“For inquire, please, of bygone ages, and consider what the fathers have searched out. For we are but of yesterday and know nothing, for our days on earth are a shadow. Will they not teach you and tell you and utter words out of their understanding? ” -Job 8:8-10
History of Craigs Baptist Church
Craigs Baptist Church has a long and meaningful history. Originally dubbed the “Upper Spotsylvania Church”, Craigs Church was founded in 1767, and was the first Baptist church between the James and Rappahannock Rivers. It came to be known as “Craigs Church” after the first pastor, Lewis Craig, took office in 1770.
In the early days of Craigs Church, it was illegal to preach the gospel without a license from the Anglican church. Lewis Craig was once pulled from the pulpit by the county sheriff for preaching without a license. At various times, Lewis Craig was jailed in Culpeper, Fredericksburg, Bowling Green and Tappahannock. It is said that while they were imprisoned in Fredericksburg, Lewis Craig and Nathaniel Saunders preached to crowds through the jail windows and many were converted through this ministry.
In 1781, Lewis Craig and a large number of church members – along with many others from the community – packed up their belongings and moved to Kentucky. Craig had heard about the excesses of the “frontier” and wanted to establish a church there to reach the frontier regions. Thus began a movement that came to be known as “The Travelling Church”. The Travelling Church was perhaps less an organized church and more of a travelling band of disciples – some church members and some simply pilgrims seeking a better life in Kentucky.
The exodus of church members and pastor that took place in 1781 took its toll on Craigs Church. For some time, the church had to give up their constitution as a church. In 1783, the church was re-constituted after visiting ministers, leading meetings and ministering to the members helped to increase the membership of the church.
Craigs Baptist Church moved to their current location and facilities in 1912. The advent of the automobile, and the condition of the road to the original site made this move a necessity, as the original location was on a road that was impassible by automobile. A special dedication service was held with many guest ministers, and in the afternoon an offering was taken that allowed the church to be dedicated debt-free.
A recorded history of Craigs Baptist Church
The particular branch of the Baptist denomination from which this church came had it’s origin in Massachusetts near Boston.
Sometime prior to 1750 (exact year unknown), George Whitefield was the religious leader of a new religious sect whose members were first called “New Lights.” Later, when they had separated entirely from the Church of England (Episcopal), they were called “Separatists”. Afterwards, they became affiliated with the already established Baptist Church.
This new religion spread rapidly and, by 1750, had a number of ministers and a large following.
In 1754, a Mr. Shubal Stearns, a native of Boston, seeking a more fertile field for his labors, and having relatives there, journeyed down into North Carolina with some of this followers and proceeded to preach the new gospel there. His teachings were kindly received and he established a church with sixteen members (eight men and their wives). This church was known as Sandy Creek Baptist Church.
A number of ministers grew up in this church, and these carried the gospel in several directions. Some of these came up into Virginia and established a church in Pittsylvania County under the care of Reverend Dutton Lane.
In 1766, a Mr. Allen Wyley of Culpeper rode through the country to Pittsylvania to secure a Baptist minister to preach to a congregation near Orange Court House. Three preachers (Reverend Samuel Harris, Reverend James Road and Reverend Dutton Lane) returned with him. These men preached as they came, preaching to two congregations in Spotsylvania County. They agreed to return and preach to these congregations again the following year. This they did, and on this second trip on November 20, 1767, they constituted a church in the upper part of Spotsylvania with twenty-five members. This was the first Baptist church between the James and Rappahannock Rivers. It came to be known as the Upper Spotsylvania Church. They returned and conducted a revival the next year when more than two hundred were added to the membership.
In 1770, Lewis Craig came to be the first pastor of the Upper Spotsylvania Church and from that day forward, the church has been known as “Craigs Church”. Lewis Craig was the son of F. Oliver Craig of Orange County and was the oldest of three brothers: Lewis, Elijah and Joseph Craig, all Baptist preachers.
At one point, Lewis Craig was dragged from his pulpit by the sheriff of the county and tied before magistrates on the church yard, after which he was jailed in Fredericksburg. He was at various other times imprisoned in Culpeper, Fredericksburg, Bowling Green and Tappahannock. While he was imprisoned, he preached from the windows of the jails, to large congregations and converted hundreds of souls.
In 1781, about two hundred of the members of Craigs Church, accompanied by their pastor Lewis Craig, riding in covered wagons, moved to Kentucky and settled there, establishing a church at Gilbert’s Creek, KY.
The reason for this move is not known. It seems to have been largely economic, they having a desire for better land for their farming.
This trip through the wilderness was a hard and dangerous journey, the country being full of hostile Indians and enemy soldiers, for this trip was made during the latter part of the Revolutionary War.
The departure of these two hundred members left Craigs Church in bad condition. They did not have a sufficient membership to constitute a church, and for a time, they were forced to relinquish their constitution. However, various visiting ministers conducted meetings for them and they added to their membership until the church was reconstituted in 1783.
Early in the 1900’s, the old church building being in bad condition and the road leading to it being unsuitable for the travel of automobiles which were then coming to general use, it was decided to erect a new church building three miles north of the old site on the improved highway. This was done, and in September 1912, the present building was dedicated. Dr. Aubrey Williams preached the dedicatory sermon on that occasion. A stone marker was placed at the site of the old church.
Dedication of a new building in 1912
Craig’s Baptist Church was founded in 1767, by Lewis Craig, near Tinder, the oldest Baptist church in the Goshen Association, dedicated a new house of worship on Sunday, September 29, 1912. The church is small in numbers and wealth, but rich in the spirit of sacrifice and devotion to the Master’s cause. The day was all that could be desired, and the people, for miles in all directions, knowing of the sacrifice and devotion and struggle of this church in erecting its new church building, came to take part and witness the services. There were from 800 to 1,000 people in attendance, representing a large number of the churches in Spotsylvania and Orange counties.
The pastor, J. D. Kesler, in a few appropriate words introduced Rev. R. A. Williams, of Fredericksburg, Va., who was the speaker of the morning. Mr. Williams in an able and eloquent address, which was greatly enjoyed, told of the part contributed by the early founders of this little church, in securing religious liberty in Virginia. Rev. Williams’ address is included below:
I count it a very great privilege to be here and assist in the dedication of this building to the worship of God. I confess I have always had a very tender and deep interest in the career of this church ever since I have known it. Close on to a century and a half it has lifted its beacon light and pointed men to the Lamb of God and cheered them on to the land of glory. It is the first born of the old Goshen and the venerable mother loves her first born with a great love. Founded largely through the efforts of Lewis Craig, constituted in 1767, Craigs Baptist church has had a wonderful history. Every loyal Goshenite feels a deep and abiding interest in her history, and every Virginia Baptist is richer today because of the heritage that comes to them by the contribution of this old church. Craigs Baptist church is identified with the struggle of the Baptists of Virginia for religious liberty, and it is my purpose this morning, at this dedicatory service, to speak upon this theme.
The persecution of men for what they believe to be right is as old as the pages of history. The refusal to concede that other men have rights as well as we, has been the cause of some of the world’s mightiest upheavals. Liberty is the priceless boone that men always and everywhere have coveted. They believe it to be, in the language of that immortal document, the Declaration of Independence, an inalienable right. They hold to it as one of their priceless legacies and when their persecutors have robbed them of life itself, with stiff and rigid fingers they will still cling to liberty. Upon the banner of America this word has always been inscribed; upon the pages of our history it has been written in letters of blood, and it is because we believe that we are the guardian of her empire that we have planted at the port of America’s greatest metropolis that splendid bronze statue, which lifts its inextinguishable torch and is sending forth to the ends of the world the message of the American people, “Liberty Enlightening the World.” There is no sentiment for which men have suffered more; there is no land for which men have paid more. Every inch of her territory has been purchased at a great price. But civil liberty without soul liberty is only half liberty, and the record of the suffering, and the daring, and the endurance which men went through with in order to secure soul liberty has never yet been written, but possibly not many were before the daring triumvirate who faced their king with those simple words, “We will not serve thy gods.”
There was no bluster of bravado, no blare of trumpets, on the part of the three Hebrew men, but just that heroism that made them willing to die rather than sacrifice their conviction. What did this edict of Nebuchadnezzar mean? It meant simply that the great Babylonian king was determined that these men should not only be his captives in body, but they were to be his captives in their souls. It was an attempt to fasten the hated chains of slavery on the spirit. It was one of the first notes sounded in the very beginning of human history of the right of a man to dictate to his fellowmen what he shall believe and how he shall believe. It was repeated again when they led the Seraphic Stephen out and attempted, with murderous weapons, to make him think as the Sanhedrian thought and believe as the Sanhedrian believed. It was repeated again when one of the same mob attempted to ram down the throat of the murdered Stephen his belief, himself now won, by the witchery of the Christ and saved by his wondrous grace, was subjected to the same ordeal in the Phillipian jail, and Paul, the greatest preacher that ever trod the earth, was placed in the dungeon of the jail and his bruised and battered body fastened in cruel stocks, because he refused to believe as other men demanded. It was repeated again when they led Savonorola out, that brave preacher of religiousness, who, in defiance of the edict of a cruel pope, dared to preach the truth, and for his daring they converted his living body into a flaming torch. It was repeated again with John Huss, with Latimer, and with John Bunyon, and the answers of these men to the efforts of their persecutors means simply this, that you might kill the body, but you cannot destroy human liberty; you might crucify the man, but you cannot crucify the idea for which he stands; you might imprison the preacher, but you cannot imprison the idea, and from the ashes of their charred and ruined bodies the idea of soul liberty rises unconquerable and indestructible.
THE PART THE BAPTISTS PLAYED IN THIS STRUGGLE
My brethren, those men who back there in the past suffered and died for soul liberty, were the forerunners of a prophets on the watchtowers, foretelling of the new advent. Their testimony was splendid, but the great battle had not been fought. God left that to a new company, and it was their mission to herald this great truth, not by champions scattered and almost lost by the centuries, but by the concentrated flame of thousands. The world calls this company “Baptists,” and they have lifted their idea and inscribed it upon their banners and flaunted it among every nook and corner of the land. When the Revolution, which dethroned Charles I and elevated Oliver Cromwell to be the protector of the Commonwealth, there were terrible struggles which were endured in the battle for religious liberty. Blind old John Milton was there fighting for this. John Bunyon, whose immortal Pilgrim went forth from prison cells to the world of men and women, preaching that great truth, that men are soul free, and standing with these were the Baptists of that day, everywhere conspicuous, fighting at Dunbar, facing death and demanding civil and religious liberty, and as you see them there you see them everywhere, in the forefront, fighting for liberty. But it remained for Virginia to be the place where this battle was to be fought to a finish, with results destined to turn the course of the world’s history.
Oh, Virginia! How our souls thrill at the sound of her name. We love her from the blue waters of the Chesapeake to the hazy summits of the Blue Ridge and beyond. Her fields have been reddened with the blood of her sons and her graves wet with the tears of her daughters. On her soil were enacted scenes of heroism that would have furnished subjects fit for the pen of a Homer and the genius of a Milton. From the dawn of her history until this goodly hour life in the Old Dominion has been set to heroic measure. There are spots in old Virginia which are elegant with testimony of the magnificent part taken by the Baptists of the past century. In Chesterfield, Urbanna, Alexandria, Warrenton, Culpeper and Fredericksburg were jails which became the prison houses where Baptist preachers were incarcerated for no other reason than preaching the free Gospel of the grace of God. And it was to resist this, to fight this spirit of persecution to the death, that our people stood shoulder to shoulder, our preachers marched to the jail singing their songs of Zion and from their cells and behind their bars, preached to the gathering multitudes the free grace of the unfettered Christ. Many are entitled to praise in that heroic struggle. The Presbyterians were associated in it, and many great and transcendent leaders, including George Washington, James Madison, George Mason, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson, names which will never die in American history.
While these helped in this fight, yet I believe that the facts of history will hear me out when I say that the brunt of the battle was borne by Baptist leaders, their addresses, memorials and petitions which were sent to the president and to the House of Burgesses, as well as by their sufferings, their strifes and their imprisonment. History is eloquent with its testimony of their work. It bears witness to those, who snatched liberty, civil and religious, from tyranny’s grasp; who broke the bonds uniting Church and State, filled the forests of the New World with the campfires of her Bible and converted every river, lake and running stream into Baptistories, that they might bear testimony by baptism to the resurrection from the dead.
THE PLACE OF CRAIGS CHURCH
Of all the places that tell the story of that struggle and of all the men who stood unafraid and spoke their message with the courage of a John the Baptist, no place shines with greater luster than Old Craigs, and no men who stood with that company more honored than Lewis Craig. That the little company that first constituted this church, like the Christians of the first century, might escaped the prying search of the sheriff and the persecuting attorney, who said that the only charge that they could bring against these men was: “That they could not meet a man on the road without ramming a text of Scripture down his throat.” To escape this the little company built their first church down between the hills. In the memorable struggle that was to follow, Craigs Baptist church gave splendid account of herself and its pastors bore memorable testimony.
Organized in 1767, the first church is the Goshen association between the James and Rappahannock rivers, and known in the beginning as Upper Spotsylvania church, but soon and always thereafter known as Craigs, she stood full square to every wind that blew, holding fast to her faith in the Scriptures, she went bravely on her way. At times it was a mighty struggle to keep alive. Fourteen years after she was constituted Lewis Craig, her beloved pastor, felt that it was his duty to move to Kentucky, then an untried place, and four hundred men, women, children and servants, rather than lose him, pulled up their stakes, took down their tents, and, like the children of Israel in the wilderness, followed their Moses over the mountains of the Blue Ridge, climbed the dizzy altitudes of the Allegahenies, and in a new land set up their banners and commenced to write the history of Kentucky Baptists. The young church left behind was sadly depleted, and for a few years gave up the struggle. Rising again, however, she lit her lamps and for nearly a century and a half she has stood in this community through summer’s suns and winters snows, preaching the Gospel of the grace of God unto this people. In her latter years there have been many inroads on her strength, but she has kept bravely on. From her ranks have gone out Godly men and women.
Two of her representatives, Mr. James R. Rawlings and Hon. Granville R. Swift, are at present honored members of the Fredericksburg Baptist church and another, Rev. John Cammack, is an able preacher of the Gospel and one of the alert editors of the Religious Herald. In reading about and thinking over the experiences of our forefathers, I sometimes think that the Christians of this day do not know what sacrifice means. We think if we go to church once a month we are doing luxury, with our carriages, our fine clothes, our modern and well equipped houses, our automobiles, and everything else that contributes to human comforts, it is not strange that luxury and ease hath eaten up our zeal. We need to go back to the days of Craig, Waller and Weatherford, when men had to suffer for their faith. We need for these men to come to us with tongues of fire preach to us what religion is. We preachers need it, our deacons need it, and the people of God everywhere need it. From your hiding place between the hills you have brought the old churches out into the open, but you people of old Craigs must never forget, and the men and women of old Goshen must never forget, and the Baptist of Virginia must never forget, the debt that they owe to Lewis Craig, to John Waller, to James Ireland, to John Weatherford, to Samuel Harris, and these men of other days who stopped the mouth of lions, put to flight the armies of aliens, suffered imprisonment and wrought righteousness, and with strips upon their own bodies bore the marks of the Lord Jesus.
Men and women of Craigs church, yours is a great heritage may your future be worthy of your past, may you be known, not so much for the multitudes that attend the services, not so much for the splendor of your talents, not so much for the bigness of your contributions, although may God give you these, but may you be chiefly known for the sacrifices that you make, for the fidelity with which you will keep the fires of truth burning, for the joy and power which you will send men and women to bear the message of the grace of God unto the ends of the earth, and in the years to come, when the fight against the enemy shall sometimes go hard with you, when the thin ranks shall almost waiver and break, when despair shall fall like a gray mist about you, may your leaders point you to your past rich with the memories of heroism, wet with tears of sacrifice, fragrant with the prayers and toils of a great host and in their name as well as the name of Jesus, bid you go forward to still greater victories and grander achievements.
Following the address Rev. R.. A. Williams spoke of the small balance due on the church building, and urged those present to contribute this balance in order the church might be dedicated free from debt. After Mr. Williams’ remarks the amount was quickly raised and the church is now free from debt. Following the collection which cleared the church from debt, a recess was taken and the pastor extended an invitation to partake of the dinner; which was ample for thousand and consisted of everything to suit the varied taste of the gathered multitude.
After several songs Rev. Charles C. Saunders pastor of Mine Road, Antioch and Good Hope Baptist churches, made the dedicatory prayer, formally setting aside the church to the worship of God. Then Rev. James M. Beadles, pastor of New Hope and Zion Baptist churches in a warm and pointed speech, delivered the charge to the church, emphasizing harmony, aggressiveness and brotherly love. The pastor presented Rev. W. J. Decker, pastor of North Pamunkey church of Orange, who delivered the charge to the pastor. Bro. Decker was well qualified for this service, he himself having been a pastor for a long time. He outlined a high ideal for the young pastor to follow.
After Mr. Decker’s charge to the pastor Rev. J. D. Kesler, the pastor of Craig’s Church, responded, pledging his earnest efforts to the work of building up the church and advancing the Master’s cause, and requested the sympathy and co-operation of the brethren in the work he was undertaking. At the close of the services a resolution, offered by Rev. W. J. Decker, was adopted by the church, that the address of Rev. R. A. Williams and the proceedings of the day be published and a committee, consisting of Messrs. J. H. Swift, O. G. Massey and J. E. Gravatt, was appointed to carry out the resolution.
Thus closed a service of great and unique value in the history of this church.