Incident in Atkinson: The Arrest and Trial of Israel Dammon
By Bruce Weaver (taken from Adventist Currents, Vol. 3, Number 1, 1988)
For more than a century, Seventh-day Adventists have relied unquestioningly on Ellen G. White's own personal account of her first, post-disappointment travels (first published in 1860) for their understanding of her initial calling and her earliest ministry.1
In a personal letter to J.N. Loughborough in 1874, she describes how she spent the winter/spring of 1845 traveling from town to town, primarily in Maine, fighting various forms of fanaticism that preoccupied those Millerites who (following the disappointments of 1843 and 1844) still refused to believe that God had not shared His timetable with them.2
However, recently resurrected newspaper accounts of a February 1845 weekend incident in Atkinson, Maine, involving Ellen Harmon, James White, Dorinda Baker, Israel Dammon, and others, call into question the reliability of Ellen White's autobiographical sketches.3
While Mrs. White's retrospective of her earliest travels emphasizes her fanaticism-fighting role, she also frequently dwells upon startling miracles that she says either attended her ministry or that took place in its presence. Mrs. White's three-page, published account of the arrest and trial of Israel Dammon4 is so remarkable that, while reading it over in March of 1986, it occurred to me that some specific contemporary references to it must have survived in the New England newspapers - especially since it involved the police and the courts.
My research was soon richly rewarded. It turned up the earliest existing eye-witness accounts of Ellen Harmon in vision - accounts included as part of sworn courtroom testimony regarding the activities that led to Dammon's arrest. The most historically significant find was an article in the 7 March 1845 Piscataquis Farmer under the heading "Trial of Elder I. Dammon." This Dover, Maine, weekly newspaper provided a 124-column-inch abridgment of the court reporter's transcript of Dammon's February 17 and 18 arraignment and trial.
Ellen Harmon's presence at the arrest of Dammon, and references
to her behavior during the activities that led to his arrest,
make this document particularly fascinating to Adventists. Fascination
turns to concern, however, when Mrs. White's account of the affair is compared with
that of the witnesses at the trial. But before making those comparisons,
it is necessary to establish context and to read the documents in question.
"Misty, snowy, and hail[ing]"
Ellen Harmon left her Portland, Maine home in January 1845 and traveled by sleigh with her brother-in-law, Samuel Foss, to visit her sisters in Poland.5 She had experienced one vision in December of 1844 as well as a "call" to travel and share her vision with other Maine Millerites.6
The great disappointment was nearly three months past, and the conservative New England populace could not understand why Millerism had outlived the bitter disappointments of 1843 and 1844. Even before Christ's failure to appear many believed that there were "arguments enough in favor of holy living without resorting to the possibility of the speedy end of the world for motives with which to address men."7
While most Millerites quietly rejoined the mainstream denominations and society as a whole, small pockets of true believers were scattered throughout the northeast. Some of them, in Ellen Harmon's home town of Portland, worshipped "with propriety of conduct...at Beethoven Hall."8 The meetings of others (attended by Miss Harmon), who met almost exclusively in private homes, were characterized by the "holy" salutation kiss, loud shouting and singing, physical prostrations, promiscuous (mixed) footwashing, multiple baptisms by immersion, odd exhibitions of voluntary humility (i.e. crawling, barking), and the presentations of a few (mostly female) visionaries.9
But it was the no-work policy advocated by a number of leading Adventist extremists that most attracted them to municipal authorities. Piscataquis County was the first to bring serious civil intervention to the fanatical Millerites of Maine. This precedent was soon followed by arrests, trials, and imprisonments or guardianships in Orrington, Bangor, Paris, Norway, Woodstock, and Portland.10
Ellen Harmon moved continuously among these Adventist extremists, and it is likely that she narrowly avoided arrest in Orrington by fleeing the scene.11 And it is possible that she was arrested - along with Joseph Turner - at Poland in April 1845.12 But there is no question about Ellen Harmon's presence during and involvement with the incident in Atkinson that led to the arrest of Israel Dammon.
The following paragraphs from the second volume of Spiritual Gifts (p. 40-42) contain Ellen White's only account of the February 1845 incident in Atkinson.
Newspaper accounts and other records provide additional context for the incident which Mrs. White described with such economy.
Saturday evening, 15 February 1845, found a number of disappointed
Millerites (probably 50 or 60) gathered at the house of James
Ayer, Jr., in the southwest part of the small eastern Maine town
of Atkinson.13 Nearly nine inches of snow had already fallen
at nearby Bangor that month. The Bangor meteorologist described
that Sabbath as "misty, snowy, and hail[ing]." The high
for the day was 33 degrees, but it was 18 degrees by nine o'clock
that evening.14 The visitors - more than a score of whom had
arrived by sleigh from other towns such as Exeter, Garland, and
Orrington - were groping for meaning in their disappointment.15
Although the Ayer household was alive with warm worshipers,
nearby Dead Stream or one of its tributaries 16 would be the
site of at least two icy baptisms later that night.17
The meeting was presided over by a former sea captain from Exeter, Israel Dammon, 18 and featured two visionaries: Miss Dorinda Baker of Orrington, and Miss Ellen Harmon of Portland, as well as Elders Hall, White and Wood.19
Prosecution witness William Crosby, a 37 year old attorney20 who attended the Saturday night meeting, described it in court two days later:
"They would at times all be talking at once, halloing at the top of their voices... A woman on the floor lay on her back with a pillow under her head; she would occasionally arouse up and tell a vision which she said was revealed to her... By spells it was the most noisy assembly I ever attended - there was no order or regularity, nor anything that resembled any other meeting I ever attended..."21
It may be useful to say about the full report from the Piscataquis Farmer which follows that its publisher, George V. Edes, was a 58 year old justice of the peace.22 His civil appointment may explain why he assigned a volunteering layman to abridge the trial transcript for the Farmer's readers. But it also suggests the reason that so much space was given to its coverage in this paper.
A typical Maine newspaper of the period consisted of four pages, half of which usually contained public notices and advertisements for patent medicines. It was highly unusual for news items to exceed one column in length. Only speeches by the president of the United States or other important national figures claimed the amount of space allotted to the Dammon trial - seven long columns.
The entire Piscataquis Farmer report is reproduced below. All material appearing within brackets has been added for clarification, and some cosmetic editorial corrections have been made for easier reading. My commentary on the incident and the documents that illuminate it resumes at the conclusion of the 'Farmer' report.
[All unreferenced quotes will be from the 7 March 1845 Piscataquis Farmer story.]
The Piscataquis Farmer report of the Dammon trial raises two important questions for Seventh-day Adventists. One, are Mrs. White's retrospectives on her own lifework reliable, even in a general way? And two, to what extent did she participate in post-1844, Millerite fanaticism?
A start can be made in answering question one and contrasting Mrs. White's account of Dammon's arrest and trial with the 'Farmer' reporters abridgment of the trial testimony.
The Piscataquis Farmer coverage of the Israel Dammon trial has overwhelming face-value credibility:
White Estate undersecretary Paul Gordon grasped at the reporter's candor and modesty to denigrate his report: "I think we must remember that the reporter...apologizes for it not being perhaps as accurate as it could be....At any rate, it appears to be one reporter's account of the trial that is imperfect, to say the least."23
Actually the reporter was telling the witnesses and the "Farmer's" readers just what pains he had taken to be accurate. "I have abridged your testimony as much as possible" from the minutes of "the Court and the Counsel," omitting only "the most unimportant part."
Gordon has another argument: "You can quickly see that their (defense and prosecution witnesses) testimony contradicted each other in almost every case... It would appear that those against Dammon were telling one story, and those that were for him told another."24
Apparently Gordon had not taken the opportunity to read the reporter's abridgment of the trial minutes very carefully. The witnesses all agreed on all points of any substance except whether or not Ellen Harmon was referred to as Imitation of Christ, and who was in the bedroom with Dorinda Baker and why.
Three defense witnesses, each represented at length in the "Farmer" report, expressly affirmed the testimony of prosecution William Crosby, Esq. James Ayer, Jr., host for the Saturday evening meeting testified: "I agree with Crosby and Lambert substantially." Isley Osborn said, "Think Esq. Crosby's testimony correct." And Jacob Mason added: "I have heard Crosby testify, and think him correct."
It does appear, as Gordon surmises, that Dammon did not serve his sentence. But it was not, as Gordon further speculates, "because there was such conflicting testimony."25 Had the testimony been as conflicting as Gordon claims, the Dover Court would not have "sentenced the prisoner to the House of Correction for the space of Ten Days."
Apparently, defense counsel Holmes appealed. Because Dammon himself wrote that after his sentencing he "was put over until May term [district court session], then the warrant was quashed; and I was acquitted without date."26
Calling it "one of the grandest defenses of religious toleration and freedom, that it has ever been my pleasure to listen to," one of Holmes' contemporaries, Joseph D. Brown, remembered Holmes' representation of Dammon as an "eloquent argument for religious freedom and toleration and the right of every person to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, under his own vine and fig tree."27
Dammon did not get off, as Gordon suggests, "because there was such conflicting testimony"; or, as Mrs. White remembered, because the testimony of the prosecution's "many witnesses...were at once broken down by the testimony of Elder D.'s acquaintances present, who were called to the stand."28 It was argument from law, not testimony, that rescued Dammon from ten days in jail.
It is ironic that this defender of a fanatical Adventist was a veteran Free Mason who became the first Master of the Masonic Lodge organized at Foxcroft in the year of Dammon's trial. "Religiously he was a Free Thinker, though he affiliated with the Universalists."29
Former White Estate associate secretary Ronald Graybill wove an apologetic of his own - suggesting that in Atkinson, James White and Ellen Harmon were caught off guard and out of their element:
"I don't know how much fanatic behavior went on in Portland. But in a sense she had her first exposure to it in Atkinson. After she went through this experience, she rode calmly to the next town with James and Sister Foss in the carriage. James may have said, "Boy, I hope we never get into one of those again."30
It can be established clearly from Mrs. White's publications and letters that Atkinson was not Miss Harmon's "first exposure" to fanaticism. On an autumn evening in 1842 she was for the first time prostrated by the power of the Holy Spirit - what was termed the "second" blessing - and was unable to return home that night.31
Before she met Israel Dammon, Ellen Harmon's first vision (December 1844) clearly indicates that she believed in "wash[ing] one another's feet and salut[ing] the brethren with a holy kiss."32
In her earliest published account Mrs. White names some of the towns she visited on her first journey to eastern Maine: Poland, Orrington, Garland, Exeter, and Atkinson.33 Before the arresting weekend in Atkinson, Miss Harmon had been to Orrington, where she joined forces with James White. At Garland she received a letter from her mother "begging" her to come home to Portland because "false reports were being circulated concerning me." But she had "great freedom" in bearing her testimony there, and "heartfelt shouts of glory and victory went up from that house" in Garland.34 At the very least, the Garland meeting must have been a bit noisy.
Miss Harmon's next stop was Exeter, Israel Dammon's home town. Two years later Mrs. White wrote to Joseph Bates about her part in that meeting:
"The view about the Bridegroom's coming I had about the middle of February, 1845, while in Exeter, Maine, in meeting with Israel Dammon, James, and many others. Many of them did not believe in a shut door. I suffered much at the commencement of the meeting. Unbelief seemed to be on every hand.
"There was one sister there that was called very spiritual. She had traveled and been a powerful preacher the most of the time for twenty years. She had been truly a mother in Israel. But a division had risen in the band on the shut door. She had great sympathy, and could not believe the door was shut. I had known nothing of their difference. Sister Durben got up to talk. I felt very, very sad.
"At length my soul seemed to be in agony, and while she was talking I fell from my chair to the floor. It was then I had a view of Jesus rising from His mediatorial throne and going to the holiest as Bridegroom to receive His kingdom. They were all deeply interested in the view. They all said it was entirely new to them. The Lord worked in mighty power, setting the truth home to their hearts.
"Sister Durben knew what the power of the Lord was, for she had felt it many times; and a short time after I fell she was struck down, and fell to the floor, crying to God to have mercy on her. When I came out of vision, my ears were saluted with Sister Durben's singing and shouting with a loud voice. Most of them received the vision, and were settled upon the shut door."35
What Mrs. White wrote Joseph Bates of the Exeter meeting with Dammon, James, and others obviously was not intended as a description of the meeting as a whole; but what she did portray had the flavor of a charismatic service. She and Sister Durben were both "struck down" or "slain upon the floor." And Durben was shouting while Harmon was in vision. What else happened is not mentioned; but given Israel Dammon's presence and probable leadership of the meeting, there is no good reason to doubt that he was involved in those "exercises" that he had been performing since he new year began.
Witnesses at the Dammon trial agreed that for several weeks he had been presiding over meetings at Garland, Exeter, and Atkinson; and that he was teaching and practicing no work, no more salvation for sinners, "holy kissing," footwashing, creeping, nd rebaptism.
John Bartlett of Garland testified that he had known Dammon for seven years and that "his character was always good until about six weeks [ago]."
Jeremiah B. Green, under oath, said: "I attended an afternoon meeting a fortnight ago yesterday [Sunday, 2 February 1845]...elder Dammon was the presiding elder." There Green witnessed footwashing and "saw Dammon kiss Mrs. Osborn."
J.W.E. Harvey told the court that he had attended several meetings. "First meeting lasted eight days - have known Dammon six weeks - Dammon, [James] White and Hall were leaders."
The Atkinson meeting obviously was not James White's initiation; and Ellen Harmon had been traveling with him for at least a couple of weeks.36
John Gallison testified that he had been acquainted with Dammon "a number of years," had "attended every meeting" (including those "at his house"), and he believed Dammon had "baptised about eleven." The baptism rate began to pick up in the month after Dammon's trial, as the new date (April 1845) set by
O.R.L. Crosier and others for the Lord's return approached.37 March 20-24 found ten to fifteen candidates being baptised daily from among those still meeting at the James Ayer, Jr., home in Atkinson.38 And, according to the Oxford Democrat, Dammon was still "their presiding elder."39
Under Oath or Under Inspiration - Who to Believe?
That Mrs. White was not put off by Dammon's behavior in Atkinson is easily inferred from her own writing. In 1860 she recalled the meeting at Exeter and "what I had been shown concerning some fanatical persons present, who were exalted by the spirit of Satan."40 This cannot refer to Dammon whom "the Spirit of the Lord rested upon" a few days later (and on the next page)41 during his arrest in Atkinson. Mrs. White lionized Dammon at the trial; and not long thereafter she and Dammon were together in Topsham, Maine, where she wrote: "Bro. Dammon cried out in the Spirit, and power of God," to encourage a prayer of healing for Frances Howland.42
Graybill says that "after she went through this [Atkinson] experience, she rode calmly to the next town with James and Sister [Louisa] Foss in the carriage."43 It is unlikely that Miss Harmon "rode calmly to the next town." She and James were departing the scene of an arrest. Had they been feeling calm and courageous, they would have joined their supporting testimony with that of the "strong brethren present who" Mrs. White later wrote, "had stood by him [Dammon] in the trial."44
"Sister Foss" most likely was not "in the carriage." This is probably why Ellen's mother was "begging" her to "return home".45 The available documentation suggests that Louisa Foss first accompanied Ellen some time later, upon her initial journey to New Hampshire.46 And, whoever she was traveling with, they were transported in a sleigh, not by carriage.
James White would not have said, "Boy, I hope we never get into one of *those* again." As indicated by J.W.E. Harvey at the Dover courthouse, "Dammon, White and Hall were leaders" at an earlier meeting that "lasted eight days." And later in the summer of 1845 White identified closely with the fanatical Adventists, writing, "Most of our brethren are under guardianship," and defiantly paraphrased part of his lady friend's first vision:
"By this time God made them [non-Millerite Christians] to know that he had loved the 'fanciful,' 'fanatical,' 'disgraceful,' band, who could wash one another's feet."47
A year later, and four days before his wedding to Ellen, James White complained to "Brother Collins" about "a congregation of hard, ugly Congregationalists and Methodists" before which he was to preach a funeral service. He made certain that Collins understood that he was not "going to try to convert people to the Advent faith. No; it's too late. But it's our duty on some occasions to give a reason for our hope, I think, even to *swine*." A few lines later White mentioned a recent visit with some of his Adventists friends, concluding, "We had a Holy Ghost time together."48
Ellen White in the Dock
Both the prosecution and defense witnesses agree essentially on what took place at the Ayer home in Atkinson on Saturday night, 15 February 1845. But there is substantial disagreement between Mrs. White's 1860 account -fifteen years after the fact - and the testimony of the witnesses as reported in the Piscataquis Farmer. The record and the witnesses contradict her on major and minor points, and no witness supports her on any contested point.
The contradiction that matters most is between the testimony of the arresting officer, Joseph Moulton, and the memory of Mrs. White over whether or not the participants in the Ayer home resisted Dammon's arrest. Deputy sheriff Moulton testified that when he notified Dammon that he was under arrest, "a number of woman jumped on to him - he clung to them, and they to him." Moulton said that "so great was the resistance" that he had to send twice for reinforcements to help him and the three assistants who accompanied him. "We were resisted by both men and woman," Moulton said.
Ellen White says that when the sheriff and his three deputies tried to arrest Dammon, "the Spirit of the Lord rested upon him, and his strength was taken away, and he fell to the floor helpless." In their efforts to drag Dammon from the house, she recalled, the men "would move him a few inches only, and then rush out of the house" because "the power of God was in that room, and the servants of God with their countenances lighted up with his glory," she insisted, "made no resistance." But, despite a dozen men's efforts, "Elder D. was held by the power of God about forty minutes, and not all the strength of those men could move him from the floor where he lay helpless."49
Not only does Mrs. White contradict the arresting officer's account of what he and his men experienced, but her version describes an event that clearly is beyond ordinary human experience. True or false, her version is fantastic. If Mrs. White was accurately describing a supernatural event, then the response of the people who witnessed or experienced it seems very unnatural. Such a remarkable event certainly would have become the focus of much attention. Yet not one of the many witnesses for either the defense or the prosecution contradicts Sheriff Moulton's terse description of the arrest.
In fact, if twelve men worked strenuously and unsuccessfully to budge one prone and otherwise unimpeded individual, and if there had been such a powerful but invisible aura in the room that "it was a relief to them to rush out of the house" periodically, normal men would been sufficiently spooked (or converted) by the experience to abandon their mission long before forty minutes had expired.
Mrs. White's errors on lesser points involving the trial itself further weaken the credibility of her account:
This incident from early 1845 presents modern Adventists with the unhappy choice between the contemporaneous witnesses and the memory of their prophet - between testimony given under oath and statements made under inspiration.
Mrs. White a Fanatic?
Adventists who are willing to let the accumulating weight of evidence influence their assessment of Mrs. White's memory will find helpful an overview of her participation in the fanaticism she insists she was fighting. The sworn testimony of the witnesses at the Dammon trial - for both prosecution and the defense - suggests that Ellen Harmon was more involved in the bizarre exercises that precipitated Israel Dammon's arrest than Seventh-day Adventists have ever imagined.
All of Mrs. White's later published and unpublished statements about her earliest experience deny any participation in fanaticism. In fact, she strongly insists that her primary duty was to travel among the disappointed Adventists and fight fanaticism:
"It became my unpleasant duty to meet this [fanaticism], and we labored hard to suppress it. We had not part in it, only to bear a testimony decidedly against it wherever we met it."53
"The nominal Adventists charged me with fanaticism, and I was falsely, and by some, wickedly, represented as being the leader of the fanaticism that I was laboring to do away."54
It would be unfair to find Mrs. White guilty of fanaticism merely because she continually associated with fanatics. After all, how could she fight fanatics without being where they were? However, the witnesses at Dammon's trial, along with independent documentation, suggest that she participated in some of the very activities she later denounced and remembered combating.
"Some had distressed spells (or pretended to) declaring it was the duty of some particular person to be baptized again," wrote John Cook to the editor of the Morning Star.55 Cook, if he read the newspaper, may have had Ellen Harmon in mind. Because both friendly and unfriendly witnesses at Dammon's trial testified that Miss Harmon presented some individuals visiting the James Ayer, Jr. home that Saturday evening with painful alternatives: they could undergo an icy baptism that very night or "go to hell." Loton Lambert informed the court that Harmon:
"told her vision to a cousin of mine, that she must be baptized that night or go to hell - she objected, because she had once been baptized."
Lambert further testified that Harmon:
"called Joel Doore, said he had doubted, and would not be baptized again - she said Bro. Doore don't go to hell. Doore kneeled to her feet and prayed."
Isley Osborn, a friendly witness, stated:
"She told them their cases had been made known to her by the Lord, and if they were not baptized that evening, they would go to hell. We believed her,..."
One this point and at that time Ellen Harmon was no hypocrite. She was first baptized at the age of fourteen on June 26, 1842, in Casco Bay.56 Later, James White wrote, she received "baptism at my hands, at an early period of her experience."57 And she preached from vision what she practiced - at least into 1850. On July 19 of that year, while in Oswego, New York, she had a vision that those who since 1844 had kept Sunday for the Sabbath:
"would have to go into the water and be baptized in the faith of the shut door and keeping the commandments of God and in the faith of Jesus coming to sit on the throne of his Father David and to redeem Israel.
"I also saw those who have been baptized as a door into the professed churches will have to be baptized out of that door again, into the faith mentioned above, and all who have not been baptized since '44 will have to be baptized again before Jesus comes and some will not gain progress now until that duty is done."58
Later, Mrs. White backed away from both her Oswego Vision theology and her Atkinson meeting methodology:
"Several....of our ministers I was shown were making a mistake...[by] making a test question of rebaptism. This is not the way that the subject should be treated....These good brethren were not bringing those newly come to the faith along step by step, cautiously and guardedly, and...some were turned from the truth, when a little time and tender, careful dealing with them would have prevented all such sad results."59
The Shut Door60
In 1845 Miss Harmon believed that probation had closed for "all the wicked world"61 on 22 October 1844. She admitted in a letter to J.N. Loughborough in 1874 that "after the time passed in '44, I did believe no more sinners would be converted." This is accurate. However, her next words suggest that the door was shut on both her memory and her theology:
"I never had a vision that no more sinners would be converted, and I am clear and free to state no one has ever heard me say or has read from my pen statements which will justify them in the charges they have made against me upon this point."62
The "they" who'd made "charges" were four of Mrs. White's friends and acquaintances from the early days. They remembered her relationship to the Shut Door differently. Israel Dammon, of course, was there:
"It has been some twenty years since we were associated with Mrs. W., but we remember very perfectly that her first visions, or vision, was told both by herself and others (especially by Mrs. W.) in connection with the preaching of the shut door, and went to substantiate the same."63
The first time Ellen Harmon related her first vision away from her Portland home was in January of 1845 at Megquier Hill (pronounced Me-gweer) in Poland.64 John Megquier remembered:
"about the first visions that she had were at my house in Poland. She said God had told her in vision that the door of mercy had closed, and there was no more chance for the world, and she would tell who had got spots on their garments; and those spots were got on by questioning her visions, whether they were of the Lord or not."65
Mrs. Lucinda S. Burdick met Ellen Harmon several times in 1845 at her uncle's house in South Windham, Maine. Mrs. Burdick recalled that during one of Miss Harmon's visions "her position upon the ground seemed so uncomfortable that I placed her head in my lap and supported her thus throughout the event."66 Wrote Mrs. Burdick:
"Ellen...said God had shown her in vision that Jesus Christ arose on the tenth day of the seventh month, 1844, and shut the door of mercy; had left forever the mediatorial throne; the whole world was doomed and lost, and there never could be another sinner saved....I have been told that they deny on this [west] coast that she ever saw the door of mercy closed; but there are thousands of living witnesses who know that a blacker lie could not be invented, and I am one of the number."67
Pastor I.C. Welcome, who was rebaptized by James White,68 remembered that he "several times caught her [Miss Harmon], while she was falling to the floor, at times when she swooned away for a vision."
"I have heard her relate her visions... Several were published on sheets [he probably refers to the early broadside, To the Little Remnant Scattered Abroad] 69 to the effect that all were lost who did not endorse the '44 move, that Christ had left the throne of mercy, and all were sealed that ever would be, and no others could repent. She and James taught this one or two years."70
Although these four witnesses contradict Mrs. White's 1874 statement in which she says "I never had a vision that no more sinners would be converted, and...no one has heard me say or has read from my pen" such statements, it is not a case of their word versus hers. It is Mrs. White versus Mrs. White. Twenty-seven years earlier - on July 13, 1847 - while she still believed in an irrevocably shut door, Ellen White had written to Joseph Bates about a vision she had received in February 1845 on her first missionary journey:
"While in Exeter, Maine, in meeting with Israel Dammon, James, and many others, many of them did not believe in a shut door...It was then I had a view of Jesus rising from His mediatorial throne and going to the holiest as Bridegroom to receive His kingdom...Most of them received the vision, and were settled upon the shut door."71
By 1883 Mrs. White not only denied having had a vision that "no more sinners would be converted," but she now added the contradiction that her visions had disabused the little band of their shut-door error.
"For a time after the disappointment in 1844, I did hold, in common with the advent body, that the door of mercy was then forever closed to the world. This position was taken before my first vision was given me. It was the light given me of God that corrected our error, and enabled us to see the true position."72
Damned to Hell
Five times witnesses (two friendly, one unfriendly) at the Dammon trial attributed to Ellen Harmon the specific words "go to hell" as the option afforded individuals at the James Ayer, Jr. home who either would not "be baptized," "be baptized again," or "forsake all their friends." It is clear from her vision at Oswego, New York (29 July 1850) that Ellen White believed those who would not be rebaptized were lost. But some Adventists - who won't mind the unbiblical theology involved - ironically, might be troubled to learn that she would use the expression "go to hell."
In July of 1874 Mrs. Burdick recalled that Miss Harmon had used the expressions "doomed and damned" to describe the whole world after 1844, and to describe individuals "as soon as they took a stand against" her visions.73
The next month, in a private letter to J.N. Loughborough, Mrs. White denied Burdick's statement:
"I never have under any circumstances used this language to anyone, however sinful. I have ever had messages of reproof for those who used these harsh expressions... I have never stated that this one or that one was doomed or damned. I never had a testimony of this kind for anyone. I have ever been shown that God's people should shun these strong expressions which are peculiar to the first-day Adventists."74
In the third issue of "The Present Truth", Ellen White appears to have slipped while recounting a vision and to have used one of these "strong expressions" so "peculiar to the first-day Adventists":
"I saw that Satan was working through agents, in a number of ways. He was at work through ministers, who have rejected the truth [that 22 October 1844 was an eschatologically crucial date], and are given over to strong delusions to believe a lie that they might be damned."75
Usually, however, Mrs. White got across the same message through euphemisms such as "spots on their garments,"76 or "hearts...as black as ever,"77 or "forever lost."78
It does seem clear that Mrs. White was denying only the use of certain expressions; she did not deny having told individuals (or a class of people) that they were, or would be, lost. She was very clear that William Miller's associates, who did not maintain their faith in the shut door and adopt the seventh-day Sabbath, were all lost.79
In fact, the day following a vision given in late 1850 at Paris, Maine, she wrote of "Laodiceans" who had "said the shut door was of the devil,....They shall die the death." Why? Because, she explained, "the sin against the Holy Ghost was to ascribe to Satan...what the Holy Ghost had done."80
The Holy Kiss
The New England populace was amused and scandalized by newspaper accounts of the promiscuous public kissing that attended the home meetings of fanatical, post-disappointment Millerites. One paper reported a Millerite meeting in Portland at which:
"Brother M stated that he had a special impression that he must kiss Sister N. Her husband being present, thought such an impression must come from the Devil - as no good impression would expose his wife to be kissed by such an "ugly looking mug" as that brother were. So he took her away unkissed, and will probably keep her away."81
The subject of kissing came up repeatedly at the trial of Israel Dammon, with variations on the word (e.g. kiss, kissed, kissing) occurring at least twenty-six times. Witnesses for the accused stoutly defended the practice.
One particular instance of this "exercise" that received so much attention at the trial had more the flavor of a make-up kiss than a holy kiss. Dorinda Baker, the other visionist present, approached Joel Doore saying, "You have refused me before." Doore recalled Miss Baker saying that he "had thought hard of her." Doore became "satisfied of my error, and...we kissed each other with the holy kiss." Loton Lambert was watching and testified that Miss Baker had said, "that feels good." Joel Doore remembered, "When she kissed me, she said there was light ahead."
Job Moody testified that "kissing is a salutation of love...we have got positive scripture for it...." And Isley Osborn added, "It is a part of our faith."
Ellen White later wrote in agreement. Including herself among the 144,000 she stated:
"Then it was that the synagogue of Satan ["fallen Adventists," who had given up 1844 as a mistake, and "the nominal churches"]82 knew that God loved us who could...salute the brethren with a holy kiss, and they worshipped at our feet."83 (Curiously, the highlighted words were omitted from the sixth edition of Spiritual Gifts 2.)
There are several appendix notes in the fifth edition of Early Writings (placed there in 1963 by trustees of the Ellen G. White Estate) that are "provided to explain expressions and situations not so well understood now..." The trustees write:
"It was the custom among the early Sabbath keeping Adventists to exchange the holy kiss at the ordinance of humility. No reference is made to obvious impropriety of exchanging the holy kiss between men and women, but there is a call for all to abstain from all appearance of evil."84
Perhaps the next edition of Early Writings will contain a rewrite of that appendix to "explain expressions and situations not so well understood" by the trustees in 1963.
James Ayer, Jr., the man in whose Atkinson home Dammon was arrested, witnessed to the court that "it is a part of our faith to kiss each other - brothers kiss sisters and sisters kiss brothers, I think we have biblical authority for that." Mrs. White concurred, citing 1 Thess. 5:26.85 In fact, all of the specific instances of kissing mentioned in the Dammon trial abridgment were kisses between members of the opposite sex: Joel Doore and Dorinda Baker, Israel Dammon and Mrs. Isley Osborn, and Dammon and Mrs. George Woodbury.
The Holy Laugh
Neither as biblical nor perhaps as controversial as the holy kiss,
the "holy laugh" is mentioned in a "Bangor Whig
and Courier" report of the arraignment of nine Millerites
and in a list of postdisappointment Millerite fanatical manifestations
contributed by a reader to the "Morning Star".86
In an August 1850 letter, Mrs. White seemed to acknowledge and affirm the holy laugh. James White had taken suddenly and seriously ill. Ellen, Sister Harris, Clarissa Bonfoey, and Ellen's sister, Sarah, who were alone with the sick man, united their prayers on his behalf:
"Sister Harris and Clarissa were set entirely free and they prayed God with a loud voice. The spirit caused Clarissa to laugh aloud. James was healed every whit,...87
It seems odd that when Mrs. White wrote this story for publication, she did not mention a charismatic prayer session nor did she indicate that "the spirit caused Clarissa to laugh aloud."88
Prosecution witness Jeremiah B. Green testified that he had witnessed footwashing during an earlier Millerite meeting at which "Elder Dammon was the presiding elder"; but he only "saw men wash men's feet and women wash women's feet." John Galliston testified that "we do wash each other's feet"; Jacob Mason referred to "wash[ing] feet in the evening"; and Isley Osborn said they preferred "to go through the ordinance of washing feet in secret."
Ellen White's footwashing practice in 1851 was more progressive than the trial record indicates was Dammon's 1845 protocol in Atkinson. Citing "duties...the performance of which will keep the people of God humble and separate from the world, and from backsliding, like the nominal churches," Mrs. White wrote: "I saw that the Lord had moved upon sisters to wash the feet of the brethren and that it was according to gospel order." But, she cautioned, "there is no example given in the Word from brethren to wash sister's feet."89
In her very first vision (December 1844), Ellen Harmon was shown that her enemies "knew that God had loved us who could wash one another's feet."90 (This phrase was also deleted from the vision as published in 1860 in Spiritual Gifts 2.)
Voluntary Humility (creeping)
Crawling was another exercise, intended to promote and demonstrate humility, that was in vogue at Dammon's meeting in Atkinson. John Doore testified on the witness stand that he had "seen both men and women crawl across the floor on their hands and knees." And George S. Woodbury said, "My wife and Dammon passed across the floor on their hands and knees."
A description of the creeping that took place at the home of Captain John Megquier in Poland, Maine, was provided by a correspondent of the Norway Advertiser: "They seldom sit in any other position than on the bare floor....A women, at the meeting he attended, got on her hands and knees, and crept over the floor like a child. A man, in the same position, followed her, butting her occasionally with his head. Another man threw himself at full length upon his back on the bed, and presently three women crossed him with their bodies."91
This creeping was a humiliation that - however literally biblical ("except ye become as little children" Matt 18:1-6) - Ellen White, thirty years later, insisted she had not been prepared to bear:
"Duties were made by men, tests manufactured that God had never required, and which found no sanction in His Word. I state definitely I never crept when I could walk, and have ever opposed it. I was shown in vision, after I refused to accept this as a duty, that it was not a requirement of God, but the fruit of fanaticism."92
Mrs. White was reacting - although not publicly - to the remarks of Mrs. Lucinda Bodge Burdick published in an 1874 issue of The World's Crisis. Mrs. Burdick had become well acquainted with Ellen Harmon and James White when the three of them stayed together several times in 1845 at the home of Josiah Little (Burdick's uncle) in South Windham, Maine, a few miles from Harmon's parent's home in Portland.93 It was this 1874 statement by Burdick, published in The World's Crisis, that Mrs. White objected to so strongly:
"At the time of my first acquaintance with them [James White and Ellen Harmon] in early 1845 they were in a wild fanaticism, - used to sit on the floor instead of chairs, and creep around the floor like little children. Such freaks were considered a mark of humility."94
Although the absence of independent, contemporary evidence on this point leaves the 1874 statements of Mrs. White and Mrs. Burdick in apparently irresolvable tension, the uncommitted reader will have to give Burdick the edge because of Mrs. White's unwillingness to make a public refutation.95
The incoherent din that marked the proceedings at the Ayer household on the night before Israel Dammon's arrest was not unusual for a Millerite home meeting. Defense witness Joel Doore minimized the volume: "There was not one tenth part of the noise Saturday evening, that there generally is at the meetings I attend." But it was loud enough to astonish the prosecution witnesses.
William C. Crosby described it as "exceedingly noisy." "They would at times all be talking at once, halloing at the top of their voices." In fact, he added, "by spells it was the most noisy assembly I ever attended....I don't say Dammon shouted the loudest; I think some stronger in the lungs than he."
Dammon's shouting was not limited to the Saturday night meeting: "Tuesday morning the prisoner having taken his seat, rose just as the Court came in, and shouted Glory to the strength of his lungs."
Ellen Harmon, and Ellen White up to at least the age of twenty-five or thirty, would have appreciated Dammon's outburst had she been there: "Singing, I saw, often drove away the enemy and shouting would beat him back. I saw that pride had crept in among you, and there was not childlike simplicity among you."96
Ellen White's letters, from 1853 and previously, indicate her early support for unreserved worship. She admonished one Adventist congregation in 1850: "I saw you should rise together, and unitedly get the victory over the powers of darkness and sing and shout to the glory of God."97 "I saw there was too little glorying God, too little childlike simplicity among the remnant."98
On November 7, 1850, Ellen White described a conference she had recently attended of twenty-eight Adventists at Topsham, Maine:
"Sunday the power of God came upon us like a mighty rushing wind. All arose upon their feet and praised God with a loud voice....The voice of weeping could not be told from the voice of shouting. It was a triumphant time....I never witnessed such a powerful time before."99
In late 1851 James White wrote of a "powerful vision" that "had a mighty effect. Ellen came out of vision," he said, "then shouted till she went off in vision again."100
According to Ron Graybill, "In the 1870's, feeling still ran high on some occasions"; and he quotes from an Ellen White letter to her boys in 1872:
"The blessing and power of God rested upon your father and mother. We both fell to the floor. Your father, as he rose upon his feet to praise God could not stand. The blessing of God rested upon him with remarkable power....Elder Loughborough felt the power of God all through his body. The room seemed holy....We shouted the high praises of God."101
But by 1874 Mrs. White had lost much of her "childlike simplicity." She recalled somewhat censoriously an early 1845 meeting in Orrington, Maine, a few weeks after Dammon's trial, at which she had reprimanded fanatics for their "shouting and hallooing." Just before she left Orrington, a few assembled with her, she said; and "God was worshipped without boisterous noise and confusion, but with calm dignity."102
By 1900 Mrs. White's memory had joined her childlike simplicity:
"I bore my testimony, declaring that these fanatical movements, this din and noise, were inspired by the spirit of Satan, who was working miracles to deceive if possible the very elect."103
"Slain By The Spirit"
Nine Millerites were arraigned before the Bangor, Maine, police court on 2 April 1845, charged with being
"Idlers and Vagrants and disturbers of the public peace, and sentenced to the House of Corrections for a term of time varying from five to thirty days. These trials caused great excitement and the City Hall was crowded to its utmost capacity....There was evidently a misunderstanding among the spectators, of many of the technical terms in use among the Adventists....such as "salute," "embrace," "slain upon the floor," "shouting," "laughing," &c. Whenever these terms occurred in the testimony, they created much merriment....This was especially the case when the acts which these terms expressed were described."104
The expression "slain upon the floor" or "slain by the Spirit" was used to designate a sudden and total loss of physical strength that sometimes overcame Millerites during their ecstatic worship services.
Isaac Wellcome, a minister of the Advent Christian Church and author of History of the Second Advent Message, "was often in meeting with Ellen G. Harmon and James White in 1843 and 45."105 Wellcome recalled Miss Harmon's actions:
"She was strangely exercised in body and mind, usually talking in assemblies until nature was exhausted and then falling to the floor, unless caught by someone sitting near (we remember catching her twice to save her from falling upon the floor), remaining a considerable time in the mesmeric state, and afterwards, perhaps not until another meeting, she would relate the wonders which she claimed had been shown her in spirit...."106
Reacting privately in 1874 to Wellcome's testimony, Mrs. White wrote:
"It might have been, but I have no acquaintance with him, and never knew him by sight. Before '44, I sometimes lost my strength under the blessing of God. I.C. Wellcome may have confounded these exercises of the power of the Spirit of God upon me with the visions."107
Mrs. White seemed to be trying to say that while she had visions after 1844, she was not thereafter "so overpowered by the Spirit of God as to lose all strength...."108 Arthur White does not agree. And, for evidence, he quotes from his grandmother's account of an experience she had "several days" after her second vision. As Father Pearson was praying for her, Mrs. White remembered: "My strength was taken away, and I fell to the floor. I seemed to be in the presence of the angels."109
In 1847 Mrs. White described how she "fell from my chair to the floor," at the onset of her third vision (February 1845); "and a short time after I fell," Sister Durben "was struck down" by "the power of the Lord."110
"Such experiences were repeated again and again," says Arthur White, who has had the opportunity to browse for decades through tens of thousands of pages of Mrs. White's unpublished letters and manuscripts.111
Limited-access policies of the Ellen White Estate force us to leave the disagreement on this point between Mrs. White and her grandson unresolved. But Mrs. White's belief that others around her were being slain by the Spirit throughout the late 1840's has been clearly demonstrated by her descendent and by former associate secretary of the White Estate Ron Graybill.112
Also, it is clear that whether she was "slain upon the floor" (in or out of vision) during her early travels, Ellen Harmon spent a lot of time ministering prone from the floor. In Atkinson, on the evening of 15 February 1845, according to witness Loton Lambert, she lay on the floor having and telling visions for more than five hours. Jacob Mason testified that James White "some of the time...held her head."
Later, Lucinda Burdick recalled that in the autumn of 1845 on a Sunday afternoon in South Windham, in a grove near the home of Andrew Bodge, that "suddenly, Ellen Harmon became rigidly prostrate upon the ground....Her position upon the ground seemed so uncomfortable that I placed her head in my lap and supported her thus throughout the event."113
Months later, in Randolph, Massachusetts, Ellen Harmon spent most of four hours "in vision...inclined backward against the wall in the corner of the room." Mrs. White was quoting Otis Nichols for her description of that session, except that where he described her "talking in vision with a shrill voice." She changed the word "shrill" to "clear."114
The Dead Are Raised
In 1874 Mrs. White recalled encountering and rebuking fanatics at Orrington in the summer of 1845, who "believe[d] the dead are raised," telling them "I know this is all a delusion." She also recalled that at Garland in 1845 "Elder Dammon and many others...were in error and delusion in believing that the dead had been raised."
"While I was repeating this Scripture, Elder Damon [sic] arose and began to leap up and down, crying out, 'The dead are raised and gone up; glory to God! Glory, Hallelujah!' Others followed his example. Elder Dammon said, '...I cannot sit still. The spirit and power of the resurrection is stirring my very soul.'"
"Our testimony," Mrs. White recalled, "was rejected, and they clung tenaciously to their errors." "Elder Dammon....became my enemy only because I bore a testimony reproving his wrongs and his fanatical course...."115
Ellen Harmon may never have taught, as Dammon did, that the dead are raised. But it is difficult to believe that she strongly rebuked those (especially Dammon) who did believe it. Although Mrs. White wrote in 1860 that "distracting influences" had "separated Eld. D. from his friends who believe the third message," she recalled that Dammon joined with her at Topsham in the healing of Francis Howland, some time after his Atkinson arrest:
"Bro. D. cried out in the Spirit, and power of God, "Is there some sister here who has faith enough to go and take her by the hand, and bid her arise in the name of the Lord?"116
If Dammon became Mrs. White's "enemy" over her rebuke
(in the spring or summer of 1845) of his fanatical belief that
the dead were being raised, it seems odd that both Joseph Bates
and R.S. Webber placed Israel Dammon in the wagon with Elder and
Mrs. White and Bates, behind a "refractory colt," shortly
after the November 1846 Topsham meeting at which Mrs. White had
the vision of the planets, that convinced Bates her visions were
genuine.117 Furthermore, Uriah Smith, J.N. Andrews, and G.H.
Bell substantiate references "to Eld. Damman [sic] as...having
traveled with Bro. and Sr. White, and [having] been well acquainted
with their early labors."118 Dammon's travels with the
married Whites would have followed their wedding on August 30,
1846, more than a year after he became Mrs. White's "enemy."
What Ron Graybill wrote about Mrs. White's memory of her childhood - "she consistently dates events...too early" - appears to be true for her early adulthood as well.119
The lessons to be learned from the uneventful passing of firm dates set by William Miller's followers in 1843 and 1844 for the second coming of Christ were lost - for varying lengths of time - on those Adventists who were later to be seen as pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist movement. O.R.L. Crosier, James White, and Joseph Bates all set dates after 1844 for the Lord's return - each later than the other.120
Ellen Harmon may well have been among the time setters of 1845. John Cook wrote on 5 April 1845 that some Millerites "were confirmed in the belief that the appointed time was the 4th day of April, on account of the visions (?) of a girl."
"In these exercises she wrote with her finger on her hand April 4th, 1845, and then counted over her fingers each one for a day from the time of the vision (so called) to the 4th of April."121
Mrs. Burdick was very specific in her personal memory of Ellen Harmon's time setting:
"At one time she saw that the Lord would come the second time in June, 1845. The prophecy was discussed in all the churches, and in a little 'shut-door paper' published in Portland, Me. During the summer, after June passed, I heard a friend ask her how she accounted for the vision? She replied that 'they told her in the language of Canaan, and she did not understand the language; that it was the next September that the Lord was coming, and the second growth of grass instead of the first in June.'"122
Mrs. Burdick's statement was published in the July 1, 1874 issue of The World's Crisis. Two months later, Ellen White privately denied all of Mrs. Burdick's claims (and there were several) - except her statement regarding time setting.123
In 1847 James White claimed that Miss Harmon had experienced a vision a few days before October 22, 1845, that indicated "we would be disappointed" again.124 True or not,125 Ellen, like James, continued to believe that Jesus' second coming was truly imminent. This belief delayed both their effort "to try to convert people to the advent faith" and their ability to see "that the way...[was] made plain" for them to marry.126
Even after she surrendered the notion of time setting, Mrs. White had trouble admitting that those who had done so during the Millerite period were really, biblically, mistaken (see Early Writings, pp. 232-237).
But whether or not she was setting specific dates for the Lord's return in 1845, during the 1850's Mrs. White was placing clear limits on God's timetable. In a 27 June 1850 vision, she was told that "now time is almost finished." Her "accompanying angel" indicated that "those who have of late embraced the third angel's message" would "have to learn in a few months" "what we have been years learning."127
At an early morning meeting in Battle Creek in late May 1856 Mrs. White stated:
"I was shown the company present at the Conference. Said the angel: 'Some food for worms, some subjects of the seven last plagues, some will be alive and remain upon the earth to be translated at the coming of Jesus.' Solemn words were these, spoken by the angel...."128
Mrs. White did not (and logically could not) live to see her prophecy fail.
While some of the Millerites annoyed their fellow citizens by crawling in public places,129 and others disturbed their neighbors (as Noah Lunt did) with late night warnings under their windows,130 it was primarily the no-work teaching and practice that caused civil authorities to place fanatical Millerites under guardianship or, for brief periods, in jail.131
These actions were taken in the best interest of both the community and the individuals arrested. Atkinson, where Dammon was apprehended, was little more than a village. In 1850 its population numbered 895 - 474 men and 421 women.132 When a few individuals left their crops to rot, their cows unmilked, their chickens unfed, or failed to show up somewhere for work, the impact on the tiny community was severe. The Bangor Whig and Courier reported:
"An industrious farmer, living in Orrington [35 miles southeast of Atkinson] who has for several years, supplied customers in this city [Bangor - five miles from Orrington] with milk has recently...abandon[ed] selling milk...to...make earnest preparation for the immediate end of the world. He has not since waited upon his customers...."133
The Selectmen of Orrington placed several Millerites under guardianship in February 1845 and cautioned the public "against purchasing any property, real or personal of them, as all contracts or deeds will be void on account of their incompetency to manage their affairs."134 These legal actions began too late to save some Adventists from "expos[ing] themselves and their families to the peltings of the pitiless storm of poverty."135
The Adventists' theological misjudgment left many of them and their children to the mercy of generous and more farsighted neighbors. Mrs. M.C. Stowell Crawford recalled:
"After the time passed  there were several large families that father had to supply with everything. He would purchase eight barrels of flour at a time."136
Ellen Harmon appears to have lived (but perhaps not taught) the no-work fanaticism of Millerite leaders such as Jesse Stevens, Joseph Turner, and Dammon. The no-work doctrine - like the shut-door teaching - was the logical outgrowth of sincere belief in the imminent return of Christ. While Miss Harmon was certain that no sinners could be brought to Christ, she did believe that the saved could lose their faith and thereby their salvation while the Bridegroom tarried (Matthew 25).
The Piscataquis Farmer account of the Dammon trial and some of Mrs. White's own memory statements indicate her preoccupation with the mortal sin of doubt.137 Prosecution witness William Crosby testified" "After the visionist called them up she told them they doubted. Her object seemed to be to convince them they must not doubt."
Neither Ellen Harmon nor Ellen White believed that anyone could be saved who had once believed in the 1844 movement and then gave it up - except William Miller.138 And so those who believed their Saviour would appear momentarily had only two responsibilities: one, to keep the faith; and, two, to bolster the faith of their brethren.
By her own estimate, Ellen Harmon "journeyed for three months" during the winter/spring of 1845 encouraging the scattered flock of discouraged Millerites with what the Lord had shown her in vision.139 Yet "financial resources for her journey did not concern her," says Arthur White, because "she had now assumed a confident trust in God."140 But so, of course, had those like Dammon, Stevens, and Turner, who advocated the no-work doctrine, "assumed a confident trust in God."
During her travels Miss Harmon was transported, fed, and boarded by new-found friends. The Nichols family boarded her for eight months (between August 1845 and June 1846) at their home near Roxbury, Massachusetts.141 Mrs. White remembered that "they were attentive to my wants, and generously supplied me with means to travel."142
While Ellen Harmon herself did not work, she remembers laboring strenuously with those in Paris, Maine, "who believed that it was a sin to work."
"The Lord gave me a reproof for the leader [Jesse Stevens] in this error, declaring that he was going contrary to the Word of God in abstaining from labor, [and] in urging his errors upon others...."143
Stevens rejected Harmon's counsel; and she recalled having seen, before the fact, "that his career would soon close." "At length," she wrote, "he made a rope of some of his bed clothing with which he hung himself."144
It may be that Ellen Harmon was speaking out against the no-work doctrine in 1845, but a subsequent issue of Adventist Currents will demonstrate just how unlikely it is that Jesse Stevens' suicide was related to his rejection of her counsel.
Was Ellen Harmon Arrested?
Was Ellen Harmon arrested for her fanatical behavior? Otis Nichols, writing to William Miller in April 1846, said that
"there have been a number of warrants for her arrest, but God has signally protected her. At one time a sheriff and a number of men with him had no power over her person for an hour and a half, although they exerted all their bodily strength to move her, while she or no one else made any resistance."145
Arthur White believes that Nichols was confusing Ellen Harmon with Israel Dammon, 146 even though Nichols - writing within months of the alleged arrest attempt - had reason to tell Miller, "What I have written I have knowledge of and think I can judge correctly." Why? "Sister Ellen has been a resident of my family much of the time for about eight months."147
Whether or not Nichols was confused, Arthur White proceeds on his next Early Years page to confuse the "hour and a half" that Nichols says the sheriff and his men spent trying to arrest Miss Harmon with his own account of the Dammon arrest - even though Arthur's only source for the Atkinson incident is his grandmother who was there and says Dammon's arrest took forty minutes.148
The most tantalizing piece of this puzzle is found in an April 1845 issue of the Daily Eastern Argus, a newspaper from Miss Harmon's home town of Portland:
"Millerism. The proceedings of the professors of this belief, have been such, that the officers of Norway and some other towns in the vicinity have felt it their duty to take means to put a stop to them....On Wednesday [April 23], one of the leaders, well known as Joe Turner, another named Harmon, with one or two others were arrested at the house of Mr. Megquier, in Poland, by the Selectmen of that town, as was reported...."149
Mrs. White remembered that she initially related her first vision away from home in Poland,150 in (Otis Nichols says) January 1845.151 And John Megquier, at whose house Turner and Harmon were arrested, remembered that "about the first visions that she had were at my house in Poland."152 By her own account she was in Poland on two occasions during the winter/spring of 1845. And her second visit to that town came after her initial, three-month journey east, which began sometime in January.153 The records, the date, the geography, and the relationships, suggest that it would have been convenient for Miss Harmon to be at John Megquier's house on April 23, 1845, in Poland, Maine.
Added to all of this, Miss Harmon was a friend and admirer of the arrested Joseph Turner. In 1847 she described to Joseph Bates her great relief upon learning that the shut-door position that she received from her first vision was compatible with what Turner was teaching from Scripture.154 And so it would not be surprising to find them together in late April 1845, at a popular Millerite gathering spot - the home of John Megquier.
Thirty years later Mrs. White remembered being shown in advance "that we would be in danger of imprisonment and abuse. ...the emissaries [sic] of Satan were on our track, and we would fare no better than those who had been fanatical and wrong, and suffered the consequences of their inconsistent, unreasonable course by abuse and imprisonment."155
Three paragraphs after seeming to predict her own imprisonment, she writes of
"...brethren believing the truth...[who] were imprisoned and beaten. But we rode through these very places in broad daylight, visited from house to house, held meetings, and bore our testimony...."156
There is presently not available sufficient evidence to indicate conclusively whether or not Ellen was the Harmon who was arrested along with Joseph Turner in Poland, Maine, on April 23, 1845.
Most Adventists who learn of it will probably be able to accommodate the revised image of Ellen Harmon as a "shrill"-voiced, lounging, shouting, kissing, condemning, fainting, and footwashing, postdisappointment, Millerite fanatic. It may take some Adventists a little longer to assimilate the implications of Mrs. White's inability to remember her early ministry the way it actually took place. They will either have to assume that she possessed a particularly fecund delusional system, as Jack Provonsha does, 157 or that she consciously distorted the past for her own (however complicated and even, perhaps, well-intended) purposes.
Those who have the fortitude and the wits will recognize what the implications are for so many other stories of Providence that dot the landscape of Adventist history. And it will become easier to identify with A.G. Daniells' question at the 1919 Bible Conference about "just how much of that is genuine, and how much has crawled into the story?"158
It was Ellen White who advised that it is only as we see how the Lord has led us in the past that we can set our faces courageously and confidently to the future.159 Can Adventists be blamed then for moving forward timorously? Because it is becoming increasingly clear that Mrs. White did not leave us a credible picture of her pivotal place in our religious roots.
Category: Visions Examined
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