Introduction: Crawford

Larry Pearce


The Scots are known as rugged, independent people, and anyone who’s ever seen the barren, often harsh, landscape of the homeland will understand how they could be that way. This character trait became a matter of survival. Most of our ancestors had been transplanted to Northern Ireland. The Ulster Scots, as they were called, originated in a place that is a “wee bit” more forgiving, with lush greenery and warmer winds. But still, the common folks were pushed together in a relatively small space with little chance for advancement. So, it’s no wonder our Scots-Irish probably arrived in Western Pennsylvania with an “attitude,” clinging to their religious faith and highly skeptical of government. Throw in some honest Celtic superstitions, and you have a certain “hard-headedness” that may still be found in our family today. We should say at the outset that many of the names from all these places mentioned are so similar, through marriage and tradition, and especially the Crawfords and Campbells, that being absolutely certain of who’s who can be difficult. So, in the following lines we’ll do the best we can with what we have, and if there’s a question, we’ll point that out and ask you to wait for future research and the next revision. This article, then, is about the opportunities and the obstacles the Crawfords faced in the hills above Pittsburgh. After a brief look at the origins of the family and their surname we’ll consider several rather extraordinary tales of our Crawfords.

But first, who were the Crawfords and how did they fit into our family, you ask? Let’s begin with my great great great grandmother, the bride of one young Thomas Campbell, the lassie Mary Crawford (1799-1886). Her parents, according to family tradition, were Wilson and Sarah Crawford. Since there’s little on Wilson, some now ask whether “Wilson” should be interpreted as “William” on the crumbling gravestone at the Pine Creek Presbyterian church cemetery. Also, and even more ironically, we think she died in 1824, but we don’t even know her maiden name. Future research may reveal this and much more. Various sources say that Wilson’s parents, James (1764-1829) and Sarah Campbell Crawford (1759-1837), first lived in nearby Indiana County, Pennsylvania, before heading west to Allegheny. Not only did we have two generations with the same first name, Sarah, but Mary’s grandmother was also a Campbell. Family tradition suggests that our Campbells came from County Derry in Northern Ireland, part of the island very close to Argylle, Scotland, the home of the numerous and powerful Clan Campbell. But the county is home to many Crawfords too, and it’s probable that the families knew each other back in the old country. Not incidentally, genealogists caution us that the Port of Londonderry saw the emigration of more Ulster Scots than any other and should not be confused with a family’s county of birth. A personal desire is to commission a study of the origins of all our families who are believed to have exited there: Crawfords, Campbells, Grays, Andersons, Rosses, Norrises, etc.

The surname Crawford was first assumed by Reginald, the baron of Lanarkshire, Scotland. In 1150 the simple Old English rendering would have been “Crauford,” suggesting a place to cross a stream near a colony of crows. provides another theory, suggesting that “cru” was Gaelic for “bloody,” with the implication that this large barony was established from land originally “commemorative of some sanguinary conflict between the Aborigines and the Roman invaders.” Another source forwards the possible source as “crodh port” (pronounced “crofort”), a sheltering place for cattle.”

C. Joanne Crawford of the Clan Crawford Association provides a lengthy and detailed account of this noble Scottish family through the Electric Scotland webpage. She believes the family has French origins as the site of the present day ruins of Crawford castle is still called “Norman” and early family names are “pure Norman.” Dominus Galfridus de Crawford witnessed charters (deeds and contracts) of King William (1170). Later, the above mentioned Reginald, “one of 1,000 Norman knights,” was granted a large estate in Clydesdale, Scotland, by King David I. Tradition holds many tales of heroism. In fact, the mother of national patriarch William Wallace, Margaret, was the daughter of Sir Hugh Crawford, Sheriff of Ayr. On down the line, another Reginald (Raynauld or Ronald) was among the first to join Robert the Bruce, liberator of Scotland. In 1306, Sir Reginald accompanied the brothers of Bruce, Thomas and Alexander, and 700 men in the attack on Galloway. The three leaders were seriously wounded and imprisoned. After they had been executed, their heads were impaled on the gates at Loch Ryan, as was the British custom of the victor in a war involving “treason.”

The Crawford Association historian recounts a thousand years of descendancy, battles won, and lands ruled. For example, in 1575, King James VI (later James I of England) commended Hew Craufuird of Kilbirnie (language and spelling as it was) in a letter for the capture of Edinburgh castle and the end of the civil war:
Captain Crawford, I have heard of your guid service done to me from the beginning of the warrs against my onfriends, as I shall sum day remember the sam, God willing, to your greit contentment; in the mean quhyle be of guid comfort, and reserve you to that time with patince being assured of my favour. Farewell. Your guid friend, James Rex.

In an old north country ballad entitled “Earl Crawford,” supposedly based on the reputation of one Crawford nobleman, the wife makes “merry jest” as to the father of her child, but the husband takes her seriously and sues for divorce. One of their sons later gained a similar reputation and was tagged “Prodigal Earl.”

Fortunately, not all our ancestors were so infamous. Our later famous Crawfords include:

  • David Crawford (1665-1726) – He was Historiographer to Queen Anne.
  • William Crawford (1732-1782) – This American soldier from VA fought in the French and Indian War and helped capture Fort Duquesne, now Pittsburgh. A personal friend of George Washington, he was commissioned a colonel in the army and sent to make the frontier safe for settlement. Captured by the Indians, burned at the stake, and scalped, he is memorialized today through counties in Pennsylvania and Ohio named after him.
  • Joan Crawford (1908-1977) – Born Lucille Fay LeSueur, she starred with such Hollywood greats as Clark Gable and made dozens of films.
  • Broderick Crawford (1911-1986) – While having made movies, he is best remembered for the TV series Highway Patrol.
  • Michael Crawford (b. 1942 ) – This British actor and recording artist starred in the long-running Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera.
  • Cindy Crawford (b. 1966) – An American beauty, the former model is now an actress and furniture designer.
  • Crawford, Texas – For eight years and beyond this small town has been the home of former governor and US president George W. Bush.

Returning to our personal Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Crawfords who married into our Campbells in the 1834, we present several mysteries and controversies. First, it is accepted that both families were staunch Presbyterians, and of the dozens of congregations near their settlements North of Pittsburgh, two are closest and figure into our story: Pine Creek, Fox Chapel Boro (not to be confused with the old Convenanter Pine Creek church along Rt. 8 in Hampton Township now occupied by the Depreciation Lands Museum were other Campbells lie in the cemetery there), and Sharpsburg, in the valley along the Allegheny River. (The beautiful building still stands, but the congregation merged with the nearby Aspinwall Presbyterian, and the cemetery was emptied in the 1800’s, which we’ll discuss laster.) Thanks to local historian Diane Nichols and the internet, we have much information on these churches and their cemeteries. For example, the 1863 membership roll of the Pine Creek church contains a number of Crawfords and Campbells, and the church cemetery holds “Sarah Crawford: consort (spouse) of Wilson, who departed this life Dec. 20 (year illegible), aged32 years. Diane’s notes indicate that the missing date is 1824. The only problem is that family tradition indicates that Mary Crawford Campbell, wife of Thomas, was born in 1799, so this Sarah couldn’t have been Mary’s mother. Furthermore, there is no record or marker for Wilson.

The second mystery involves at least a dozen Crawfords “removed” from the Pine Creek Cemetery in 1908, including James and Sarah Campbell Crawford, whom we believe to be the parents of Wilson Crawford, who died in 1764, and his wife Sarah, who died in 1837. The parents were re-interred in the newer Greenwood Cemetery, only a mile away. This information is from Nancy Sterling, and she calls the Crawford lot (Section 4), “The nicest section of the cemetery.” Diane Nichols indicates that moving graves was a common practice in those days and gives six possible reasons:

  • Many older churchyards were getting full, leaving little room for additional family members;
  • Public cemeteries like the Allegheny Cemetery across the river were being encompassed by the enormous growth of cities like Pittsburgh, leaving little room for expansion;
  • Small town cemeteries, as perhaps Sharpsburg, were being removed for health reasons. Typhoid was a serious threat then;
  • Families would “gather” their closest relatives (parents, immediate family, and in-laws) in newer, more spacious lots;
  • These larger lots held certain status and may have been adorned with center surname monuments, fences, and even mausoleums; and
  • Public works projects, such as parks, roads, and bridges, would require acquisition and removal of private and personal property under the Right of Eminent Domain. While we don’t know where the Sharpsburg Cemetery was exactly, the area was certainly affected by the construction of the High Level Bridge over the river and four-lane Route 28.

So, the Greenwood Cemetery, incorporated in 1874, today holds the remains of Thomas and Mary Crawford Campbell, removed from Pine Creek in 1904, James and Sarah Campbell Crawford, removed from Pine Creek in 1908, and many other close family members. Some of the re-interred had been in the ground for over 70 years. The excavation and reburial process must have been gruesome. Why weren’t Wilson and Sarah re-interred? How many may have come from Sharpsburg? We don’t know the answers to these and other questions yet. From church records, we know that several of the Campbells moved their membership from Pine Creek, but neither family is represented in the 1879 annual report of the Sharpsburg church, even though it was noted that “removals from the cemetery totalled $700, plus interest,” that year.

One final mystery concerning our Crawfords, which we’ll call the case of the inheritence. Diane Nichols writes that James Crawford first settled in Indiana County from County Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1784, at the age of 20. Another source records a William Crawford (1763-1834) who had moved there from Chester County, PA. His father was John (1733-1804), who died in adjacent Westmoreland County. Yet another Indiana County pioneer is remembered as William Crawford (1846-1929), who married a Helena Jane Campbell (1880-1945). This William’s father was Major James Crawford (c.1825-1879). So, we know that there were other Crawford families already in that part of Western Pennsylvania, their connection to ours, we don’t know. Diane says that our James and Sarah conceived six children before moving to the hills above Pittsburgh in 1809. Unfortunately, only one son, Matthew (1788-1868), lived to maturity. He was elected an elder at Pine Creek in 1815 when the first log building was constructed and was buried there after he died. Matthew and wife Catherine had five children, three of whom survived to inherit the Crawford farm that had been in the family for as many generations. According to the book, The History of Allegheny County, their son Matthew C. Crawford, Jr., his maiden sister, and a married sister, a “Mrs. James Campbell,” were awarded title to the property. Should it read, “Mrs. Thomas Crawford Campbell?” Or did yet another Crawford marry another Campbell? Or, was one of Matthew’s heirs really a man, a nephew let’s say, named Wilson, as in the father of our Mary Crawford Campbell? The dates don’t match up, so further investigation is required. Finally, there is a William Crawford on that 1839 membership of the Pine Creek church. Should our family history read William instead of Wilson?

What began as a simple written introduction to an ancient and proud part of our family became a weeks-long research project involving telephone calls, e-mails, and lots of re-reading family records. We answered a few questions, but with each stone over turned, several new puzzles emerged: Can we be sure of whom the ancestors of Mary Crawford Campbell are? Why were those family members re-interred? Our investigation is just starting. No doubt each new discovery will lead to even more questions about the connections of our 18th century Scots-Irish of Allegheny County. One thing is sure: Our Crawfords were an independent lot, but it was that “attitude” that kept our country free/ With a millennium of documented Scottish and Irish history behind us, the least we can do is continue the study of our American ancestors.

2 Responses to Introduction: Crawford

  1. Virginia Mitchell Campbell says:

    What an interesting piece. My grandfather, Franklin Crawford Campbell (1885 -1960) married an Oakmont Mitchell, Loda Belle Mitchell, and raised a family in Oakmont. But while there were many Mitchells in Oakmont, there were never many Campbell’s, so I believe he came from nearby. I’ve always guessed that his mother was a Crawford because of his middle name and the fact he was first born. Perhaps his mother and father both came from Fox Chapel.

    • admin says:

      Hi Virginia,
      I’m sure you’re correct, although I checked “Descendants of Thomas & Mary Crawford Campbell” at but could not find Franklin’s name. They were probably cousins from across the river; Oakmont and Fox Chapel are very close. Just wish we had the money that’s in those communities today! Thanks for sharing,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.