Over the past year new things have come to light about our Adventist past. I am listing them below because together I think they are very interesting and reveal how research about our past continues to grow as sources both new and old shed light. They also illustrate the importance of doing careful historical research as some times things are simply assumed. Overall, such research helps us obtain a clearer grasp of our heritage.
1. The 1888 General Conference Session picture actually is not of the famous 1888 General Conference session. It has been published numerous times and attributed to that meeting, but it is actually a picture of the organization of the Minneapolis Seventh-day Adventist Church earlier that same year. Evidence on the back of the photograph shows that this was the right place, but the wrong occasion!
2. In doing research on key “turning points” in Adventist history I discovered that J. N. Andrews left on the S. S. Atlas on Sept. 14, 1874 (NOT Sept. 15, 1874). Apparently everyone has copied this date but without ever actually checking the original source in the Review and Herald of Sept. 22, 1874, pg. 112). While this is a minor significant historical fact, it is important to get those facts right.
3. The Israel Dammon incident is more suspect than previously thought. In a previous blog post I outlined my discovery of a debate between Miles Grant, an Advent Christian who disdained Ellen G. White and the Seventh-day Adventist Church, with D. M. Canright, a prominent Adventist minister who defected. Grant used the testimony of Dammon, initially an early (1845) supporter of Ellen G. Harmon, who was the recipient of a vision and caused a strong reaction. Dammon was arrested for disturbing the peace. While some of these details are well known, what is interesting is that Canright, who later apostatized and used just about everything he could to attack Ellen G. White’s prophetic ministry, never found Dammon’s accusations as credible enough to use against Ellen G. White’s prophetic ministry. This, for me, gives me greater confidence in the reliability of Ellen G. White’s testimony that Dammon was indeed a fanatic.
4. Ellen G. White suffered from “breast cancer” in 1871. In the Review and Herald of Nov. 14, 1871, pg. 172, James White observes that they had returned to their Greeneville, Michigan, home for some rest and recuperation. “For two years past she has, most of the time, suffered from painful and discouraging evidence of a growing cancer in the breast.” This prompted a time of prayer after which they covenanted together to serve the Lord once again. The “growing cancerous swelling, which had become large, and was very painful” was “entirely removed.” In consultation with modern medical experts, it appears that Ellen G. White experienced a very painful breast infection, but despite this, one can certainly better appreciate her resolute faith in the face of a very painful experience.
5. E. J. Waggoner had a much more difficult past prior to 1888 than has been previously thought. In a blog post last year I highlight Ellen G. White’s “testimony” to him as a young minister and physician. This gives greater insight into the challenges and complexities that led up to the 1888 General Conference session (his local Conference president later became General Conference president), and it helps to further illustrate Ellen G. White’s willingness to give a young person another chance and to encourage him to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
I could post more “discoveries” but I will have to save them for future blog posts and articles! In many ways historical research is like being a detective. Some times you discover things that take you in unexpected directions. Part of the challenge is having an open mind as one examines primary sources.
Who knows what new historical sources will surface in the coming New Year?
Do you have an old trunk full of documents? Or perhaps an old letter or some other insight that will help shed more light on our Adventist past?