[This is a guest post by Kevin Morgan, a meticulous researcher, author, and friend who has found some amazing new material about Joseph Clarke. MWC]
Historian Michael Campbell and I share a common interest in Adventist pioneer Joseph Clarke, who Michael has described on his blog as an “unsung hero.” And certainly Joseph Clarke was, as I will note below.
Michael and I joined forces to try to find out what had happened to this Adventist pioneer known for four things. The first of these is his support of church organization, when James White was trying to accomplish the Herculean task of bringing the “scattered flock” of Sabbatarian Adventists together into a formal organization in the midst of the American Civil War. The second is for fancying “that the time might come when a regiment of Sabbathkeepers would strike this rebellion a staggering blow, in the strength of Him who always helped His valiant people when they kept His statutes.” Yet, there is no evidence that he actually advocated such. Rather, he encouraged the brethren to “stop pestering Bro. White on this subject, and go to God for guidance.” He also expressed confidence that, “when the time for drafting arrives, God will shed light on the path of the S. D. Adventists.” “We have the gift of prophecy,” he wrote, “and if we look to God, he will guide our leaders, and they will walk in the light” (RH, Sept. 23, 1862, p. 134). The third thing that Clarke is known for is his early but brief foray into the South to work with freed slaves following the end of the American Civil War. Fourth, Clarke is known for his many articles in the Review and Herald. (Last count, there are over 650! For comparison, Ellen White’s numbered 1895.)
Despite what we do know, there are things about his life that we do not know. Regarding Joseph Clarke, Michael and I each had our own questions. Michael’s were about when and where he died. Mine were about why he left the freedmen in Texas in the 1870s, after such a short while.
I wanted the readers of the book I am writing about Ellen White’s Civil War testimonies to see what Joseph Clarke looked like, so I searched the Internet for a good picture. I found one with Michael’s blog, and he and I made contact about our mutual research. Michael expressed his interest in my pursuing the topic further. With my wife’s advice on tracing genealogy, I went back and forth between the clues on ancestry.com and those in the Review and Herald articles that mention Joseph Clark. Piece by piece I was able to reconstruct his movements.
We discover, in Clarke’s own words, that he joined the Congregationalist Church of Gorham, Maine at age 13 on September 4, 1831 (RH, May 20, 1875, p. 166). Clarke married Sarah Haskins in Portageville, Ohio, in Wood County, on February 28, 1850. The 1850 census lists Joseph as a farmer and living with his new wife in Liberty, Ohio, where Sarah’s parents lived. In 1855, Joseph wrote the editors of the Review and Herald, asking about the immortality of the soul and the Sabbath, to which they made reply (RH, April 17, 1855, p. 216). Joseph became an Adventist that very year, as he later described in a Review and Herald article that Michael had told me about (RH, Nov. 26, 1867, p. 381). Within that same decade, he began contributing articles on different topics. His first article was entitled, “You will vote at our Spring Election, won’t you?” (RH, April 23, 1857). Over the years his articles covered many topics: biblical exposition, encouragement in Christian faith and character, Sabbath observance, church organization, systematic benevolence, prophecy, health, reports on meetings, practical topics for the family, and encouragement to attend camp meeting and to read and contribute to the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald. Regarding slavery, his articles took on a more prophetic tone as he, like Ellen White, declared that Negro slaves in America were fellow human beings and that no human being has a right to hold another as property (RH, June 4, 1857, p. 37; RH, Sept. 23, 1862, p. 134; RH, July 21, 1863, p. 61; RH, Jan. 23, 1866, pp. 61, 62). In 1868, Clarke also wrote a Sabbath School lesson covering Bible history before Israel entered the promised land (RH, Feb. 24, 1885, pp. 118, 119). In all, Clarke wrote over 650 articles for the Review and Herald, and several others for The Health Reformer, The Gospel Sickle, The American Sentinel, and The Youth’s Instructor.
Clarke’s work in the South began as he and his wife answered a call to follow up on the work of Eddie Capman, who had started a night school for the freedmen in Dallas County, Texas. Through the pages of the Review and Herald, he informed Adventist readers of their good start (RH, March 1, 8, 22, May 17 and 24, 1877) and described his visitation and preaching with the Rust brothers. He appealed to the church to send a licensed minister to help organize churches, and the General Conference sent Robert M. Kilgore (RH, July 19, 1877, p. 31), who spent several years in Texas, had good success in evangelistic meetings, and became the first president of the Texas Conference.
As I traced Clarke’s contributions in the Review and Herald, I discovered that he was suddenly no longer in Texas but had moved to Lowry City, Missouri, and was contributing articles from there. I was curious to know how long he had actually worked in Texas, and I got my answer in an article in which he said that he and his wife had taught in Texas for a year and a half (RH, Sept. 26, 1878, p. 111). Nonetheless, it remained a mystery what had caused him to leave after such a short time.
I did not get my answer until my wife remembered a book that had been sent her as a Southwestern Adventist University alumnus. The book is entitled The 19th Century Odyssey of John and Judith: From the Battlefields of the Civil War to Spiritual Battlefields on the Texas Frontier, written by G. Tom Carter. Chapter 11 explained what had happened. Principally, it was a disagreement between the Clarkes and Elder Robert M. Kilgore, who had come in 1877 to assist in the work in Texas. Wrote Clarke to Uriah Smith: “Bro. Kilgore and S. H. King are of the opinion it is not important as an agency for the propagation of present truth and that we cannot effect much here under the circumstances” (Letter, Feb. 24, 1878, Archives, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). Kilgore’s view was not based on racism, for his father had provided his home as a station in the Underground Railroad. Kilgore had been “threatened with death or being driven out of the counry if he allowed the Clarkes to continue teaching” (Carter, p. 74). Only one of the Clarkes’ twenty-four or so students had embraced the Sabbath—a 25-year-old man from Alabama. Fearing public opinion, even he had “not come to meeting with” the Adventists. Yet, they went to visit him Sabbath afternoons (Carter, p. 76).
After leaving Texas, Joseph Clarke continued working to spread the Adventist message in Missouri as colporteur and the conference secretary, and through his articles in the Review and Herald and other magazines. I traced his contributions until they broke off in 1897. At the time, he and his wife had been living in Lowry, Missouri (RH, March 2, 1897, p. 131). His next article came from Hamilton (RH, Aug. 9, 1898, p. 504). A link on ancestry.com led me to an explanation—his dear wife of forty-seven years had passed away during the break in his writing. I was moved by the simple obituary that Clarke sent to the Review and Herald:
“CLARKE.—Died near Lowry City, Mo., Mrs. Joseph Clarke, aged 71 years. She endured great physical suffering, but her faith was triumphant. J. Clarke” (RH, March 1, 1898, p. 146).
After 1898, there was an even bigger break until Clarke’s next article. His 1901 article, “Apostasy, or Death in the Pot,” came from Battle Creek, Michigan (RH, July 9, 1901, p. 436). That was his last article in the Review and Herald. From then on, Clarke’s pen went silent. The only occurrences of “Joseph Clarke” after that came much later—in historians’ references to his contributions (e.g., A. W. Spalding, RH, June 11, 1946, p. 128; Arthur L. White, RH, June 6, 1968, p. 3). The Review and Herald carried no obituary for Joseph Clarke. No one apparently thought to write it, and that left Michael wondering when and where he had died.
Surmising that Clarke, in his eighties, would have probably remained in Michigan, my wife suggested that I do a search of Michigan death records. As I entered his name in the search engine for seekingmichigan.org—sure enough—two “Joseph Clarkes” popped up. One was obviously too young to be the one I wanted. The second was the right age. I clicked on the name, and there I found what we had been looking for—Joseph Clarke’s death certificate! As I read it over, I discovered that Joseph Clarke, the Adventist pioneer, had moved to his nephew’s house in Ypsilanti, Michigan and had quietly passed to his earthly rest in a hospital in Detroit, Michigan, on April 12, 1908. It is time that we issue his obituary in the Review!
All of Joseph Clarke’s pertinent biographical information can be found here.