Early Life of T. P. Crawford
John and Lucretia Crawford, both Baptists, were living in Warren County, Kentucky, in 1821. On the 8th of May, that year, there was born to them a baby boy. This humble Christian home was about midwav between Bowling Green and Glasgow, a mile north of the main road, and three-quarters of a mile east of Pilot Knob, which is an interesting landmark.
The newcomer, the fourth son of his parents, was not immediately given a name, but after the lapse of several years, was allowed to select one for himself. His father had purchased a new family Bible and was about to fill the records. When he came to the fourth son he said to the mother, "What is his name? What shall he be called?" The mother brought him in from his play and asked him. He promptly replied, "My name is Tarleton Perry," and so it was recorded.
John Crawford, his father, was an industrious and thrifty farmer. According to the standard of that day he had a moderately good, common school education. He was for many years clerk of the Baptist Church of which he was a member. He was a descendant of the Scotch Crawford family, which settled at an early day in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina. His wife, Lucretia Kemble Crawford, was of Philadelphia Quaker parentage, and was educated partly in the Moravian school of Salem, North Carolina. She was a woman of excellent mental endowments, and possessed an insatiable thirst for knowledge. This intense desire for a higher education was inherited by her son, Tarleton Perry.
John and Lucretia Crawford, early in their married life, settled in Missouri which was then an almost uninhabited wilderness. Before the birth of their fourth child they had removed to Warren County, Kentucky. Of the seven sons, the first and second, following the footsteps of their father, chose farming as their occupation. The third and sixth became successful lawyers, one of whom, Judge Thomas Crawford, of Louisiana, was murdered for the faithful performance of his duty during the lawless times succeeding
[This page has pictures of the gravesite and old church which are not included here.]
the civil war. He and a colleague had just held court and condemned a man to be hanged. The criminal escaped from jail, waylaid them on their homeward journey and shot them both dead. The fourth son, the subject of this memoir, the fifth (the father of the first Mrs. Z. C. Taylor of Brazil) and the seventh chose the ministry. The three sisters were all younger than the brothers, and had better educational advantages. After the death of the parents the brothers consulted together and gave to the sisters all the paternal estate. The three, each in turn, married, and died shortly afterwards.
Kentucky was at that time also a very thinly populated country. School privileges were very poor. Straightened circumstances demanded that the young farmer keep his seven boys quite busy at farm work, but the mother industriously taught them during the interims of labor. Indeed, she "kept regular school with them when farm work was slack, and taught them at night, on rainy days and at other seasons." "Like his mother, Tarleton was a voracious reader, soon mastering the books in his father's limited library, and borrowing all he could from his neighbors."
"He was about sixteen years-old at the time of his conversion. One day he was entertaining several of his brothers and a large number of playmates by preaching a mock sermon, as he stood mounted on the stump of a fallen tree, imitating some of the preachers he had heard. In the midst of his discourse, which was very amusing to most of his auditors, his brother Thomas, next older than himself, raised his hand at him and said, 'Tarleton, haven't you enough sins upon yourself already without adding the sin against the Holy Ghost, which has no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come?' This remark went to the heart of the mimic preacher, who with all dispatch climbed down from the stump, and, with hair 'standing on end,' as he often said, went home. Unperceived, he got a large Bible, and, going behind an open door to secrete himself, he there lay on the floor face downward, and began to search it in order to find what it said about the sin against the Holy Ghost. Deep conviction seized him. He lost his appetite — could not work — read only in the Bible, and finally took his bed almost in despair. About a week after his brother's rebuke, as he lay telling his mother of his deep sense of sin and of his lost condition, she said to him, 'My son, whom did Jesus come into the world to save?' 'Sinners,' he replied promptly. 'And are you not a sinner?' 'Yes, a great sinner.' 'Then He came to save you. Give yourself to Him. Trust Him fully, and He will save you.' At this he turned himself on the bed toward the wall, and, suiting in part the outward action to his mental effort, he cast himself soul
and body into the arms of Jesus, to be saved by Him or otherwise to be eternally lost. Instantly joy filled his soul and he began to sing and praise God. He said, 'I will spend my life in telling of His great mercy.'"
He seems thus to have been called to the ministry from his conversion; but temptation came afterwards, and many years passed before he finally, once for all, surrendered himself fully to this work. The great temptation was to enter the profession of law with his brother Thomas, who urged him to do so. His mind also taking hold of a remark he had heard from an old preacher; "Don't enter the ministry as long as you can keep out, he endeavored to "keep out," but he could never entirely get rid of the conviction, and finally gave himself up to be, as he said, "a poor Baptist preacher."
Having been thus converted at home in the spring of 1837, under his mother's instruction, he was afterwards baptized into the fellowship of Sinking Spring Church by Ephraim H. Owing, of Calloway County, Kentucky. He was now almost a man; his opportunities for an education had been meager, and for what profession lay before him he felt that some adequate preparation was indispensable. Several years passed without the possibility of his giving himself, as he most earnestly desired, to regular, systematic study. Seeing no other hope, at the age of nineteen he decided to leave home and contrive by some means to secure his wishes. Obtaining his father's reluctant consent, and the only ready money he had in hand, two dollars and fifty cents, he started off with an uncle, who was taking a drove of horses from Kentucky to Mississippi. By the time the horses were sold he found employment as manager of a small farm for a widow and her only son. While here a little incident occurred which will illustrate the abhorrence he always felt for mean or unworthy motives.
One Sunday afternoon as he was strolling along the country road at random, he came upon another farm house also occupied by a young widow. As was the custom in those sparsely populated regions, he went in, introduced himself and received a kindly welcome. In the conversation the widow informed him that several years previously her husband had left home to purchase a drove of horses in Kentucky, taking money with him for the purpose, and she had never heard from him since; she feared he had been robbed and murdered. Mr. Crawford asked what means she had taken to obtain news from him, and suggested that she advertise in some of the Kentucky newspapers. She replied, "I don't think it is worth while to spend money about it." With keen sarcasm, while
his soul rose in indignation, he said, "True, madam. We can't afford to be spending money on every foolish little matter that comes along." She did not seem to recognize the sarcasm, and the visit soon ended.
After the close of the engagement on the aforementioned farm, he attended school until the means thus obtained were exhausted. He then taught a small school and used his earnings in like manner. This process continued until, after a struggle of nearly seven years, he finally yielded himself up to God to enter the ministry. About this time he became a member of the Bird's Creek Church, Henry County, Tennessee, and began more definitely his preparation for the work to which he had committed himself. He studied one year at Clark's Institute in company with John Bateman and Granville H. Martin, which latter became a very eminent and eloquent preacher, dying in early life, in the midst of great usefulness. Young Crawford's funds being again exhausted he taught school a session and thus obtained means to continue his studies. About this period Peter S. Gayle (a minister of blessed memory) heard of his efforts and invited Crawford to go to Denmark, Tennessee, live at his house and pursue his studies in the Denmark Academy: He gladly accepted this offer and continued there until he was prepared to enter college.
"At the beginning of 1848 he entered Union University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee, being sustained in part by the West Tennessee Baptist Convention. He was a almost indefatigable student, never leaving anything until it was thoroughly mastered — thus early exhibiting those qualities of persistence and patience in study that characterized him through life. He graduated in 1851 at the head of his class."
It having become generally known that Mr. Crawford had dedicated his life to mission work in China, the Big Hatchie Association adopted him, before his graduation, as their missionary to that country, and agreed to support him there, instead of Henry Goodale who had died in Africa. At the close of 1850 he was appointed as missionary to Shanghai, China, by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in Richmond, Virginia, Dr. J. B. Taylor being then Corresponding Secretary of the Board.
On March 12, 1851, he married Miss Martha Foster, of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, and they began their life work together. In the following April he was ordained to the ministry by the Denmark Baptist Church, Tennessee, of which he was at the time a member. The following is the council of ministers by whom he
was ordained: Champ C. Connor, pastor of the church and moderator of Big Hatchie Association; Henry L. Pettus, Archibald McClay, D. D., of New York; George Tucker, pastor of the church at Jackson, Tennessee; Abraham Whitson, George Thomas, Hugh Coffey, and William Nolen.
Go to Chapter 3
[From L. S. Foster, Fifty Years in China - An Eventful Memoir of Tarleton Perry Crawford, D. D., 1909, chapter 2; reprinted and reformatted in 2005. The document was provided by Jackie Battles, Winchester, VA. - jrd]
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