One of my goals is to learn about the stories of various people in the Testimonies for the Church. What is clear is that there do appear to be general patterns, both in terms of the actual delivery of her jeremiads and also in terms of content (i.e. “systematic benevolence”).
One of the more colorful stories is that of Johnny Cranson, the orphan boy, whose story receives fuller treatment in my forthcoming book, Rank & File: Ordinary People Impacted by Extraordinary Visions. Yet I thought I would share just a tidbit on my blog about what I found.
I began by reading the testimony (2T 307-314) to an orphan boy. A nearby parallel passage was addressed to people caring for this orphan boy. The two were obviously speaking of one situation, and in the latter, there is a reference to an older sister who married a minister. What was this orphan boy? I spent hours searching through the Review and Herald in the 1860s and 1870s for other orphan children, and there were plenty.
I finally stumbled upon a report by James White in which he gives the story of Johnny, who actually had two older sisters one of whom married D. M. Canright. It was a report about Johnny’s baptism. His father was Samuel Cranson, a Methodist minister in Michigan who converted to Sabbatarian Adventism. Both parents tragically died from tuberculosis. It was a huge loss for Sabbatarian Adventists in the 1850s when his father, one of a hand full of ministers, passed away. I later found in Ellen White’s unpublished writings references to “Johnny” and his sisters because the Whites promised to look out for their children, a promise that they took quite seriously.
Some times when you do research all the clues just “fit” and this is what happened for me. As part of my research I like to do genealogical research and check census records. I later discovered a descendant of Cranson along with “the rest of the story.” In his early 20s Cranson moved to Boulder, Colorado. He opened a barber shop, married, and had a son. He relocated, after a destructive fire, to a ranch, but like his parents tragically died of tuberculosis.
While there does not appear to be any diaries or correspondence from Johnny extant, an important historical step is simply identifying who the people in the Testimonies were. And when the clues start to come together, they really come together. I was able to go back and identify photographs of Johnny and his sisters so that at least we know what he looked like as a young orphan boy. Ellen White took a personal interest in this family. He clearly was a rambunctious teenage boy, but it is also clear that she deeply cared for him and his family. At the heart of this particular “testimony” was her hope to make the best out of a really tragic situation. While no one could take the place of his parents, she reminds him several times that Jesus will be there with him. And the circumstantial evidence, at least from the descendants, appears to indicate that she made a very positive contribution upon his life.