From the early days of the American Revolution, the Reverend James Craig, Anglican minister of Cumberland Parish, Lunenburg County, Virginia, preached patriotism to his fellow citizens and supported the war effort by operating his gristmill as a supply depot for the American army. In the summer of 1781, Craig’s mill was burned to the ground and his lands laid waste by the infamous British offi cer Banastre Tarleton, who was leading the storied British Legion on a raid through Southside Virginia. Shortly thereafter, the Lunenburg County citizenry had occasion to formally extol the parson for his “zeal and attachment to the cause of American liberty.” But the very cause Craig was supporting was also beginning to loosen the comfortable moorings enjoyed by the Anglican Church as the established church in Virginia. Revolutionary stirrings toward complete separation of church and state were afoot and were to reach a watershed in Virginia in 1786 with legislation that set the erstwhile established church adrift in roiling waters. Stalwart, and as dedicated to his faith as to his country, Reverend Craig helped steer his church on a course where it found a new place in society after the war as the Protestant Episcopal Church.
In James Craig, Patriot Parson, Cynthia Mattson shows in lawyerly detail how the life and career of this eighteenth-century clergyman, anchored in Lunenburg County, Virginia, were shaped not only by the “fi re and sword” of armed hostilities but more profoundly by the dynamics at work among such fi gures as Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison in courtrooms, congresses, and legislatures. The author also shows how Reverend Craig, in meeting these challenges, in turn helped preserve and shape his church and community.
Yet there was one more dimension to this clergyman’s life that refl ected historic currents: his participation in the economic life surrounding him. Although parish ministers were provided a house and land to live on, through his own efforts Craig acquired further lands and built the gristmill targeted by British forces during the Revolution. As a prosperous member of Virginia’s gentry, however, this man of the cloth was also a slaveholder––thus fully caught up in the great contradiction of America’s history: slavery in the land of the free. It would take nearly another century for the festering contradiction to unleash another war, one in which many Craig descendants lost life and property. This part of the James Craig story is also told on these pages.