The late Fred Hoyt, from La Sierra University, discovered a newspaper report about the trial of Israel Dammon in the 1980s. At the time, this discovery was considered revolutionary by some Adventist historians because here was contemporary evidence about the very early ministry of Ellen G. Harmon, later Ellen G. White. The results of the discovery were published in Spectrum: The Journal of Adventist Forums in August 1987. The Transcripts of the trial show an early prophetess caught up in a bedlam of noise, appealing to people not to go to hell, and even lying on the floor as she received a vision.
While it is difficult to assess what impact the discovery of these transcripts has had, I do know from personal experience that as a pastor I met a former Seventh-day Adventist minister who shared with me that the reason he left the Seventh-day Adventist ministry, and ultimately the church, was because of the Israel Dammon trial. From his perspective Ellen G. White could not be trusted. Obviously, the discovery of these transcripts has made an impact. I will never forget my first time reading them through as part of a historiography class that I took as a history major at Southern Adventist University. As a consequence of all this attention, Elder Jim Nix, the director of the Ellen G. White Estate, wrote a paper that begins with his own personal surprise after reading the details of the trial. In this paper Nix observes that Ellen G. White was a part of the “shouting Methodists” and therefore the description in the newspaper account may not have sounded quite so strange to Ellen (pg. 12). Yet some of the language, such as her usage of the term “hell” appear incongruous with the rest of her life, which leads one to question to the complete reliability of the witnesses as recorded in the trial transcripts.
The bottom line is that an incident occurred in which Israel Dammon ultimately ended up being arrested. The description by Ellen G. White versus those of some in the trial transcripts appear to be very different. The question is: can Ellen G. White’s account of what occurred be trusted? Was Ellen G. White simply a fanatic who became more socially respectable, or is it possible that she showed up as part of her prophetic ministry, which included rebuking a group of fanatics?
In my own research I discovered that the Israel Dammon trial pops back up again in Adventist history in 1874 as the Seventh-day Adventist Church expanded to California. At that time the most vociferous opponent of Ellen G. White was Miles Grant, a “first-day Adventist” who traveled to California. While there he challenged several ministers to a debate that resulted in a split among the early Advent Christian Church missionaries simply because his attacks were so negative (up until then both churches had left the other alone). He especially focused on two areas that he considered weak spots: the covenants and the prophetic ministry of Ellen G. White. He insinuated that Ellen White was a “Spiritualist medium” who was “inspired by a demon.” In order to cast her in the most negative light possible, he claimed that he had a letter from Israel Dammon that stated “that he had been acquainted with the Whites when she had first visions. At first he had confidence in them but then renounced them.” The letter went on to add that she had claimed that the Lord would come in June 1845.
The person to challenge Miles Grant was none other than D. M. Canright. He said:
“I stated that I was personally acquainted with Eld. Dammon, and knew him to be a notorious fanatic. While preaching, he would halloo, and jump about, even over the desk into the congregation. He was a leader of a band of fanatics in Maine in 1845 who held that the dead had arisen and gone up. The visions condemned him for his fanaticism, which caused him to turn against them. He was associated with one Simeon Hall, who disturbed my meetings to that degree that I had to have him arrested to keep the peace” (Advent Review and Herald of the Sabbath.–Extra, April 14, 1874, pg. 3).
Apparently Canright’s rebuttal was enough to quelch Grant, at least on this point, in their debate together.
What is even more significant is that D. M. Canright later defected from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and wrote two books that primarily attack the prophetic ministry of Ellen G. White. Jud Lake, in his apologetic response to the critics of Ellen G. White, Ellen White Under Fire, argues that Canright systematized all previous criticisms against Ellen G. White. It seems only logical that in Canright’s much later attempt to bring out anything and everything he could to undermine the prophetic ministry of Ellen G. White that he would have used the Israel Dammon trial to undermine the prophetic ministry of Ellen G. White. Yet Israel Dammon does not show up at all in either of his two books in which he attacks her! Apparently, even in later life, D. M. Canright did not consider Israel Dammon to be anything more than a fanatic. If he thought there was any credible evidence to use against Ellen G. White surely he would have used it, but he did not. This gives me confidence that the account of the Israel Dammon incident by Ellen G. White should be considered as reliable and that Israel Dammon was indeed a fanatic.