Footprints of the Pioneers


Chapter 5—Deacon John’s Son

James White

UP IN Maine, away up, they were digging the year’s potatoes on that September day when we reached the community where Deacon John White once lived, and worked, and taught his sons and daughters as well as every other nightingale to sing. Deacon John of the Baptist, then the Christian, church was a man of might, muscularly building his stone fences and freeing his forested acres, on the west side of White’s Pond, a sizable sheet of water that is one of Maine’s million jewels. FOPI 48.6

We went to the old house where the six sons and three daughters were born. Three of those sons became ministers: John, Samuel, and James; one of them, Nathaniel, breathed out his life in Rochester in the early days of James White’s residence there. One of them lost his life on the Western plains; and “one of them in the church-yard lies,” the infant whose grave alone of the Whites keeps watch in Palmyra. Anna sleeps with Nathaniel in Mt. Hope Cemetery. Those other two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, how they sang, like the angels, with James and their father making a notable quartet. And the rest of the family being musical also, there must have been a heavenly choir at times. FOPI 48.7

Many Adventist visitors have there been to the old White homestead in Palmyra; but the patient and courteous young couple who now occupy the house were ready to give all known information. They had been informed by previous callers that this was once owned by a man named White, and they had an inkling that one of his family was a founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The young matron, indeed, volunteered the information that the front right-hand room was the bedchamber in which James White was born. Her husband was inclined to scout this piece of information as lacking in authenticity, but she asserted that a lady of long living in Palmyra had told her so. FOPI 50.1

Palmyra is a township, and only in that sense a town. A score of houses there are on the main road, and doubtless in old time there were many more. But it is a farming community. To reach Deacon White’s farm, you turn left, as you come from the west, right at the beginning of the settlement. On this crossroad you pass the cemetery on the right, and a few rods beyond you come to the house. White’s Pond lies across the road, down a slight slope, to the east. FOPI 51.1

The house bears evidence of different periods of building, but it seems probable that it was all there before Deacon John was through with it. Indeed, the reputed birth room of James White is at the very front, in the part of the house that is plainest. Behind it, joining the barn, is the gingerbread portion, with gable windows in its second story. That must have been the first part built; for no Maine house would be other than married to its barn; and I suppose that Deacon John, in his fifty-one years of living here, enlarged the house by building on the front rooms as his family grew. James was in the very middle of nine children. FOPI 51.2

I gazed out over the fields beyond and behind the house, and I thought back to that day when James, a twenty-one year-old young man, with a term at teaching school behind him and an ambition to go through college, went out to this field to settle his course. He had come home to find his father under conviction and his mother fully committed to the doctrines of one William Miller, who said the world was coming to an end in 1844. A little arrogantly, the young school teacher undertook to down his mother with arguments; however, he quickly found himself thrown by the calm but assured Biblical answers of his revered mater. Setting himself to study, he was still more dismayed to find himself in agreement. And backsliding church member that he was, he came again to his Savior under the impact of the Advent message. Right here in this house that was. FOPI 51.3

Then the Lord told him to go back to Troy and tell his new faith to his students and their parents. The cross seemed great, and he rebelled. Out into the field he went to work, but the Spirit followed him. He threw down his hoe and fled to the grove for prayer. But, like William Miller, he could get no relief. “Visit your scholars,” said the Spirit. At last, angry and. rebellious, he rose, stamped his foot, and cried, “I will not go!” FOPI 52.1

In five minutes he was at the house this house, up there, perhaps, where that dormer window gleams-packing his books and clothes for Newport Academy. We drove on to Newport, four miles, over the road which he traveled with good old Elder Bridges, who talked to him all the way about preaching, greatly to his discomfort. And we looked in vain for the academy, which is no longer there. But we followed James White in spirit into his classes in the school and in his room, trying to study. We saw him distressed and agitated, because he could not concentrate his thoughts upon his studies. And then we saw him resolve to do his duty, and we saw him leave the academy and start south on foot, thirteen miles to Troy, the community where he had taught school. FOPI 52.2

By and by we went through Troy, a good little town, and over a roller-coaster road through the country beyond. We did not know where James White’s country schoolhouse may have stood, but we thought of this rolling farm land as the territory where he trudged, and talked and prayed with his former pupils and some of the patrons of the school, to the great relief of his spirit and the after-results of a revival of religion there. 24 FOPI 52.3

A few miles to the south is Knox. We did not have time to go there, or to Orrington, east, where later James White met the young woman who was to become his wife; or to Garland and Exeter, north, where the fanatics were met and rebuked, in the beginning days of the message. But we remembered that journey to Knox by Deacon John White, and James, and two of his sisters; how on the way, driven by storm to an inn, they sang their Advent hymns, charming the motley crowd, and received free entertainment over night and an invitation to come again on the same terms. FOPI 53.1

And then the conference at Knox, the Maine Eastern Christian Conference. This was in the autumn of 1843, after James White had been actively preaching the Advent message for a year, and after he had been ordained as a minister in the Christian Church. The conference was split on the Millerite doctrine, a majority favoring it but the older and more sedate ministers doubting or rejecting it. By this time young James White had acquired a reputation in Maine, not only in his own church but among Freewill Baptists, Methodists, and others, as a preacher of the second coming. He was greeted at Knox with lively anticipation by the advocates of the imminent Advent, and they urged him to speak. FOPI 53.2

But the ruling ministers gave no opportunity. And the last day came. James White felt impressed by the Spirit that he should proclaim the message. His friends urged him to do so. One of the prominent ministers was his older brother, Samuel. The last day, Sunday, the service was arranged, and an old and conservative minister was set to preach. James White had retired for prayer, and he returned filled with the Spirit. As he entered the crowded church and made his way toward the front, his brother Samuel and an Elder Chalmers, seated on the platform, stepped down and took him by his arms, saying, “Come up, Brother James. If you wish to preach, you shall have a chance.” And they seated him with them upon the ministers’ sofa. FOPI 53.3

“If you will read an Advent hymn, Samuel,” he whispered, “and if you, Brother Chalmers, will pray, and if I can get hold of the pulpit Bible, I will preach.” FOPI 54.1

So Samuel announced and read the hymn, which they sang, and then Brother Chalmers prayed. And while he prayed, Brother James took the pulpit Bible into his lap, and set to work to look up his proof texts. The prayer ended, the other ministers noted that the Bible was in the possession of the young preacher, and decorum prescribed that he be left with it. Another Advent hymn was sung, and no one told James he could not preach. Therefore he stepped forward and took the desk, while Amens rang through the house. FOPI 54.2

It was an unorthodox proceeding, doubtless, yet the majority of the conference were with him, and the opposition seemed paralyzed. He must have been a great preacher even then, in the beginning of his career. The power of God came down that day, and hearts were melted into love. The sermon ended on the trumpet note of the soon-coming Savior. Then the conference prepared to partake of the Lord’s supper. While it was being made ready, James White and his sisters sang those new Advent hymns, as this: FOPI 54.3

“In the resurrection morning you will see your Lord a-coming, And the sons of God a-shouting in the kingdom of the Lord. While a band of music, while a band of music Shall be sounding through the skies!” FOPI 54.4

And good old Brother Clark, solemn and ecstatic, rose at every repetition of the chorus, clapped his hands above his head, shouted, “Glory!” and sat down, only to repeat. “Amen!” “Praise the Lord!” sounded through the audience. And that yearly meeting closed. 25 FOPI 55.1

We rode on through the waning afternoon toward Augusta, capital of the State. It was probably not on this road which ran through the Troy country, but on a quartering road from Palmyra or Newport that young James White, a year before, had ridden on his father’s loaned horse, with his patched saddle and bridle and his worn, thin overcoat, to his first great Advent adventure in the environs of that city. At a country schoolhouse where he delivered some of his first lectures, he met a mob on two successive nights. It was in winter, and the snow lay deep and heavy. Yet the schoolhouse, packed with people, mostly women, had all the windows out, and outside the unruly mob howled and threw snowballs and other missiles, one of them a spike that hit the preacher on the head. FOPI 55.2

The second evening he was warned that the mob would take his life, but after earnest prayer he went down. A Universalist whose selected preacher had been rebuffed the previous evening, stood by the pulpit, shaking his fist and crying, “Your meeting will be broken up.” FOPI 55.3

“As God wills,” said James White. FOPI 55.4

He hung up his chart, sang an Advent hymn, with some voices joining in, prayed, then started to preach. But the mob howled him down. Finding he could not be heard, he stopped his lecture, and raising his voice above the howls and catcalls, he entered upon an impassioned description of the judgment day. The mob quieted. “Repent!” he cried, “and call on God for mercy and pardon. Turn to Christ, and get ready for His coming, or in a little from this on rocks and mountains you will call in vain. You scoff now, but you will pray then.” FOPI 55.5

The noise sank. Taking from his pocket the iron spike, he held it up to view, and he said: “Some poor sinner cast this spike at me last evening. God pity him! The worst wish I have for him is that he is at this moment as happy as I. Why should I resent this insult when my Master had them driven through his hands?” And suiting the action to the word, he stepped back against the wall, with his arms elevated in the posture of one hanging upon a cross. FOPI 56.1

The noise died. Some shrieked. A groan ran through the crowd. “Hark! hark!” cried others. And, inspired by his subject, the young preacher called upon repentant sinners to rise for prayers. Nearly a hundred stood, then knelt with him as he prayed for them. Then, taking his chart and Bible, he stepped through the crowd and out of the door. FOPI 56.2

The mob outside, stilled and cowed, yet were vengeful. They pressed toward him. But a man of noble countenance, familiar yet unknown, came to his side, locked arms with him, and they advanced. The crowd gave way; their missiles dropped from their hands. And shortly James White and his companion were outside the fringes of the mob. He turned to thank his rescuer-and no one was there. 26 FOPI 56.3

We rode on through Augusta, and down to Richmond. Here it was, in the winter of 1843, that the Freewill Baptist quarterly meeting, under Elder Andrew Rollins’ urging, first invited him to speak, and then rescinded their action. But at the Reed meeting house, three miles out, White had, previously held a series of meetings, and now Rollins, angered by the conference’s action, announced that Elder White would preach that evening in the Reed house. FOPI 56.4

“Come up, brethren, and hear for yourselves! Come up, brethren: it will not hurt any of you to hear upon this subject.” FOPI 56.5

And most of the ministers and all the delegates trooped out over the packed snow to hear James White that night, leaving the conference flat. It was approaching night when we reached Richmond, but we must see the site of the old Reed meeting house. We knew the house was gone, but our guide had been there, and believed he could find the place. Arrived in the vicinity, he determined the location by the community cemetery, and we were assured by a neighbor that this was the spot. So, in the deepening dusk, we poked around amid a rash of weeds and briers to find the foundations; but alas, we could not. So time does away with even the stones that would bear witness. FOPI 56.6

Nevertheless, this was the place where in “that large house” the conference crowded to hear James White, and every soul in the audience stood up to signalize his acceptance of the doctrine. Somewhere in the vicinity they appear to have stayed that night, for, says James White, “The next morning I returned to the village, accompanied by at least seven-eighths of that Freewill Baptist quarterly meeting.” We marched with them in our minds, listening to their happy thanksgiving. 27 FOPI 57.1

So, through all this Valley of the Kennebec, and north, and east, and west, labored James White, a hundred and three years ago, with scores of other ministers in the principal denominations, proclaiming the coming of the Lord. FOPI 57.2