The most famous ancestor in my family genealogy project is probably Elijah Craig, my son's gggggreat uncle on his father's side. Many of you probably recognize his name as an expensive bourbon, and some of you may have heard he was the inventor of bourbon -- a title he probably doesn't deserve.
But my respect for ol' Elijah has gone up a notch because my research shows he played an important role in establishing freedom of religion in this country.
Like his brothers Lewis and Joseph, Elijah was a Baptist minister when Baptist wasn't cool. Before the revolution, the Craigs lived in Virginia where Anglican was the established church. Baptist was considered a radical faith in those days. Baptists were accused of child abuse because they didn't believe in baptizing infants, and they were considered immoral if they were not married in the approved church.
Like his brothers, Elijah was thrown in jail for preaching without a license. But along the way he attracted the attention of his Orange County neighbor James Madison. Even as a young student at Princeton, Madison was appalled by the persecution of people of other faiths and wrote letters to his friend, William Bradford about it.
According to Madison's correspondence which has been preserved online, when Madison represented Orange County at the Virginia convention of delegates in May, 1776, Elijah was there too, as a representative of the association of Baptists. Elijah wasn't a voting delegate but he was an advocate for freedom of religion. In June, Madison wrote to his father that "Mr. Crig" was on the way home with a packet of information to share with Madison Sr.
The constitution of the Commonwealth of Virgina, which those delegates approved, included freedom of religion. The original wording called for "toleration" of other religions, but Madison said "toleration" wasn't enough. With Madison's input the wording was changed to "all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience."
Years later, Virginia congressman James Madison would propose the Bill of Rights which assures freedom of religion throughout the county. Even for Baptists and other "radical" religions.
Thanks Uncle Elijah.