Alexander Craighead: Sower of Sedition “The First American Covenanter Minister”

Alexander Craighead: Sower of Sedition “The First American Covenanter Minister”

by Michael Daniels

Alexander Craighead was born in Donegal, Ulster, Ireland in 1705. His schooling and education is not known but was a son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers. He came to America with his father as a young boy and had migrated to Lancaster County Pennsylvania where his father became a Presbyterian minister..

In 1735, Alexander himself was ordained as a minister in the Donegal Presbytery At first he was a New Light Minister and even traveled through Pennsylvania with George Whitfield but slowly and steadily he started to become convince of the binding nature of the Solemn League and Covenant and full subscription to the Westminster Standards of Faith. He started to sympathize with the surrounding Covenanter population of Lancaster County.

Sometimes around 1740-41 Frances Alison complained to the Presbytery that Craighead required parents to accept the Solemn League and Covenant at the baptism of their children. Craighead was suspended by the Presbytery which allowed the matter to come before the Synod of Philadelphia. That in turn led to the division in 1741 when Craighead and others were ejected from the Synod.

After the ejection, he joined the Presbytery of New Brunswick but they refused to except the National and Solemn League and Covenant. He later withdrew from New Brunswick and published the reasons for his withdrawal which was later published by Benjamin Franklin.
His pamphlet on his reasons for withdrawling from the Presbytery can be found here at,

At such a point he joined up with the Cameronian Covenanters where more then 5000 had settled throughout Lancaster County and surround territory. They were without a minister and were organized into lay meetings called societies.

In January of 1742 Alexander Craighead through the publisher Benjamin Franklin published ‘A Discourse Concerning the Covenants, containing the Substance of Two Sermons, preached at Middle-Octorara, Janurary 10, and 17, 1742. Unfortunately, Pages 9-17 are missing and apprently they dealt with to some extent with Civil Government. It also was published by Benjamin Franklin

‘A Discourse Concerning the Covenant’ can be found here,

In May 1743, Thomas Cookson who was an Episcopalian who surveyed for the Pennsylvania proprietaries and a justice of the peace in Lancaster County, presented an anonymous pamphlet that was supposed written by Alexander Craighead to the Synod of Philadelphia in the name of the governor.

They decided unanimously, “That it is full of treason, sedition, and distraction, and grievous, perverting of the sacred oracles to the ruin of all societies and civil government and directly and diametrically opposed to our religious principles, as we have on all occasions openly and publicly declared to the world; and we hereby unanimously, with the greatest sincerity, declare that we detest this paper, and with all principles and practices that tend to destroy the civil or religious rights of mankind, or to foment or encourage sedition of dissatisfaction with the civil government that we are mow under, or rebellion, treason, or anything that is disloyal.”

Alexander Craighead never denied that he wrote it. But the Synod further declared, “And if Mr. Alexander Craighead be the author we know nothing of the matter. And we hereby declare, that he hath been no member of our society for some time past, nor do we acknowledge him as such, though we cannot but heartily lament that any man that was ever called a Presbyterian should be guilty of this paper.”

It is extremely sad and disheartening to see how far Presbyterians such as the Synod of Philadelphia had declensioned so far from their historic views and beliefs. It is also either extremely arrogant or extremely ignorant that they did not know Presbyterian history and that they should say that they “lament that any man that was ever called a Presbyterian should be guilty of this paper.” Clearly they have no read the writings of John Knox or of George and Patrick Gillespie. They have not read the Western Remonstrance or the writings of Richard Cameron and Donald Cargill. James Renwick and many other Scottish Presbyterians.

This paper that was regarded by Thomas Cookson as to be so dangerous that had to be presented to the Synod of Philadelphia late in May of 1743 is completely gone as far as I can tell at the moment. Vanished along with the pages that are missing from his work on a Discourse on the Covenants.

Sadly, according to J.A. Craighead in 1895 that the work in question, “no trace of it remains”.
At this point Alexander Craighead became an Itinerant minister to the surrounding Cameronian Covenanters nearly serving 5000 Covenanters and continued this for 7 years..

On November 11, 1743, Alexander Craighead had gathered a large gathering of Cameronian Covenanter at Middle Octorara where they drew their swords and with uplifting their swords they Renewed the Covenants, National and Solemn League, along with a Confession of Sins, and Engagement to duties. Along with a Testimony. This book was also published by Benjamin Franklin in 1748.

This Renewal of the National and Solemn League and Covenant traces the history of the Scottish Covenants and of their violations by the Stuarts and Hanoverians. In shearing language he renoucned all allegiance to every one of those sovereigns, including George II.

One can only image Craighead himself standing with his Cameronian brethren with naked sword upraised, denouncing them all as covenant breakers. Who, he said, are “ranked by the Spirit of God amonst the viest of sinners.”.

With the swords upraised he spoke of their ancestors who were forced to take up arms against “that cruel tyrant Charles the Second” and continued, “our drawing the Sword, is to testify to the world, that we are one in judgement with them, and that we are to this day willing to maintain the same defensive war in defending our Religion, and ourselves against all opposers thereof, altho the defense of these should cost us our lives or anything that is most dear to us.”

The section called Confession of Sin and the Declaration, Protestation and Testimony are more dramatic,

“We find ourselves under a necessity from the Word of God, and from a true covenanted Reformation and our baptismal vows, to declare a defensive war against all usurpers of the royal prerogative of the glorious Lamb of God … We also declare, that we look upon ourselves as bound both by the Law of God, and the Law of Nature, to endeavour to defend our religious liberties wherewith Christ hath made us free and our bodies and goods, from all kind of false impositions, intrigues, snares, treacherous deceitfulness … with our best skill, power, bodily strength and activity.”

The Declaration laid out the American Covenanters’ duty to separate themselves from the corrupt constitutions of both Church and State and lays out a biblical necessity to declare a defensive war against all usurpers of the Royal prerogative of Christ Jesus.

The entire Renewal of the Covenants of 1743 can be read at,

Such was the firebrand who would come to Sugaw Creek in a few short years.

Late in 1751, Craighead and a number of his parishioners, due to opposition from the government, relocated and settled in Cow Pasture, Augusta County, Virginia And in 1745 Governor Gooch sent a complaint to the Synod of Philadelphia.

There again, he fell foul to the government. Someone presented the Renewal of the Covenants from Octorara to the governor of Virginia inveighing against troublesome folk whose favorite pastime was “railing against our religious establishment- it is not freedom of conscience, but freedom of speech they so earnestly prosecute.” -Minutes of the Synod of Philadelphia, 180

In April, 1747, action was taken against these men and their propagation of their “shocking doctrines.”

The council ordered that a “proclamation forthwith issue requiring all Magistrates and Officers to discourage and prohibite as far as legally they can all Itinerant Preachers … or holding any meeting in this Colony and that all people be injoined to be aiding and assisting to that purpose.” -Executive Journal of the Council of Colonial Virginia, V, 227-228

A year later complaint was made to the council by some vestrymen of Augusta, it was ordered to the justices “Requiring them not to suffer any Dissenters to preach who don’t conform themselves to the directions of the law.” Executive Journal of the Council of Colonial Virginia, V, 249

Apparently, Craighead and other men with him continued to trouble the authorities for in 1750 Governor Gooch ordered that the next Gazette carry the following “No minister do presume to preach in this colony ’til he has appear’d before the Commander in Chief and qualify’d himself according to the law.” Executive Journal of the Council of Colonial Virginia, V, 227-228

But Craighead found friends as well in the government. Richard Woods, a magistrate of Augusta County permitted Craighead to preach after an examination which did not meet the full requirements of the law.

In June of 1752, two justices of the peace, Robert McClanahan and James Lockhard, complained to the Council that “the Revd Mr.Alexander Craighead has taught and maintained treasonable positions and pteached and published pernicious doctrines in the county of Augusta and that Richard Woods one of the Magistrates of the said County administered the oaths of Allegiance to the said Craighead, and allowed him to omit what part of them he thought fit.”

The council forthwith ordered the sheriff of Augusta County to “apprehend and secure in safe custody the said Craighead, and immediately bring him before the Governor at Williamsburg to answer to the said information, and to summon to appear before his Honour at the same time Richard Woods to answer the complain made against him, and also Stephen Arnold and John Ramsay to testify and declare what they know concerning the premisses.” -Executive Journals of the Council of Virginia, V 407-408.

In 1755 because of the dangers he faced, he and a large part of his new parish migrated once more, this time to Sugaw Creek, North Carolina.

Here is the end of his migrating story. Here he lived and taught until his death in 1766, ministering to at least seven congregations in Mecklenburg and adjacent counties. And his influence here is attested by the part that Mecklenburg played in the Revolutionary War.

In July 1766, a Reverend Mr. Reed a missionary wrote that he was well informed “that the inhabitants of Mecklenburg are entire dissenters of the most rigid kind, and they had a Solemn League and Covenant teacher settled among them; that they were in general greatly averse to the Church of England, and that they looked upon a law lately enacted in this providence for the better establishment of the Church as oppressive as the Stamp Act, and were determined to prevent it taking place here. …” -D.A. Tompkins, History of Mecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte (Charlotte, 1903), 106-107; H.E.C. Bryant, “Alexander Craighead, Pioneer, Preacher, Patriot,” articles in Beasley’s Farm and Home Weekly

Within a single month, a Reverend Mr. Morton made much the same statement and consequence decided to take another charge.

Because of Alexander Craighead and his influence among the county of Mecklenburg and surrounding counties, and the Sugaw Creek Covenanters. Craighead played a crucial role in the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence from England which was written in 1775, a whole year before the now famous July 4th Declaration of Independence. The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was sign May 20, 1775. The first public voice in America for dissolving all connections with Great Britain came not from the Puritans of New England, the Dutch of New York, nor the planters of Virginia, but from the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of the Carolinas and by the influence of Rev. Alexander Craighead.


Such is the root of the American revolution. By the influence of the Covenanters and of one man Alexander Craighead, the American revolution was in essence a Presbyterian rebellion.

A Hessian captain, fighting on behalf of the British, told a friend in Germany in 1778, “call this war, dearest friend, by whatsoever name you may, only call it not an American Revolution, it is nothing more nor less than an Irish-Scotch Presbyterian Rebellion.”

Covenanters enthusiastically signed on to the Declaration of Independence, which, as William Martin asserted, was “but a reiteration of what our Covenanting forefathers have always maintained.”

But the Constitutional battles after the Revolutionary was a completely different matter. And the outcome required us Covenanters to once again dissent from the illegitimate government that has reined since the days of the Articles of the Confederation.

In Conclusion, it is my deepest honest belief that every Presbyterian should be well acquainted and own to themselves not only the Solemn League and Covenant with the whole of the Westminster Standards but also the Renewal of the Solemn League and Covenant of 1743 that was renewed in Octorara Pennsylvania with Alexander Craighead at the lead. As well as to the Act, Declaration and Testimony of 1761.

Alexander Craighead was a great American Cameronian Covenanter who held to the Covenants and ministered to our people when they were scattered and without the church. He should be remembered and his works read. His name should be honored by us all.

Also, If anybody has absolutely any other information regarding the missing work of Alexander Craighead that was presented to the Synod of Philadelphia in 1743 and condemned by it. Please get in touch with me.


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