|Kentucky State Marker #25|
In search of religious freedom, the Reverend Lewis Craig led his entire congregation of 200 Baptists and 400 other settlers from Spottsylvania County, Virginia, and established them here on Gilbert's Creek. This expedition, guided through the wilderness by Captain William Ellis, was the largest group of pioneers ever to enter the District of Kentucky in a single body.
So we remember “The Travelling Church,” which set out from Virginia in 1781 for the purpose of exploring the “Canaan” of Kentucky while furthering their missionary endeavors. In October 1781, they arrived in Fort Chiswell in southwestern Virginia with a considerable-sized wagon train, only to find that a hundred miles further, the road would become impassable to anything but horse and foot traffic. They then sold or traded off their wagons and larger household goods, packed things up, and set on down the road. Robert L. Kincaid gives this colorful description in The Wilderness Road:
It was a crushing blow for Craig and his people to give up their wagons so early in their journey. The women and the children hated to leave the luxury of wheels for a hard and uncertain horseback ride. But it could not be helped. Huge baskets and bundles of clothing, bed furnishing and household articles were prepared and lashed upon packhorses. Children were crowded on top, or rode in front and behind their mothers and relatives. The men and older boys who did not have mounts trudged along on foot. Thus accoutered, the company strung out on the road to the dark wilderness with its unknown terrors.
|The Great Road (purple) and the Wilderness Road (red)|
So why would they do this? Why would almost an entire church leave home and possibly family behind? Obviously the party was comprised of far more than church members—some just wanted the material opportunities Kentucky had to offer—but the biggest reason, for the church itself, was religious persecution. During the colonial era, any church besides the one established by Mother England often came under serious heat from Anglicans. The leader of this particular congregation saw the western frontier as their best solution to this.
Is it possible there could have been a calling from God involved, as well?
Filed under the category of historical tidbits I didn’t manage to shoehorn into my recent release The Cumberland Bride. Thanks to Kincaid for his excellent if sometimes embellished work on the Wilderness Road, and to Wikipedia, which has gotten far more reliable over the past few years. :-)