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John Stark Ravenscroft, first bishop of the Episcopal Church in North Carolina, was born on May 17, 1772, to John and Lillias Miller Ravenscroft of Prince George County, Virginia. Within a year of his birth, the Ravenscrofts moved to Scotland, where he received his early education. When the elder John Ravenscroft died in 1788, his family returned to Virginia. Ravenscroft entered William and Mary College, where he earned the nickname “Mad Jack” for his “vehemence of temper, speech, and manner.”
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Ravenscroft left school in favor of running his inherited plantation. It was not until 1810 that he showed interest in the church and joined a Republican Methodist congregation. When a minister was unavailable to the congregation, he served as lay reader, so strongly did he feel that the church members deserved a sermon. After a few years, Ravenscroft considered joining the clergy and began to search for the most appropriate outlet for his faith. He settled on the Protestant Episcopal Church and in 1816 was accepted “as a candidate for holy orders.” A year of study was necessary before he could become a deacon, which he achieved in early 1817. He accepted an invitation to become the minister of St. James' Parish, Mecklenburg County, Virginia, and was ordained a priest a short time later. In 1823 the newly created Diocese of North Carolina elected John Ravenscroft as their first bishop.
Ravenscroft reported to Raleigh were he augmented his bishop’s salary by serving as rector of Christ Church. He would serve his home church for half of the year, spending the other half traveling throughout the diocese caring for existing congregations and establishing new ones. During his tenure as bishop, the Diocese of North Carolina doubled in size.
John Ravenscroft married Anne Spotswood Burwell in 1792. She died in 1814. He married Sarah Buford in 1818. Though he had no children with either wife, he adopted several children who were orphaned by a friend’s death in Lunenburg County, Virginia. (Two boys were mentioned in his will and as many as three others are thought to have been members of his household.) John Ravenscroft died on March 5, 1830, and, according to his instructions, was buried with no funeral sermon in a simple pine casket in the chancel of Christ Church. In September 1937 the vestry of Christ Church opened a school in Raleigh named in honor of Ravenscroft.
John Stark Ravenscroft, Sermons and Memoir of the Life of Bishop John Stark Ravenscroft (1830)
Marshall DeLancey Haywood, Lives of the Bishops of North Carolina (1910)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 179-180—sketch by Jacqueline Drane Nash
The Communicant (October 1984), pp. 6-7
Project Canterbury website: http://anglicanhistory.org/usa/ravenscroft/norton1859.html
Bishop John S. Ravenscroft, 1772-1830