Messenger of the Lord


Geographical Environment

Portland, Maine, the largest city nearest Ellen during her first twenty years, was also the largest in Maine in 1840, with a population of 15,218. Though that number seems small today, in the 1840s Portland exceeded the size of New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut; and Savannah, Georgia. Portland, a busy seaport, placed Maine third behind only Massachusetts and New York in total shipping. Regular steamship connections with Boston often experienced price wars, once dropping fares as low as 50 cents each way in 1841. 6 MOL 45.4

In Ellen White’s time, as today, the summers were proverbially pleasant, winters harsh, with temperatures often below zero, even to a record 24 degrees Fahrenheit below zero (February 1, 1826). The harbor was often frozen for days, even weeks, while the countryside, usually covered with snow, made travel by sleigh ideal. 7 MOL 45.5

Portland had a “progressive school system” for students between 4 and 21 years of age. Following primary school, a student could enter grammar school after a public examination. However, free education for girls ended with grammar school, while boys could go on to the English high school, after passing another public examination. 8 MOL 45.6

Because Portland did not have a hospital until 1855, the sick were cared for at home or in the physician’s office. An M.D. degree could be attained at Bowdoin College at Brunswick (about 26 miles from Portland) after three months of lectures, a written thesis, and a final examination before the faculty of medicine (equivalent to the best American medical schools of that day). 9 MOL 45.7

City statistics list a wide array of causes for death, “from an extensive variety of fevers (typhoid and typhus to ‘putrid fever’) and common diseases of the age (cholera and measles) to some designations that are now quaint or archaic (scrofula, ‘sudden,’ and gravel). By far the most common cause of death was consumption (tuberculosis), followed by ‘fevers,’ dropsy, ‘bowel complaints,’ or other diseases that had reached epidemic proportions (such as measles in 1835 and scarlet fever in 1842). MOL 45.8

“Heavily hit were the young; those under 10 often constituted close to 50 percent of deaths in a year (not counting the many stillborn). Stated differently, the average age at death during 1840 was 22.6 years, which the Advertiser claimed demonstrated ‘the superior degree of health enjoyed in Portland.’” 10 MOL 45.9

Frederick Hoyt, Adventist historian, summarized the impact of growing up in the vicinity of Portland, Maine, in the 1830s and 1840s: “This then was the environment that nurtured the body, mind, and soul of young Ellen Gould Harmon. In many ways it was a harsh environment that could only toughen the character of those it did not break. In the words of American historian James Truslow Adams, in this setting ‘the gristle of conscience, work, thrift, shrewdness, duty, became bone.’ Other words could well be used to characterize Down-Easterners: religious fervor, a passionate search for truth, stubborn independence, Spartan toughness, resourcefulness, frugality, sturdy individualism, and a propensity to adopt and fight for unpopular causes.” 11 MOL 46.1