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Crawford, William (1739?-1800) (DNB00)


CRAWFORD, WILLIAM, D.D. (1739?–1800), Irish presbyterian minister and historian, was born at Crumlin, co. Antrim, probably in 1739. He was the fourth in a direct line of presbyterian ministers of repute. Thomas Crawford, his father (d. 1782, aged 86), was minister at Crumlin for fifty-eight years. Andrew Crawford, his grandfather (d. 1726), was minister at Carnmoney for over thirty years. Thomas Crawford (d. 1670, aged 45), father of Andrew, was the ejected minister of Donegore; he married a sister of Andrew Stewart, author of a presbyterian ‘History of the Church of Ireland.’ William Crawford's mother was Anne Mackay, aunt of Elizabeth Hamilton [q. v.] He had three younger brothers, all distinguished in the medical profession: John, a surgeon in the East India Company's service, afterwards physician at Demerara, author of several medical works, died at Baltimore in 1813; Adair [q. v.]; Alexander, physician at Lisburn, died 29 Aug. 1823, aged 68. William, the eldest son, studied for the ministry at Glasgow, where he graduated M.A., and received the degree of D.D. in 1785. On 6 Feb. 1766 he was ordained minister of Strabane, co. Tyrone, a charge which had been vacant since the death of Victor Ferguson in 1763. Crawford, like his father, was a latitudinarian in theology, but he took no part whatever in ecclesiastical polemics; his tastes were literary, and in his active engagements he showed himself animated by no small amount of public spirit. He first came forward as an author in a critique of Chesterfield's ‘Letters to his Son;’ his plea, in the form of dialogues, for a more robust morality attracted notice at Oxford. Crawford next employed himself in translating a forgotten treatise on natural theology. The rise of the volunteer movement in 1778 was welcomed by him as the dawn of national independence. He zealously promoted the movement, was chaplain to the first Tyrone regiment, and published two stirring sermons to volunteers, which were among the earliest productions of the press at Strabane. A more important contribution to patriotic literature was his ‘History of Ireland,’ published in the first year of Grattan's parliament. Thrown into the form of letters, it is an exceedingly well written and even eloquent work, valuable for its contemporary notices of the ‘Whiteboys,’ ‘Oak Boys,’ ‘Steel Boys,’ and volunteers, and for the insight it gives into the aims of the older school of advocates of national independence. Coincident with the plea for a free parliament, on the part of the liberal presbyterians of Ulster, was the aspiration for an Irish university in the north, dissociated from all sectarian trammels. While William Campbell, D.D. [q. v.], was negotiating for public support to his plan, two very vigorous efforts were made to start the project on a basis of private enterprise by James Crombie [q. v.] at Belfast, and by Crawford at Strabane. Crawford's academy, though short-lived, fulfilled the common aim more perfectly than Crombie's. The Strabane Academy was opened in 1785 with three professors. The curriculum was enlarged as the plan progressed, the synod continuing for a time to place the institution on the footing of a university, and appointing periodic examinations. Several presbyterian ministers received their whole literary and theological training at Strabane. The new turn given to the volunteer movement by the rise of the clubs of ‘United Irishmen’ (1791) was no doubt one of the causes which contributed to the ruin of the Strabane Academy. Men of liberal thought among the presbyterians were divided into hostile sections. Crawford followed Robert Black [q. v.] in his retreat from the seditious tendencies which were beginning to develope themselves. In 1795, during the brief administration of Earl Fitzwilliam, Crawford was advised that there was a prospect of a parliamentary grant ‘to establish a university for the education of protestant dissenters.’ Under the direction of a committee of synod, Crawford and two others went up to Dublin to press the matter, but with the recall of Fitzwilliam the opportunity passed away. In the earlier half of 1797 Arthur McMechan, or Macmahon, minister of the nonsubscribing congregation at Holywood, near Belfast, fled the country for political reasons, and is said to have entered the military service of France. A stupid but popular Ulster fable makes him the progenitor of the late Marshal Macmahon. On 9 May 1798 the Antrim presbytery declared the congregation vacant. Crawford received a call to Holywood in September, resigned the charge of Strabane and his connection with the general synod in October, and on 21 Nov. was admitted into the Antrim presbytery. He died on 4 Jan. 1800, aged 60, leaving behind him the reputation of great attainment and a blameless character. William Bryson [q. v.], who had preached his father's funeral sermon, performed the same office for him. His widow survived till 20 Feb. 1806.

He published: 1. ‘Remarks on the late Earl of Chesterfield's Letters to his Son,’ 1776, 12mo; another edition, Dublin, 1776, 12mo. 2. ‘Dissertations on Natural Theology and Revealed Religion, by John Alphonso Turretine,’ Belf., vol. i. 1777, 8vo, vol. ii. 1778, 8vo. 3. ‘A History of Ireland from the earliest period to the present time,’ &c., Strabane, 2 vols. 1783, 8vo (dedication to Lord Charlemont; consists of letters to William Hamilton; has twenty pages of subscribers' names). Also ‘Volunteer Sermons,’ Strabane, 1779 and 1780.

[Belfast News-Letter, 10 Jan. 1800; Mason's Statistical Account of Ireland (1816), ii. 270; Reid's Hist. Presb. Ch. in Ireland (Killen), 1867, i. 184, iii. 371, 381; Witherow's Hist. and Lit. Mem. of Presb. in Ireland, 2nd ser. 1880, p. 203 sq.; Killen's Hist. Cong. Presb. Ch. in Ireland, 1886, pp. 29, 232; Campbell's Manuscript Sketches of the History of Presbyterianism in Ireland, 1803, pt. ii. p. 70; Extracts from Manuscript Minutes of General Synod and Antrim Presbytery.]

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