Archived Story

J. Dean Crain, a moonshiner turned preacher

Published 3:39pm Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When Dr. J. Dean Crain died on Jan. 10, 1955, while serving as vice chairman of the Furman University board of trustees –

Dr. J. Dean Crain

a board to whom he devoted more than 30 years of his life – he was honored by the institution, in part, with these words:
“Dr. Crain rendered incalculable service to his beloved Alma Mater. He believed inherently in the value of Christian education in a democratic society. His vision of a greater university on a new campus was one of the motivating forces which helped to change the dream into a reality.”
His honorary doctorate was bestowed upon him by the university in recognition of many years of outstanding pastoral ministry at City View Baptist Church in City View, Park Street Baptist Church in Columbia, and Pendleton Street Baptist Church in Greenville, where he served as pastor for 21 years. He later pastured Laurel Baptist Church in Greenville.
He served as principal of North Greenville Baptist Academy (forerunner of today’s North Greenville University) for two years before becoming State Evangelist for the South Carolina Baptist Convention, prior to his pastoral ministries.
He served as vice president of the large Southern Baptist Convention, headquartered in Nashville, Tenn., and served on numerous boards and committees for the Southern Baptist and South Carolina Baptist Conventions.
His reputation as a stalwart in the faith for spreading the gospel and promoting christian education became so expansive during his mid and later life that few people remembered his humble beginnings in the Dark Corner and his devotion to the art of moonshining before his conversion to the ministry.
Crain was born on Oct. 26, 1881, in a log cabin located on Highway 414 (in recent years the cabin has been moved to a location on Dill Road and restored). He was the son of David Hoke and Mary Jane Crain, and grandson of Shadrack “Shade” Crain.
He and his brother, Buford, who was four years younger, grew up learning all the ins and outs of the art of making moonshine and how to avoid getting caught by revenuers.
Both were hard working young men who seemed destined to become proficient in moonshine making, in the way of their ancestors. Neither was a hell raiser, but both were steeped in the code of the hills, whereby you “gave a good as you got.”
While their mother and father could neither read nor write, they encouraged both of their sons to get an education. Both were natural musicians and played for hoedowns in surrounding communities.
Crain discovered learning especially to his liking at the North Greenville Baptist Academy and realized that education was a “way out” of the limiting moonshine-making existence in the mountains. His brother was the first to be encouraged to pursue learning.
Crain challenged Buford to join him in giving up drinking until Christmas as a way of showing the importance of concentrating on learning. Both kept the challenge and neither ever returned to the habit.
Crain felt led to the surrendering of his life to the ministry. Younger sisters had earnestly prayed for both brothers to make life changes. Soon after baptism, Buford felt the same call.
Crain attended sessions at Richmond College in Virginia, then decided to finish his degree at nearby Furman University. He excelled in debating and public speaking, winning a number of awards, including the Oratory Medal in 1910 (I won the same award as a senior there in 1954).
He married Mary Ellen Wilson, daughter of James and Dallas Pennington Wilson, prior to graduating.
In 1914, at age 33, he was encouraged to write “A Mountain Boy’s Life Story,” the first book on life in the Dark Corner. The book was published by the Baptist Courier Press.

Editor's Picks

Editorial: Divisive prayer alienated citizens

Everyone deserves the right to free speech. Few will argue this point more staunchly than those who work in the newspaper industry.  Even we have ... Read more  | 2 comments

Bathanti will judge Lanier Library’s poetry competition

North Carolina’s Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti will judge for this year’s Sidney Lanier Poetry Competition. Bathanti is the author of eight books of poetry as ... Read more