cannot meet a man upon the road but they must ram a text of Scripture down his throat." After hearing the defence, the court determined that they should be liberated, provided they would give security no more to preach in the county within twelve months. To this condition Elder C. and his companions refused to yield. They were then sentenced to close confinement in the jail. As they passed on to prison through the streets of Fredricksburg, they united in singing the lines --

"Broad is the road that leads to death."

     They remained in prison one month, and were then released. Elder Craig then visited Williamsburg, to obtain relief for his brethren. The following letter was conveyed by him from the deputy governor to the King's attorney: --

"SIR: I lately received a letter signed by a good 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 oaths, as others have. I told them I had consulted the attorney-general, who is of opinion that the general court only have 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 a 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 a 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 we had some of it among us. But, at least, I hope all may remain quiet till the court.
"I am, with great respects to the gentlemen, sir,

"Your humble servant,

"Williamsburg, July 16, 1768"

     The prisoners were, after a short time, released. During their confinement, Elder C. preached through the gates [grates] to large crowds, and was the means of doing much good. When he was permitted to go at large, he went forth with renewed spiritual strength, defending the truth as it is in Jesus. He was enabled to thank God that he was permitted to suffer shame for the name of Christ. Day and night in his neighborhood and in all the surrounding country he ceased not to teach and to preach the gospel.

     In 1771, about three years after this, he was again imprisoned, in the County of Caroline. He had several times preached there, and was quite successful. Says Mr. Semple, in referring to this circumstance,

"Mr. Craig continued to visit this place, and to cultivate the seed sown. Believers were added from time to time. Satan took the alarm, and stirred up opposition to Mr. Craig. A warrant was issued, and Mr. Craig was carried before a magistrate, to whom he gave bond not to preach in the county within a certain number of days; but feeling himself hampered by this measure, he thought it best to incur the penalty; and accordingly preached some little time after, at one Reuben Catlet's plantation, and was taken up by virtue of a warrant and committed to prison, where he staid three months."
     With undiminished ardor and success Mr. Craig continued to preach after his liberation. It is stated in Semple's History, that Tuckahoe, Upper King and Queen, and Upper Essex Churches, in the Dover Association, were planted under his ministry. As long as he remained in Virginia he was eminently useful. It has been already stated that in 1781 he removed to the West. He settled on Gilbert's Creek, Lincoln County, and immediately formed a church of those who had been dismissed with him, from Craig's, in his native State. In about two years after he again removed within six miles of Lexington, and built up the first Baptist church in that part of Kentucky, called South Elkhorn. Here he was drawn into the whirlpool of speculation, and suffered many losses. His peace of mind also was much disturbed. Still he retained an untarnished reputation, and continued to preach, while the church was greatly multiplied under his ministry. In 1795 he settled in Bracken County, where also the Lord made him greatly successful, as a large church was built up under his care.

     There is reason to believe that no man in Kentucky exercised a more wide-spread and commanding influence for good than Lewis Craig. In removing from Virginia he had taken with him most of the members of the Upper Spottsylvania, since called Craig's Church. This was the oldest and most flourishing body of baptized believers between James and Rappahannock Rivers. He had been their successful pastor, loved and honored by them for ten or twelve years, and when his purpose was formed to migrate to the then far off western wilderness, they almost unanimously resolved to share in the perils and discomforts of his exile. Such was the enthusiasm awakened in this band of disciples, that of this large church a sufficient number did not remain to continue the organization. It was necessary to disband, and not until several years after was the church re-established.

     The pastor and flock, numbering about two hundred members, and called by John Taylor "the traveling church," commenced their long, toilsome journey. The whole, embracing children and servants, numbered nearly four hundred. It was a sublime spectacle! Onward they marched, over an almost trackless wilderness, Jehovah their guide and defence. Unharmed by beasts of prey, or the savage red man, they were permitted to reach the home they sought. We may well imagine how these pilgrims often lifted up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. They found many a Bethel in which to draw near to God, and oft, to them, it was the very gate of heaven. As they passed over mountain and valley the stillness of ages was broken by their songs of praise. The wilderness and the solitary place were indeed made glad, for never before had hymns of thanksgiving by human voices reverberated among those trees of the forest.

     The church thus borne on to their destined home continued under the care of Lewis Craig. Settling awhile on Gilbert's Creek, they afterwards removed to South Elkhorn, as already stated. Here Mr. Craig purchased land. The first grist-mill in Kentucky was built by him. The above facts have been mainly received from John Taylor. He says,

"South Elkhorn was eight miles from where I lived. I seldom went there but at monthly meetings. I now became more acquainted with that old successful man in the ministry, Lewis Craig. His orthodoxy mainly lay in salvation through Christ, by unmerited grace, and urging repentance on all to whom he preached. He had the most striking gift of exhortation that was perhaps in use in Kentucky; while with him in South Elkhorn, he treated me as a father would a son."
     On another occasion, referring to Craig, he says,
"There was but one church on the north side of Kentucky, and this was South Elkhorn, where Lewis Craig was pastor. Perhaps in the month of August, 1784, I became a member of that church, and thus I was brought under his pastoral care. He was then in the prime of his life, as to the gospel ministry -- of the age between forty and fifty. Mr. Craig is yet living, and about eighty-three years old: he is one of the old gospel veterans in Virginia, where he often suffered imprisonment for the crime of preaching repentance to sinners."

     Writing afterwards respecting the expediency of forming a new church at Clear Creek, he says,

"We held a council on the subject of a constitution, but we found a difficulty, in this way: a number of the members had been in the church, with Lewis Craig, in Virginia, and in the traveling church through the wilderness, and its establishment in Kentucky, and, above all, if we had a new church, we might lose Lewis Craig as our pastor. Though we had four ordained preachers, all of us did not make one Lewis Craig."

     He lived to advanced age. His last days were distinguished by increased spirituality of mind. His conversation was mostly on heavenly topics, and it was frequently said that he seemed to enjoy much of heaven in his soul. His trials had been greatly sanctified to his good, and, like a little child, he yielded quietly to the will of his Father. He died, after a short illness, in the eighty-seventh year of this age.

     His sermons were remarkable for their evangelic and practical character. He possessed an easy address, his language was simple and flowing, and in exhortation excelled most of his contemporaries. Very often, when several sermons had been preached, without producing, apparently, any effect upon the people, he would follow, and by his pathetic appeals produce almost universal feeling in the congregation. He was always very industrious in his habits, and strictly temperate. Endowed with a natural sweetness of temper, and being much under the influence of the gospel, he was greatly beloved by all classes of men.

     John Taylor says respecting him,

"Perhaps there was never found in all Kentucky such 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 stature, rather round-shouldered; his hair black, thick-set, and somewhat curled; a pleasant countenance; free spoken; and his company very interesting. He was a great peace-maker among contending parties."


[From James B. Taylor, Virginia Baptist Ministers, 1859, pp. 85-91. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

More Baptist Biographies
Baptist History Homepage