The Ellen G. White Letters and Manuscripts: Volume 1


WHITE, John (1785-1871) and Betsey (1788-1871)

Parents of James Springer White. John White settled in Palmyra, Maine, in 1806 and married Betsey Jewett about 1809. They had nine children, three of whom became clergymen: John Whitney (Methodist Episcopal), Samuel (Baptist), and James Springer (Seventh-day Adventist). After 51 years of farming in Palmyra, John and Betsey White moved west, probably in 1857, and stayed for a year and a half with their son John Whitney in Zanesville, Ohio. At the end of 1858 or early in 1859 they moved to Battle Creek, Michigan, where they stayed for the rest their lives. For some years they lived in a house just across the road from James and Ellen White. During their final months of frailty and illness John and Betsey moved in with James and Ellen to receive proper care. 1EGWLM 907.4

John and Betsey White's transition toward Seventh-day Adventism was a protracted one, starting in the early 1840s when they were convicted by the Second Advent preaching of William Miller. During the 1850s they struggled over the issue of Sabbathkeeping. In 1855 Ellen White noted that her mother-in-law “longed to keep the Sabbath,” whereas John was still undecided. By 1859, however, even John had made his decision, and Ellen happily reported that “Father and Mother White” “have embraced the Sabbath and are coming right along into all the present truth.” Even after this date, however, John White retained his membership with the Christian Connection church, as he had for the previous 40 years or so. 1EGWLM 907.5

It is possible that John had residual difficulties with Seventh-day Adventist teachings, as at least during the 1860s his son John Whitney White, Methodist clergyman in Ohio, made energetic efforts to turn his father against Seventh-day Adventism. Thus in an 1866 letter to his father, after an indirect critique of the visions of Ellen White, John Whitney concluded that “the whole thing [Seventh-day Adventist Church] will die out and be forgotten as sect or church in 15 years. … Most cincerly [sic] do I thank God that you and mother have kept clear of the whole business and I trust you will.” For whatever reasons, in his will of 1864, as modified in 1867, John White declared his preference that his funeral be conducted by a Christian Connection clergyman. As it turned out, in 1871 both John and Betsey's funerals were conducted by Seventh-day Adventist ministers. Because of the scarcity of evidence, it is hard to determine whether this indicated further changes in their religious views during their final years. 1EGWLM 908.1

The most detailed and best documented biography of John and Betsey White is James R. Nix, “John and Betsey (Jewett) White,” in Palmyra, Maine: 200th Anniversary, Bicentennial 1807-2007, 2nd ed. (Palmyra [Rockland, Maine]: Penobscot Press, 2007), pp. 145-151. A useful collection of source documents, including the wills of John White, is found in Glenn Davis and Jean Davis, “Notebook, Vol. 1,” deposited at Historic Adventist Village, Battle Creek, Michigan. See also: obituary: “Betsey White” (“My Mother”), Review, Jan. 24, 1871, pp. 45, 47; obituary: “John White” (“The Venerable Dead”), Review, July 18, 1871, p. 36; John Williams White to “Dear Grandfather and Mother,” Aug. 20, 1866; Methodist Episcopal Church, Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church for the Year 1856 (New York: Carlton & Porter, 1856), p. 112; John Whitney White to “Dear Father,” Nov. 7, 1866; Ellen G. White, Lt 2, 1855 (Aug.); Lt 31, 1859 (Feb. 21). 1EGWLM 908.2