52 Ancestors II, Week 56: Thomas Craighead

“Thomas Craighead was born in 1660 in Scotland and studied medicine there, but later entered upon his trials for the ministry as a probationer in the Presbytery of Strabane (Northern Ireland) in 1698.

He read theology under his father in Londonderry (Northern Ireland)and was settled some 10 or 12 years in Ireland, and became a well-known and even a prominent member of the Irish Synod.” (1)

“Thomas married Margaret, and they had five children:
  • THOMAS, born in 1702; married Margaret, daughter of George Brown, merchant of Londonderry, Ireland. A farmer at White Clay Creek, Delaware. 
  • ANDREW, died unmarried. 
  • ALEXANDER, died in March, 1766; an eloquent minister who lived in Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina. 
  • JOHN, of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. 
  • JANE, (our ancestor) married, October 23, 1725, the Rev. Adam Boyd, pastor of a church at the forks of the Brandywine. Their son edited the Cape Fear Mercury.” (2)
“In consequence of a number of grievances to which the Presbyterians were subject in Ireland, such as "oppressive rents, ""the sacramental test” and the "marriage ordinance," Thomas joined a large company of emigrants and came to America.” (1)

“Thomas and his family, arrived in Boston the first week in October, 1714, from Londonderry, on the ship "Thomas and Jane" of which Mr. William Wilson was then master.

He first settled as a minister in Freetown in the colony of Massachusetts.

The Rev. Thomas Craighead had the unhappy gift of discord and he led a somewhat stormy life, although he was a fearless and a useful minister. For some time all went well at Freetown, MA.

Thomas had agreed to subsist on voluntary contributions from his flock.

Probably his manner did not attract, and the support became gradually reduced until he was obliged to petition the General Court for a grant of money.
  • They allowed ten pounds in June, 1718, for half a year's services. 
  • In 1719 he brought his plight to the notice of the Justices of the Peace for Bristol County, MA and at a Court of General Sessions of the Peace the town was ordered to lay a rate for his support. 
  • Many refused to comply and were thrown into jail. 
  • A petition to the General Court asking to have the men liberated, the rate declared annulled and Thomas's election as minister at Freetown void, was granted June 19, 1719. 
  •  Among his enemies John Hathaway, a kinsman, was a conspicuous figure, and to him Cotton Mather addressed a stirring letter, as a last effort to restore peace. 
  • It was written July 21, 1719: ‘You cannot be insensable that the minister whom ye glorious Lord hath graciously sent among you is a man of Excellent Spirit, and a great Blessing to your plantation. …  And if once you come to sit lovingly together, the more you know him the more will you Love him.’
  • The unfortunate minister then petitioned for relief, having for four and a half years preached at Freetown, three of these years without pay, and being then deeply in debt.
  •  In December he was granted twenty pounds. 

Thomas soon left Freetown, and in the spring of the year 1723 moved his family southward. He joined Newcastle Presbytery January 28, 1724, and on the 22nd of the next month was installed minister of the church at White Clay Creek in Delaware.

Thomas preached eloquently for seven years, enjoying frequent revivals and building new churches through his zeal.

In 1733 Thomas moved to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and joined Donegal Presbytery on September 3rd.

He was pastor of the church at Pequea from October 31, 1733, to September, 1736.

Changing his residence once more he settled at Hopewell in 1738, and preached until he died while pronouncing a benediction, in April, 1739: (2)

“At Big Spring, protracted meetings were held for public worship. So powerful, it is said, were the influences of the Spirit, that the worshipers felt reluctant, even after having exhausted their stores of provisions, to disperse. I have heard it from the lips of those present, when Thomas Craighead delivered one of the parting discourses, that his flow of eloquence seem supernatural; he continued in burst of eloquence, while his audience was melted to tears” (3)

“It was on one of these occasions, near the close of April, 1939, at a communion session at the big spring church, when having preached until quite exhausted, he waved his hand, being unable to pronounce the benediction, and exclaimed farewell, farewell, and sank down and died in the pulpit.” (2)

*(1)Excerpt from Centennial Memorial of the Presbytery of Carlisle (Meyers Printing and Publishing House, Harrisburg, PA, 1889) at Volume II, Pages 22-25
*(2) Excerpt from Charles Knowles Bolton, Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America (Bacon & Brown, Boston, 1910) at page 80, published by Open Library online at http://openlibrary.org/books/OL7045478M/Scotch_Irish_pioneers_in_Ulster_and_America
*(3) Dr A. Nevin in his “Churches of the Valley” quotes from a letter written by Thomas Craighead Jr dated 16 Dec 1845.
(4)WALKER(1893) p135 DERRY IN 1688" by Image extracted from page 135 of The Siege of Londonderry in 1689, as set forth in the literary remains of Col. the Rev. G. Walker, D.D., which are now first collected …, by WALKER, George - D.D., Governor of Londonderry. Original held and digitised by the British Library. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WALKER(1893)_p135_DERRY_IN_1688.jpg#mediaviewer/File:WALKER(1893)_p135_DERRY_IN_1688.jpg


  1. Wow, I'm not sure where to begin. In the early days of his ministry Thomas Craighead seems to have put people off and had to petition the town to pay his salary which many refused. I don't blame people for refusing to pay for a lousy preacher by a town government ... talk about lack of separation between church and state. Apparently over time he improved his vocation to the point where he sermonized so out of body that he finally left his body as a grand finale. Sounds like mass hysteria but at least the audience finally go their money's worth.


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