Footprints of the Pioneers


Chapter 3—The Cradle of the Sabbath Truth

Cyrus K. Farnsworth

WE CAME up in glorious sunshine into New Hampshire’s granite hills. I do not think it is always sunshine there. It is a land of rugged mien, rock-ribbed hills and mountains, forests (like the Philistines) pushed back but never conquered, and fields that have yielded not only hay and potatoes and grain, but the great boulders which, ox-hauled, are piled up in the massive stone fences that outline the fields and confine the, roads. Here nature has not etched her name with pen and stylus, but carved and stamped it with ax and sledge. And, as Hawthorne tells us, New Hampshire’s men, gazing upon the Great Stone Face, have fashioned their thinking and their lineaments after it. FOPI 27.3

I think it could rain in New Hampshire; I think it could snow. The barns, hitched always to the houses, tell us eloquently that it does snow, and snow, and snow. And if I were to choose a stage for Whittier’s masterpiece I would elect New Hampshire rather than Massachusetts for the scene where— FOPI 27.4

“A chill no coat, however stout,
Of homespun stuff could quite shut out,
A hard, dull bitterness of cold,
That checked, mid-vein, the circling race
Of life-blood in the sharpened face,
The coming of the snow-storm told.”

But that early September day we came, and the days that we remained, were days of glory. The soft, creamy fingers of a caressing breeze touched our faces, the sun wreathed his countenance with a seductive smile, and the blushing maples stood forth to do the autumn honors of the forest. New Hampshire in holiday mood and dress could swirl her bosky skirts with any maiden of the South. FOPI 30.1

We came up from the southeast through Hillsboro-which must be taken in the generic sense. Of Hillsboros there are many; for in New England the township is the town; and not only is HilIsboro town in Hillsboro county, but in Hillsboro town are Hillsboro Bridge, Hillsboro Center, Hillsboro Lower Village, and Hillsboro Upper Village. It was exhilarating to travel the indeterminate twelve miles-short to us, but not to horse-and-buggy days-to the town of Washington, New Hampshire. FOPI 30.2

To us, Washington is among The Thirty, and the second Three of The Thirty. Like Abishai, it was “more honorable than the two;” but it “attained not to the first three.” 11 Because of their vital significance in establishing degrees of permanency to the new church, we celebrate Rochester, Battle Creek, Oakland; but for beginnings, Portland, New Bedford, Washington. It was at little Washington, in 1844, before a denomination to be known as Seventh-day Adventists had been thought of, that one of the cardinal points of their faith, the Sabbath, took root in an Adventist congregation. And unlike many another place where early records were made, Washington has not faded out but has maintained a Seventh-day Adventist church from its beginning. FOPI 30.3

And Washington has a fame in the world, too, slight perhaps, but proudly borne. At the forks. of the roads in the village, a bronze plate proclaims that this is the first town in America to adopt the name of the Father of his Country. Doubtless that is true, for it was so christened in 1776, when George Washington had just taken command of the Continental Army at Boston. Let the nation’s capital bow its head, and the far-off State on Puget Sound salute the little New Hampshire town of Washington. FOPI 30.4

A tiny village, but neat and bright, it sits upon its long ridge graciously, its white-painted big houses impressing that amplitude of the old New England grange, now frayed a bit at the cuffs with shrinking population, but mended neatly and drawn in at the seams. One huge old domicile on the left of the street, once doubling as a hostel, was in process of being torn down, after a century and a half of service; and its frame, ravaged alike by time and wrecker, seemed like the corded, stringy figure of a mountaineer settling into his grave. The population of all this township has shrunk greatly. A hundred years ago it had a thousand people in it, but now the postmistress said there are no more than one hundred and fifty native residents. In the hot months of the lowlands the summer people, who have bought many of the old places, swell the population back to more than its ancient numbers; but with the frosts they close their houses or pay their hosts, and flee to town, while the corporal’s guard of permanent residents takes over. FOPI 31.1

It is no melancholy village, however, at least not when the sun shines, and I imagine not when the storms blow. Competent, provident, forehanded, the native has stored his provender like the woodchuck; and buttoning himself within his wooden walls, his cellar and his woodshed and his haymow full, he defies old Boreas, while for exercise he sallies forth in mackinaw and mittens and moccasins, 12 to assault the forest and bring down in his long sleighs the spruce and pine and hemlock that make the winter’s harvest. FOPI 31.2

Above the historical marker at the center forks stands the civic center, three generous white buildings-town hall, schoolhouse, and Congregational church. The general store with the post office is a step beyond, and the library. For, remember, New England reads, and the long twilights of winter invite to literary browsing. You find no illiterates up here. The birth land of Webster and haunt of Hawthorne maintains the tradition of intellectual vigor. Maybe sometimes it plods with heavy step, but try a trade with a New Hampshire Yankee! And the book-a-month club is four times too slow. FOPI 31.3

A little way beyond the library the road forks again, the right-hand road going northwest to Claremont, the Green Mountain State, and points West, the left-hand continuing straight along the level, between great stone fences and past two or three houses and their openings in the woods, until a mile along it turns sharply to the left, and below a great summer mansion it looks down over the hills to the blue of Millen Pond. FOPI 32.1

This is the old road, used a hundred years back to go to Cyrus and William Farnsworth’s. Now it ends at an old brick schoolhouse, but in days of old it forked, one way dipping down to the lake at Cyrus, the other going on over the hills to Williarn’s by Ashuelot River. It was along this road in 1845 that Joseph Bates, up from tidewater Massachusetts for inquiry into the Sabbath truth, was hurried by Frederick Wheeler to that first conference at Cyrus Farnsworth’s. You get to Cyrus’ house now by a newer road that leaves the village in a quick run off the ridge, shortly to accost the lake at its head and accompany it southwest to the historic brick house, thence to meander for another mile through the woods, around the foot of the lake, to the famous church. FOPI 32.2

But before ever you leave the village, just beyond the forks, you come to a modern cottage, characteristically white but not huge, dutifully attached to a barn but a barn with the size and purpose of a garage. Here live Harold and Anna Mary Farnsworth, of the fourth generation from Cyrus, and our studious and genial and sprightly hosts for the duration. We had intended going back to Hillsboro to find a room-and I here give notice to all intending visitors to do likewise, for there is no hotel in Washington. But dropping in at the little white cottage for a moment’s greeting, we were constrained to abide with them, for it was toward evening and the Sabbath was coming on. FOPI 32.3

Nineteen years ago Anna Mary, a Beckner then, was outstanding at our first New England girls’ summer camp, the only girl too swift of foot for me to catch. A Bible instructor and teacher of late years, while Harold was in the army overseas, she is still the competent, regal, delightful Anna Mary. Harold is the typical master of all trades that you find in the hills farmer, woodsman, carpenter, plumber, electrician, medical corpsman, teacher, and preacher, a worthy representative of the clan Farnsworth, which has sent its men and women into missions over all the land and all the world. FOPI 33.1

The Seventh-day Adventist church body at Washington is small, about the size of its first congregation. There have been many vicissitudes in the hundred years, sometimes the membership reaching nearly a hundred, sometimes sinking low with the exoduses. Great meetings there were also in the early days of the message, when Brother and Sister White and John N. Andrews and others met with them; where Uriah Smith, up from West Wilton, was converted, where “Wooster” Ball, he of the hasty speech and pen, was painfully recovered, where such workers as Eugene W. Farnsworth and Fred L. Mead were fashioned, and crowds of young Farnsworths and Meads and Philbricks and Balls were brought to Christ. Now there are fifteen, a faithful company, but none except these two of the young generation. May the Lord be gracious to the church at Washington, New Hampshire. FOPI 34.1

Of course we went to the church, first obtaining the key at the Cyrus Farnsworth house, where we were greeted by Lessie Farnsworth White, her cousin Waldo Farnsworth, and his mother, Addie Farnsworth. And then we drove the tortuous mile to the church. You might think it lonesome out there in the midst of the woods, now so far from human habitations. When the church was built, it was in the midst of a thriving farm community in every direction; but now the population has withdrawn on all sides. The effect, however, is one of tranquility, not of lonesomeness. You come suddenly through the thick woods and screening undergrowth upon the grassy plot. There stands the sturdy old church building, at the back of its ample yard, serenely regnant over the historic spot; and just across the stone fence is the silent city of the fathers and mothers who remained here while their sons and daughters and grandchildren and great-grandchildren scattered to the four quarters of the earth to carry the message of the King. Sanctuary under the open skies, the woods its palisades, the heaven its dome. This grassy lawn is the nave, and at its end the church its chancel. FOPI 34.2

We enter, noting in the vestibule the plaque which tells its story. Above is the gallery. And then we stand silent within, looking over the old-fashioned, enclosed pews, up to the simple desk and platform at the front, the familiar charts on the walls, the cabinet organ, and the tap bell for the Sabbath school. An open space at the back is where the twin stoves once sat, whence sprang the long stovepipes, to run overhead the length of the church and disappear in the two chimney holes at the front. Thus are many of the churches in New Hampshire still warmed in winter. But now this church, though kept in condition, is used but seldom, and only when there are special meetings, with many out land visitors, as on the centenary of October 22, 1844. For their regular meetings the church body use the Congregational church in the village, more convenient to their gathering. FOPI 35.1

But gazing reverently, reminiscently over the room, we see in memory’s eye the preacher, Frederick Wheeler, standing by the communion table, and Widow Rachel Oakes, with corkscrew curls, almost starting to her feet from the Daniel Farnsworth pew, to rebuke him. In’44 it was; the widow we name usually as Rachel Preston. But then she was not yet remarried, and her daughter, Rachel Delight Oakes, the schoolteacher, was not to marry Cyrus Farnsworth for yet three more years. FOPI 35.2

After meeting, this Seventh Day Baptist propagandist, direct, outspoken, said to the Methodist-Adventist preacher: “When you said to us that all who would partake of the emblems of the Lord’s supper should obey every one of His commandments, I almost rose and told you, you would better put the cloth over them and set the table back, until you were ready to obey them all.” And thus Frederick Wheeler was introduced to the Sabbath truth, and a few weeks later, so he tells us, in March, 1844, he kept it for the first time, and preached a sermon about it on that day. He was the first Sabbath keeping Adventist minister. 13 FOPI 36.1

We look, and on a Sunday morning a little later we see William, Farnsworth rise and declare that he will henceforth keep the, Sabbath. And then his younger brother Cyrus, a youth twenty years of age, and their father Daniel and his wife Lucy, and Newell Mead, and Willis Huntley. A split it made, some fifteen or eighteen Sabbath keepers withdrawing to meet in private homes, while the Christian denomination retained the chapel until 1862, though several times they generously offered the building for the use of the Sabbath keeping Adventists at their general meetings. FOPI 36.2

And we see John Andrews, a visiting preacher, tall, earnest, cogent, and inspiring, as he leads forward such youth as Eugene Farnsworth, whom he started converting out in the cornfield. And James and Ellen White, in their strong evangelistic, disciplinary efforts-and what discipline did the companies of those early days require! Bringing the church into unity and power. And after them, in the years following, Loughborough, Smith, Cornell, Bourdeau, Haskell, Washington Morse, E. P. Butler. They trail a cloud of glory, these heaven-sent pioneers, through the atmosphere of the old church. We tread the aisles with reverence; we stand with humility and awe behind the desk where the mighties have stood; we silently breathe a prayer of devotion and blessing upon the sanctuary of our fathers. FOPI 36.3

We must here make a detour, to visit the resting place of Rachel Preston. Fifty miles to the southwest is Vernon, Vermont, a country community. Here was born, March 2, 1809, Rachel Harris, daughter of Sylvanus Harris. Here she married Amory Oakes, and removed with him to Verona, New York, where was born their daughter Rachel Delight Oakes, afterward to become the wife of Cyrus Farnsworth. Here Rachel Harris Oakes and her daughter, in 1837, joined the Seventh Day Baptist church. Evidently Amory Oakes died here, though we have no account of it. But in 1843 the widow, Rachel Oakes, and her daughter Delight went to Washington, New Hampshire, Delight to teach school, her mother to be with her and to become the instrument in God’s hands of bringing the seventh-day Sabbath to that company of Adventists. In Washington she married Nathan T. Preston. They lived here and at Milford for some years, but finally returned to Vernon, Vermont, her birthplace. Her home is pointed out to us by the occupant, who is the keeper of the cemetery. FOPI 37.1

Here Rachel Preston died in 1868, and here her husband followed her in 1871. It is a beautifully kept cemetery, on high ground. And beside her headstone, the General Conference has erected a bronze tablet bearing this inscription: FOPI 37.2

Rachel Preston
Was used of God
in bringing the
truth of the Sabbath
to the Adventist church
of Washington, N. H.,
which became the first Seventh-day Adventist
church in America

In Washington the Cyrus Farnsworth place is the other chief spot of historic interest. Here on a May morning of 1845, under the great maples in front of the house, above the lake, sat at least three men, we know not how many others-Cyrus Farnsworth, Frederick Wheeler, Joseph Bates-and discussed the law of God and its neglected Sabbath. Bates had read an article by T. M. Preble, in The Hope of Israel, a Portland Adventist paper, setting forth the claims of the seventh-day Sabbath. Preble was a minister of the Freewill Baptists who took a somewhat prominent part in the 1844 movement, reaching out from his church at Nashua. He lived not far from Frederick Wheeler in Hillsboro, and possibly (though we have no direct evidence) he learned the Sabbath truth from these Washington believers. At any rate he kept the Sabbath for three years, beginning in the summer of 1844, and struck flame with his article and a reprint tract which brought at least two prominent men to the faith, Joseph Bates and John N. Andrews. 14 FOPI 38.1

At his home in Fairhaven, the eastern twin of New Bedford, in southern Massachusetts, Bates read the article, and shortly determined, in April, to keep the Sabbath. Hearing of the company at Washington, he made a swift pilgrimage up there, found Frederick Wheeler on his borrowed farm in Hillsboro, ten o’clock at night, talked with him till dawn, and then they two drove up to Washington and Cyrus Farnsworth’s. 15 FOPI 39.1

Whether, as Wheeler’s son testifies, Joseph Bates made haste to leave that same noon, or, as Eugene Farnsworth says, remained several days and talked with William. Farnsworth (“the first Seventh-day Adventist in the world,” as his son Eugene affirmed), and others of the company, at least it was here, under these ancient maples, that the pact was sealed. FOPI 39.2

Bates, back at home, was hailed in the morning, on the bridge, by a neighbor and fellow Christian, James Madison Monroe Hall: “What’s the news, Captain Bates?” And he said, “The news is that the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord our God.” And shortly he was carrying this good news, this gospel, to his world, reaching out to Hiram Edson in western New York, to James and Ellen White up in Maine, to Belden and Chamberlain in Connecticut, to Otis Nichols in Boston, and all the little company who became close-knit upon “the Sabbath of the Lord our God.” FOPI 39.3

Washington village of the New Hampshire hills, cradle of the Sabbath truth! FOPI 39.4