There were four of us one clear and cold December day in 1989—my husband and I, our youngest daughter, and my husband’s mother, Evelyn Craig Jones––standing on the side of a country road in Lunenburg County, Virginia, looking for traces of a man who lived there two centuries before. It was easy enough to read the historical highway marker where we stopped:
Home of the Reverend James Craig. To the south is the site of the late-18th-century home of the Reverend James Craig, minister of Cumberland Parish (1759–1795), physician, and Revolutionary patriot. During the Revolutionary War his nearby mill was burned by Colonel Banastre Tarleton, and Craig was taken prisoner and paroled. . . .
The Reverend James Craig was Evelyn Craig Jones’s great-great-great-grandfather. Evelyn’s mission of learning and recording what she could about her ancestor had brought us to this spot in Virginia’s Southside––a rural landscape south of the James River, close to Virginia’s border with North Carolina. It’s a place of rolling, creek-filled hills rising from the east out of Virginia’s Tidewater, gathering themselves for the westward climb to the Blue Ridge. From where we stood, certain places that represented landmarks in American history were not far: Williamsburg and Yorktown were roughly 100 to 125 miles to the east, Richmond 75 miles to the northeast, Monticello 100 miles to the north, and Appomattox 60 miles to the northwest.
It was left to some of Reverend Craig’s descendants to cope with Appomattox. Reverend Craig himself faced the American Revolution, when he was witness to and a participant in the creation of a new order. At the beginning of his ministry, in 1759, his world––Lunenburg County and its parish, Cumberland Parish––was British and Anglican. At the end, in 1795, it was American, and his own church was now Protestant Episcopalian. Moreover, the Revolution brought not only political and religious separation from Britain but the seeds for the separation of church and state within the new United States of America.
Reverend Craig was highly respected among his eighteenth-century contemporaries as a parson––he helped keep the Anglican, then the Protestant Episcopalian, church alive in Virginia––and is remembered in Lunenburg County history as an avid patriot of the Revolution. Although his ministerial vocation and his personal pursuits as a wealthy planter took him in widening circles beyond his own parish, his home base was a large plantation provided for him and designated as the Glebe of Cumberland Parish. Oddly, although the Glebe was of historical importance, it was not mentioned on the highway marker our party of four stopped to read on that country road. We had moved on, however, to find a second highway marker nearby in the little town of Kenbridge, this one telling of the infamous Banastre Tarleton’s raid on Reverend Craig’s mill during the Revolution and indicating that the mill site stood about two miles south of the marker on Flat Rock Creek. Although we also had an historical map showing a location for Craig’s Mill, our search for the site was unsuccessful. At the time it seemed curious that the highway marker for the mill was not closer to the site named on our map. But moving on once again, we were successful in finding an historic house, once called “Prospect Hill” and later renamed “Flat Rock,” which had been identified in several historical publications as having been Reverend Craig’s parish home. Standing at a distance of almost three miles from the first highway marker, the house bore a National Register of Historic Places plaque but no indication of a connection with Reverend Craig. This too was somewhat puzzling.
Despite some of the disappointing or perplexing results of our visit, in its aftermath Evelyn was spurred on to add to her collection of documents and publications related to Reverend Craig by searching for the parish registry from his years of service and making further inquiries among numerous Craig descendants and church historians. But her efforts yielded no new information. Evelyn was now aging, and in time she ceased her researches. She died in Oklahoma in 2003.
After Evelyn’s death, my husband and I brought her files on Reverend Craig to our house in northern Virginia. Six years later, having retired as an attorney with the federal government and with a keen interest in the American Revolution, I decided to complete Evelyn’s mission of researching and recording whatever facts could be learned about this patriot parson and present his story as fully as I could. The fact that Craig lived and died in Lunenburg County gave me hope about recreating his life because, unlike many other local jurisdictions in Virginia whose records from the revolutionary era had been destroyed, Lunenburg County’s court order books, deeds, wills, and tax records dating back to the time of the county’s creation in 1746 had been preserved.
In a sense, my first research trip to Lunenburg County for this renewed venture, in April 2009, brought the Craig story as it played out in my husband’s and Evelyn’s line of descent full circle: Reverend Craig had a son George Craig, who died in Lunenburg County in 1824; George Craig’s son Edward Chambers Craig (1817–1894) moved his own family away from Virginia after the Civil War to Kentucky; Edward’s son George Edward Craig (1842–1917) then moved his family to Arkansas; George Edward’s son Robert Samuel Craig (1878–1952) was Evelyn’s father. During the Depression, Robert Samuel moved his family from Arkansas to Oklahoma; his daughter Evelyn’s marriage to Hal Jones, my husband’s father, took her to Texas and Colorado until Hal’s death, after which Evelyn returned to her childhood home in Oklahoma. Here she embarked upon her historical researches, and now in 2009 I saw myself bringing those researches and Evelyn’s Craig family story back to the starting point in Lunenburg County.
The first thing I learned on my return to Lunenburg County was that the historical highway marker for the “Home of the Reverend James Craig,” which we four had seen 20 years before, had been struck by a car and was now in storage. Somewhat symbolically, this removal cleared a path for my researches. As I began sifting through courthouse documents, my first objective was to try to answer the questions raised during the 1989 trip to Lunenburg County: Why was the historical marker for the site of Craig’s home almost three miles away from Flat Rock, the historic house that was supposed to have stood on the Glebe of Cumberland Parish? Why was the highway marker silent about the Glebe of Cumberland Parish? Exactly what land did the Glebe occupy? Where exactly was the site of Craig’s Mill, so famously burned down by Tarleton during the Revolution? In time the answers came in, and they brought some surprises, including identification of the Glebe boundaries and the mill site and the revelation that the historic Flat Rock house was not Reverend Craig’s parish home. This new information ultimately led to the erection of a new highway marker for “The Glebe of Cumberland Parish” to replace the old marker, and also to the placement by the William Taylor Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution of a plaque on the former Glebe land to commemorate Reverend Craig’s patriotism.