One of the great byproducts of the Internet and the digital age is its working in saving great books in history that are at risk of being lost. In my effort to research my ancestors who were ministers like myself, this work has become even more prescient to me. One of my ancestors (a Great uncle) was a man named Joseph Craig who was among the Travelling Church who came to Kentucky in 1781 fleeing Anglican persecution in Virginia. In the coming weeks, I want to offer his journal which gives a personal and unique insight in pioneer American Baptists life. Thanks to the Internet, is story is being preserved for future generations.
As to my travels and standing with brother Joseph Bledsoe.[Joseph Bledsoe would later go to Kentucky in 1781 with the Craigs and the Travelling Church, where he would continue to preach.]
Brother Bledsoe made a covenant with me, that if I would stand with him in society, should be sure to equal with him in the work of the ministry, and to have every liberty which he had in society; which he was faithful to perform to me. In this society I stood, and I went about eight or nine times with him to the Essex meeting [Essex County] about sixty miles off, in one year. As brother Bledsoe had the care of a church in Essex, and brother Lewis [perhaps his brother Lewis Craig] the care of one in Spottsylvania, the persecution in Caroline [County] was great–
[Insert after Caroline:
Read: Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 5, 10, 11, 12-and 14th and 45th verses: Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’s sake; for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manners of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad; for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” But I tried to obey the 44th verse of this chapter: “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.”
Here follows the 45th verse, as a reason for doing: “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.”
O Persecution! What has thou done?
In ages past and gone?]
where I was was taken four times (by the civil officer) for preaching without legal license, as they call it, i. e. from the High Church of England. This was the common complaint. Once they put me in the criminal jail, where I sang about one hour, exceedingly happy-After which they let me have the bounds on bail. While I was there, I seemed as if I had said, “Lord, I have left all and followed thee,” and “proved my faith by my work”-and it seemed as if he had said, face to face, I can believe you have. After I had staid about three weeks there, I went to the outer part of the bounds, and sat down; and it seemed that, if I would look up, I should see the glory of God. Then I seemed near home! I said, with tears, Lord, why cannot I follow thee now?
One time I had preached, and after I had done, the constable took hold of me, and said I must go with him. I thought God did not send me to prison; and if satan did, I would not go, if I could help it. I said I would not go before T__. That warrant said, “he should bring me before him or some other magistrate in the country.” I would go before Mr. H.–. I thought the Lord let me know the prince of this world cometh. One man said, come, go away. The constable had then let me go. I said to the man, you must go with me. We went out at the other door-some one shut the door by the house stable. The constable thought I was in the house but I had gone out the other door, and into the woods. T__ and his company came and hunted the closets and rooms but found me not.
I had an appointment for meeting next day below, in my way to Essex; and when I got there, I thought, if war was fashionable, that I would try and war a good warfare; and, as I had gotten into it, I did not care how much I suffered for the Lord’s sake; and I concluded that they might do their worst, and I would try and do what I could for the Lord. And surely I did cry aloud that day! And we had a good time. And on another day, I was at meeting in the same county, and had been speaking (or preaching).
The constable came, and some big men with him. He came round the company, and took hold of me. I asked him to let me get done the hymn which we were singing. He stood and held me by the arm. He then led me along the way, to carry me to prison. The congregation were all moved along-some began to exhort the constable to take care what he did; and then some of the congregation did praise the Lord aloud! They led me about three miles, to T__, and sat with me awhile and then they went away. At dusk I was conducted into an upper chamber, and they took my four penny knife from me, for fear I might kill some of them! I slept but little that night. In the morning the constable and company were in the porch talking. As I was in the hall, and the other room, I thought they had forgotten me. I might, perhaps go away. I went out of their sight–they did not mind me–I feared to be my own jailer–I would try to go off–I could run to meeting better than home–I thought I would try to get off from among them. I got about fifty yards, and one gave an alarm, Craig is gone.
In one minute a gang of men, some on horseback, and a gang of dogs, of different sizes, were after me. I thought they should catch me, if they could; but, if they did, they should have a race for it. I ran steadily on, and got into the woods; but the dogs followed me true–I tried to dodge them, but in vain–I spoke to them but had to stop; they would give no quarters. The men came up and one of them took me by the hair, and raised his fist to strike me; but his companion caught his hand. They led me to the house, and commanded me to prison. I got on my horse, with one brother behind me. I said I must keep my conscience clear, or I should fail into keen despair–I did not care about life or death. The man behind me said I should do as I pleased. I got out at the gate, alighted down from my horse, and stood still. The constable asked what ailed me–was I sullen? I told him I would have no hand in carrying Joseph Craig to prison. He then came and sat me on my horse; his companion came with a rope, and tied my feet together under my horse, which hurt me considerably; and he took hold of the bridle, and led my horse almost ten miles. Being now near the prison, the rope being stiff, untied, and I thought the Lord let me know I was free–so I observed to the constable.” Do you remember Pilate took water and washed his hands, and said he was clear of the blood of that just person?” He said he did. I told him he was now carrying me to prison–that I had a wife and children to take care of. He said he would not do anything to hurt me, but only to clear himself of the law. So, when we got to the prison, he put me in, but the door would not lock-so that night I set off toward home; and so got clear of them for that time &c &c &c.
“Esteem Reproach” by Harper & Jacumin: A Review
“Baptists and Persecution in Virginia”: A Lecture by Steve Weaver
Elijah Craig: A Biography Written By James B. Taylor