Footprints of the Pioneers


Chapter 1—So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

Stephen N. Haskell

BILDAD the Shuhite spoke at least one word of wisdom in his rather futile debate with job. “For inquire, I pray thee,” he said, “of the former age, and prepare thyself to the search of their fathers. For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing.” Job 8:8, 9. FOPI 7.1

The current generation is inclined to believe that it knows everything. So every generation. Very naturally. “The world is so full of a number of things,” remarked Robert Louis Stevenson to his child audience. And as children we throw our net about a little corner of the sea, and the number of things we catch in it are to us the world and all the works therein. But beyond us and behind us are many nets, and many days, and many seas. FOPI 7.2

Should we inquire of the former days, and ask counsel of our fathers? We Seventh-day Adventists have cultivated in ourselves the attitude of the forward look. At least we see our toes. And we remember Lot’s wife. It has been to many, and it still is to some, a denial of our faith to look behind, to treasure the records of our fathers, to ready a shrine where their feet once trod, to erect a monument at the unmarked burial place of a pioneer. “Forward, march!” are the orders, “Eyes front! Charge!” And the ranks stiffen, and the eyes peer, and the spears level, and we plunge forward into the dust of battle. Beyond is victory, and the Kingdom. FOPI 7.3

All very good. Our warfare is before us, not behind. But may it be that in the midst of the moil and the wrestling, of the tears and the sweat and the blood, there might come to us in the battle a vision, had we in our preparation looked back, a vision of the power and the wisdom and the glory with which our spiritual forebears fought? And seeing the vision, might we not take new courage, perceive more clearly, plan more wisely, and execute more truly than if we merely trusted to hacking our way through? FOPI 8.1

“Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses.” They march with us, these legions of the past; they march in memory and they march in the music of angel bands that go before the Last Legion of Christ-before, and on flank, and in rear. Happy is he whose eyes are opened to behold the host, the chariots and the horsemen of God. “For they that be with us are more than they that be with them.” FOPI 8.2

Every American, and every lover of liberty of whatever nationality, walks on hallowed ground when he enters the Bay State. Plymouth, Salem, Boston, Lexington, Concord! This ground, these monuments, speak the faith “that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” FOPI 8.3

Succeeding eras of civilization have in many places crowded the ancient shrines into tight cysts, yet these keep their vitality and speak still in the tones of vigilant freedom. And it is remarkable how much of the wild and free still marks the terrain of Massachusetts. A few miles out of the city, by train or auto, you find vast stretches of woods, of swamp, of copse and woody field. The open prairies of the West early siphoned off the surplus population, and left the badge of freedom on the land of the Puritans. FOPI 8.4

And the stamp of the Englishman transplanted to America is still on the homes. Outside the metropolis the characteristic dwelling places which housed the generous families of our fathers and mothers dominate the landscape. Foursquare, solid, far-spreading even to the attached barns, the great white houses stand like the ample matrons of a past century, starched and possessive, clutching the land to their bosoms as one who would say: FOPI 9.1

“Land where my fathers died, Land of the Pilgrims’ pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!”

The little and ancient town of South Lancaster is a focal point from which the student of Seventh-day Adventist history may look to south, to north, to west, even a bit to the east, to find the footprints of our pioneers. They walked the trails where now our cars speed on pavements of rock. They knelt in these gardens, to pray and to labor. They lifted their eyes to the mountains yonder, and in time turned their gaze upon the seas. They worked with hand tools where we lift with steam and smite with electricity. But they laid a foundation from which we lever our loads, and they planted the seed that fills the fields today with a harvest even their faith but dimly saw. FOPI 9.2

South Lancaster is not the first of their stations; it came comparatively late into the picture. Yet it was early enough to hold the humble, ambitious projects of some of our greatest pioneers, and to see the councils and the labors of many of them. The layman came first and made a clearing; then the early master of layman work established his station here. Lewis and Mary Priest moved into South Lancaster from a farm north of Lancaster early in the 60’s; they were the first Seventh-day Adventists here. Shortly came that prince of pioneers, that captain of the missionary hosts, Stephen N. Haskell, and settled here. 1 FOPI 10.1

Haskell was a convert of William Saxby and Joseph Bates. A young benedict of nineteen years, living in Hubbardston, Massachusetts, he made and sold soap for a living. His education was meager, but his wife, a teacher several years older than he (one informant told me), “taught him all he knew”-which, barring the soap business, may have been true in his minority, but certainly is hyperbolic as to his later years. FOPI 11.1

Traditions take in ample territory about Mrs. Mary How Haskell. Thus: She was an invalid; she could manage spirited horses as few men could. She was a martinet, with firm set lips; she was a loving wife, who rose at an unearthly hour to greet her husband, back from a two-year world-girdling journey. She was a cultured woman, a poet, whose large and carefully selected library was the Mecca of thoughtful students in the early days of the South Lancaster school; she was a recluse, who was seldom at home to visitors. But each and every purveyor of these several tales agrees without scruple to the legends of the others. A remarkable woman! FOPI 11.2

Stephen Haskell in 1852 heard an Adventist sermon (from one of those whom we call First-day Adventists, but no present church body. Rather, one of those followers of Himes and Bliss who after a while organized as the Evangelical Adventists, only to disappear early in this century), and forthwith he began to talk to his friends about the second coming of Christ. FOPI 11.3

“You ought to hire a hall, and preach,” they told him. FOPI 11.4

“Well,” he answered, half in banter, “if you’ll hire the hall, I’ll preach.” FOPI 11.5

Forthwith they hired the hall; and Stephen, not to be bluffed, stood up and-found that he could preach. There was no money in preaching for the Adventists, however, unless the audience proved unusually generous; so Stephen kept on with his soap making and selling. On his travels in 1853 he came upon one William Saxby, at Springfield, a repair man for the railroad; and William Saxby was one of “those seventh-day people” the name Seventh-day Adventist had not yet been adopted. Saxby was lecturing to, or arguing or talking with, some young men friends of Haskell’s, who gave indication of being convinced of the claims of the seventh-day Sabbath. Haskell turned away with the remark, “Well, you can keep that old Jewish Sabbath if you want to; but I never will.” However, he accepted a tract from Saxby, entitled Elihu on the Sabbath. That was a mighty little bit of literature in the old days, and even surviving to the present on the publishers’ lists. It was written by Benjamin Clark, a rather odd character who did not agree wholly with his church, the Seventh Day Baptists, nor with the Seventh day Adventists, but well, he was Elihu, and he knew the answers. 2 FOPI 11.6

Haskell was on his way to Canada East, as Quebec was called in those days, where he had roused some interest before and was going again to preach. He took the tract along on a boat down Lake Consecon and read it. The more he sought to confute its arguments by reference to the Bible, the more he became convinced against his will. He decided to take time out to settle the matter; and leaving the boat five miles short of his destination, he went to the woods, and spent the day in study and prayer. Finally, on his knees, he gave his will to God, and emerged a Sabbath keeper. He went back to Massachusetts, this Saul of Tarsus now a Paul, and there he was confirmed by Joseph Bates, who had been notified by Saxby of Haskell’s address. No candid-minded man listened long to Joseph Bates without becoming convinced on the whole third angel’s message. 3 FOPI 12.1

Here Saxby passes out of the picture, except that we may remark he was the father of that Willard H. Saxby (whom, of course, none of you remember, but I do), a prominent minister among us in the last years of the nineteenth century. Willard married Betty Coombs, who was an early convert of Squier Osborne in Kentucky, and who became the first secretary of the Kentucky-Tennessee Conference, the first in the South. FOPI 13.1

Stephen N. Haskell soon became a notable figure in New England. He was a typical Yankee; I know not how lean and looming in the early days, but in my time massive, slow-moving, deliberate but irresistible in speech, with those New England provincial quirks such as “thutty” for thirty, and “Lenkster” for Lancaster. A leonine head he had, topped by a luxuriant mane the original color of which I never knew, but gray and then white in my time, a large, shovel-tipped nose, and a flowing beard. A fatherly man, he earned the affection of his thousands of spiritual children (he had no children of his own), to whom he gave the most solicitous care, a patriarch indeed. He grew with the years: preacher, organizer, executive, author, publisher, world traveler, but above all a leader of the lay forces of the church, in literature, correspondence, and personal missionary work. Married the second time after his first wife’s death, and surviving both, he gave directions that he should be buried next to the wife nearest to whose grave he should die. Mrs. Hettie Hurd Haskell, a notable worker in her own right, a preacher and missionary, lies in a ‘ ‘South Lancaster’ grave, but Stephen N. Haskell is buried by the side of Mary in California. FOPI 13.2

Elder Haskell, with his wife, in 1864, moved to South Lancaster, where lived the Priests and a few others. He was then director of the southern New England mission field. Maine and Vermont, having been the scenes of intensive and successful labors by the first pioneers, had, with the coming of denominational organization in 1863, become conferences; but Massachusetts and Connecticut, early homes of Bates and the Beldens, had somehow lagged. In 1870, under Haskell’s ministry, the New England Conference was formed at the time of the General Conference in Battle Creek. It was stated that it would take in all New England, including Vermont and Maine, but in later reports the separate state of these conferences is indicated, and so it appears that they successfully held out. Through various later mutations there have now appeared the two conferences: Northern New England-Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont; and Southern New England-Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. FOPI 13.3

In South Lancaster, Elder Haskell not only supervised the conference but gathered the sisters of the local church together and formed them into a prayer band whose burden was, first, their children. In the beginning there were four members; then, as the church grew, there were ten, and presently forty five. In 1869 they organized themselves as the Vigilant Missionary Society. FOPI 14.1

Mrs. Roxie Rice was the first president; Mary H. Haskell, vice-president; Mary L. Priest, secretary; and Rhoda Wheeler, treasurer. Mrs. Rice was a tall and stately but vivacious leader, later a teacher in the school. Mrs. Priest was a motherly woman, to whom the young people went with their problems and difficulties. All the women were workers, going out to pray with and to minister to the sick, the hungry, the needy, the spiritually ill. Under Haskell’s guidance and stimulation they extended their work beyond their own borders, gathering names and addresses as expertly as a modern list company, and sending literature and conducting missionary correspondence with people over the whole United States and many foreign countries. Thus they set the pattern and the pace for all our later literature and missionary work. That Vigilant Missionary Society was the nucleus of the Tract and Missionary Society which Haskell at first extended to the conference, then to the General Conference. 4 FOPI 14.2

Elder and Mrs. James White, hearing of the New England society, made a trip east to study Haskell’s organization. As a result James White wrote a special tract explaining and recommending it, and the idea took such general hold that at the 1874 General Conference in Battle Creek, a General Tract Society was organized for the whole field with James White as president, Stephen Haskell as business manager (which meant promoter, organizer, and caretaker), and the secretary, Maria L. Huntley, who had three or four years before come down from Washington, New Hampshire, to South Lancaster, and joined the Vigilant Missionary Society, becoming its secretary. Jennie Thayer was made her assistant. Their names stand high in the early annals of our missionary work. FOPI 15.1

The old Odd Fellows’ Hall which Haskell purchased in South Lancaster and transformed into a home and office, located on Bolton Road, has disappeared with the years. It stood just beyond the building now used for conference workers’ homes, but which was formerly the conference headquarters. The Priest home, where the church was organized in 1864, and which later served as the Tract Society office, is two doors south of the present church building. The Rice home is on the same street, nearer the college. FOPI 15.2

Eighteen years later, in 1882, the second great expansion began. Elder Haskell, always solicitous for the education of the youth, prayed into existence the South Lancaster Academy, now Atlantic Union College. It was opened in a transformed carriage house, 18 by 24 feet, which had for a time served as a chapel for the church. And to inaugurate it, they called the pioneer educator among us, Prof. Goodloe Harper Bell, who had opened the preliminary school in Battle Creek which eventuated as Battle Creek College in 1875, and who had headed the English department in that college since. With one assistant, Miss Edith Sprague, he opened the school, April 19. FOPI 16.1

Professor Bell was perhaps the most clear-sighted educator the denomination has ever known. He believed thoroughly in the system of Christian education which Mrs. White, divinely inspired, had already presented, and he sought here to put it into operation. The Bible as the foundation, agriculture as the A, B, and C, literature conformed to Christian ideals, science and revelation harmonized, the training of Christian workers the great aim-would that our educational concepts today were as clear and single-minded as his. The school owned no land, but the first year it rented twenty-six acres, upon which the boys worked while the girls carried the domestic duties. FOPI 16.2

The students of the college today are a bonny lot. They honor the halls and grace the beautiful campus of the school, and brighten up the long lane of the historic town’s elm-shaded street. Youth, swinging its bonnet, caroling the tunes of the day, and sometimes intoning the psalmody of the saints-I wonder what it knows of the struggles and the sacrifices, the mighty prayers, the sublime faith, and the heroic undertakings of the generation that made possible its advantages today. FOPI 16.3

They who dwell in the midst of historical monuments must seek a specially delicate balance. For some there are who think nothing of the past; they have care only for the broadcast of today’s ephemerals and follies. Others there are, though few, who bury themselves in the mosses of the past, and dwell oblivious of current life, save for the call of the dinner gong. But the thoughtful student, conscious of his opportunities in the day’s activities, and gathering to himself the substance and the implements of his chosen service, walks with reverent steps through the silent but eloquent aisles of his fathers, on to the tilled and harvest-laden fields of future service. FOPI 17.1