After Uriah Smith, based upon my personal reading through the Review and Herald, the person who I believe wrote the most in the Review and Herald was not Ellen G. White. It wasn’t even James White who frequently went in spurts and who tragically died way to early from malaria in 1881. Instead, that disctinction I believe belongs to Joseph Clarke, a Seventh Day Baptist who converted to Sabbatarian Adventism in 1855. Clarke and his wife were farmers and educators who lived near Bowling Green, Ohio (not too far from where Ellen G. White had her famous “Great Controversy” vision in 1858, and who presumably would have been there to witness the occasion). One thing that we do know about Clarke is that when James White received a lot of flack for proposing church organization, Clarke from the outset strongly supported James White and the organization of the church, at the local, conference, and by 1863, as a “General Conference.”
But who was Joseph Clarke? Despite the fact that he wrote many wonderful theological articles, and managed to write on just about every topic imaginable, he managed to say almost nothing about his personal life. I had foraged through the Seventh-day Adventist Obituary Index. Still, no luck. I managed to put together a very brief article as an entry for the Ellen G. White Encyclopedia because Ellen G. White encouraged him to write more (Lt. 9, 1868)–counsel he apparently took very seriously. So much so that A. W. Spalding considered him an unofficial editor for the Review and Herald. I also knew that he spent a short amount of time in Texas in response to appeals to help African-Americans during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. And of course, my favorite, is where George R. Knight (who did not find any details about his life) in his treatment of the development of military service notes that Clarke was the one who in response to James White’s rousing editorial “The Nation” about miltiary service responded by suggesting that Sabbatarian Adventists form a regiment of Sabbath keepers to punish the South for their rebellion (and thus be able to keep the seventh-day Sabbath).
After ten years of piecing together clues I found a new piece about a “J. & S. Clarke” in Texas. I had read through the obituary index so I was doubtful, but I tried to search once again under “S. Clarke”–all variations of J. Clarke had not gone anywhere. I finally found an obituary for Sarah A. Curtis Clarke (1830-1920) who married a Seventh Day Baptist by the name of Joseph N. Clarke on Oct. 6, 1853. A search for J. Neulon Clarke (1829-1914) showed that this was the same Clarke to whom she was married. But since he went by “Jos. Clarke” or “Joseph Clarke” with his hundreds of articles it just didn’t seem like it was him. Perhaps he wanted to throw off future researchers like me, and I remembered running across the obituary in my initial search. Further genealogical research showed that this was the same Clarke who lived in Ohio, moved to Texas, and later lived in the Missouri area. Apparently, they had six daughters and spent their final years with one of their daughters who lived in New York (another reason I had initially discounted these obituaries).
After long last, it finally all came together. It “clicked” and all the historical details fell into line. This “mystery person” I think has some special significance. In many ways it shows how the “rank and file” or ordinary church members–many of who never preached from the pulpit–but who still made a significant impact. Some times it is easy in the study of history to overlook some of these unsung heroes. Some, like Clarke, made an incredible contribution through their writing. And he certainly deserves to be recognized as someone who over a decade before James Edson White responded to appeals to work for African-Americans in the “South”–which at that time meant helping with the pioneer mission field in Texas. Their story deserves to be told and recognized. And as more research is done, no doubt I believe more material will come to light that will help shed a window into the development of early Adventism.
[Photograph courtesy of the General Conference Archives & Statistics]