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Chapter 1: Messenger of the Lord in Our Midst
Chapter 1:    Messenger of the Lord in Our Midst
( 1827 to 1836 )

In old Battle Creek on a Tuesday morning in April hundreds had gathered at the tabernacle for the opening meeting of a General Conference session. After the usual formalities, the president closed his opening address, surrendered the office that he had held for two years, and declared:  {1BIO 15.1}
"The conference is now formally opened. What is your pleasure?"  {1BIO 15.2}
A little woman in advancing years arose from one of the seats on the floor, pressed to the front, mounted the steps to the platform, and moved to the desk to speak to the large audience. She had something to say, and she felt that now was the time to say it. After describing the great privilege of the Advent people to stand high above the world, sanctified by the truth and having a close connection with heaven, she came quickly to the burden of her heart--the quality and fitness of those who serve in the cause of God, and especially those who lead. She declared:  {1BIO 15.3}
Every soul in every conference, in every part of the Lord's vineyard, has the privilege of knowing the truth. But truth is not truth to those who do not practice it. Truth is only truth to you when you live it in daily life, showing the world what those people must be who are at last saved. [QUOTATIONS IN THIS INTRODUCTORY ACCOUNT ARE FROM GCB 1901, PP. 23-26, 460-464.]  {1BIO 15.4}

Then addressing particularly the leaders of the General Conference, she pointed out the damaging impact on a rapidly growing church of restrictive policies imposed by a very small group of men struggling to manage a work that had grown far beyond their ability to handle. "You have no right to manage," she declared, "unless you manage in God's order." She then cried out:  {1BIO 15.5}

What we want now is a reorganization. We want to begin at the foundation, and to build upon a different principle. . . .  There are to be more than one or two or three men to consider the whole vast field. The work is great, and there is no one human mind that can plan for the work which needs to be done.  {1BIO 16.1}

The speaker hastened to say:  According to the light that has been given me -- and just how it is to be accomplished I cannot say--greater strength must be brought into the managing force of the conference. . . . There must be a renovation, a reorganization; a power and strength must be brought into the committees that are necessary.  {1BIO 16.2}

It was a solemn and breathtaking address. The delegates, representing a world church of seventy-five thousand members, sat spellbound for a full hour. The response was immediate: That very hour steps were taken for the session to turn from usual procedures and address itself to accomplish what the words of the speaker plainly called for--reorganization.  {1BIO 16.3}
Who was this little woman who spoke so earnestly and so plainly at the opening of a great congress of the church with words of reproof and counsel and then hope, words that burned within the hearts of church leaders and all present that day?  {1BIO 16.4}
The voice was that of the messenger of the Lord, Ellen G. White, who for nearly a decade had resided overseas, and who for half a century and more had been bringing messages from the God of heaven to encourage, guide, and guard His remnant people on earth.  {1BIO 16.5}
Just three weeks later the reorganization was fully accomplished. Responsibilities in church management had been shifted from just a few men at the General Conference headquarters to a large number carrying responsibilities in the various portions of the gospel field. The way was now open for the work of God in its many ramifications throughout the world to forge ahead. At the farewell meeting many joined J. N. Loughborough, who was present during the organization of the General Conference thirty-eight years before, in the expression "I thank God for what I have seen here in this work of reorganization during this conference."  {1BIO 16.6}

In her closing remarks Ellen White asked the question "Who do you suppose has been among us since this conference began? . . . Who has walked up and down the aisles of this tabernacle?" She answered, "The God of heaven and His angels," and added:  {1BIO 17.1}

We have been trying to organize the work on right lines. The Lord has sent His angels to minister unto us who are heirs of salvation, telling us how to carry the work forward. . . . Press together, press together. Let us be united in Christ.  {1BIO 17.2}

The church had heard the voice of God through His messenger, and the response was electrifying and immediate. But, by rights, we should begin the story of the life and work of Ellen G. White with her birth and early life--and in doing so, let her speak.  {1BIO 17.3}

                                               Here the Story Begins

"By the request of dear friends," wrote Ellen White just fifty years earlier as she traced the opening lines of her first little book in 1851, "I have consented to give a brief sketch of my experience and views, with the hope that it will cheer and strengthen the humble, trusting children of the Lord." The "brief sketch" did that. But her active life was to extend over another sixty-four years. Now it is with difficulty that the story is confined to six large volumes.  {1BIO 17.4}

In a fuller account she makes the simple statement:    I was born at Gorham, Maine, November 26, 1827. My parents, Robert and Eunice Harmon, were for many years residents of this state.-- 1T, p. 9.  {1BIO 17.5}

The village of Gorham is situated some twelve miles west of the city of Portland in rolling country. If tradition can be trusted, the Harmon family lived in a little one-and-a-half-story cottage on Fort Hill, two miles north of the village. The home stood until 1971, when it was destroyed by fire. It was in this home, in a second-floor bedroom, that twins, Ellen Gould and Elizabeth M. Harmon, were born. Robert Harmon worked the land and possibly, during the bitterly cold winter months, engaged in making hats part-time to supplement the rather meager returns from agricultural pursuits.  {1BIO 17.6}

The name Harmon is well known in the area stretching out to the west from Portland. The family was not an insignificant one. [ELLEN'S FATHER AND MOTHER BOTH SPRANG FROM ANGLO-SAXON FAMILIES WITH TRACEABLE LINES BACK THROUGH EARLY AMERICAN HISTORY TO ENGLAND. SEE APPENDIX A FOR THE GENEALOGICAL RECORDS OF HER IMMEDIATE PROGENITORS. A COMPREHENSIVE "FAMILY TREE" IS AVAILABLE FROM THE ELLEN G. WHITE ESTATE.] Ellen's grandfather Daniel had been a corporal in the Revolutionary War. Her great-grandfather John had married an Irish woman; they were the first of the Harmons to settle in Standish, Maine. Ellen's great-great-grandfather Samuel had been a landowner in comfortable circumstances in Scarboro, Maine, where he built a mill on the river, known as "Harmon's Mill." Ellen's great-great-great-grandfather John served in King Philip's War, which broke out in 1675. He fought the Indians in "the great swamp fight," then as a reward was given a grant of land in Maine. He moved to Scarboro in 1726 and was one of the organizers of the First Congregational Church. Most of the Harmons were Congregationalists, but Robert, Ellen's father, broke the tradition. He became a Methodist.  {1BIO 18.1}
On July 11, 1810, Robert Harmon married Eunice Gould, of Portland. At this time Maine was still a part of the State of Massachusetts. It was not until 1820 that it came into its own as a State in the Union. Robert and Eunice are spoken of in 1843 as having been Methodists for forty years, so it seems that both were members of the church from childhood.  {1BIO 18.2}

When Ellen and Elizabeth were born, their oldest sister, Caroline, was 15, Harriet was 13, and John was 11 years old. Mary was 6, and then there was Sarah --with whom Ellen would have the closest relationship--who was 5. Robert was nearly 2 years old when the twins were born.  {1BIO 18.3}

The Fort Hill farm, on which the Harmon home has been understood to have been situated, is two or three hundred yards from the spot where the first settlers of Gorham--also veterans of King Philip's War--built their fort for protection against the Indians. We can well imagine Ellen as a child listening with other children to the old-timers of Gorham telling harrowing stories of the Indian wars, especially of one Gorham settler who decided to stay at home one more day before going to the fort. He wanted to gather the last of his crops, then would come with his family. But on that last day the Indians came, and only one small boy escaped, by hiding in the woods.  {1BIO 18.4}
But probably the recollection of Gorham that Ellen would cherish most was the spacious beauty of the place. The home was located on the brow of a hill overlooking the valley and the mountains beyond. Star flowers and trillium spread their carpet of bloom over the forest floor; beech trees and oaks and birches flung their delicate new leaves in the breeze against the background of the dark evergreens. The land sloped away from the farmhouse and provided a beautiful view of the broad expanse below Sebago Lake; in the distance were the lifting heights of the White Mountains.  {1BIO 19.1}

Harbingers of the Advent Awakening
Just two weeks before Ellen's sixth birthday the local Portland Advertiser reported:  {1BIO 19.2}

We are told by the early risers . . . that the sky yesterday morning [Nov. 13], before sunrise, was full of meteors and luminous traces, shooting athwart the heavens in all directions. The sky, some say, seemed to be on fire--others add that the stars appeared to be falling. -- November 15, 1833.  {1BIO 19.3}

A few hundred miles away in Low Hampton, New York, a farmer and former Army officer named William Miller was just beginning a new career as a preacher. He was telling the world what he had discovered in the prophecies--that Christ was coming soon, yes, within ten years. Miller's first published work, a sixty-four-page pamphlet, appeared in 1833. That was the year he received his license to preach, and his traveling, preaching, and correspondence were increasing rapidly (F. D. Nichol, The Midnight Cry, pp. 52-57).  {1BIO 19.4}

But in nearby Gorham little Ellen slept soundly through the night when the stars fell. She knew nothing yet of William Miller and his message, and in November, 1833, she was probably just starting to attend school. It is logical to assume that like any healthy youngster she must have used the carefree moments of her childhood to learn more about the things around her. {1BIO 19.5}

Carefree Childhood Days  
With her brothers and sisters Ellen made little journeys into the woods. In later years she told her children of how on one fall day they went in search of hickory nuts, gathered and hidden by the squirrels.  {1BIO 20.1}

Ellen, always compassionate, took with her a little cloth bag of corn. When she found a cache of nuts in a hole in a hollow tree, she eagerly retrieved her find and then substituted the corn she had brought, hoping that the exchange would not be too disappointing to the provident squirrels.  {1BIO 20.2}

As with most families of modest circumstances in those days, the milk supply came from the family cow. Whether the story she was to tell in later years took place in Gorham before the family moved to Portland, or after they had taken up residence in the southern outskirts of the city, is difficult to determine. We do know that Ellen at an early age learned to milk and loved the animals for which she cared.  {1BIO 20.3}
One evening as she went to the pasture gate to bring the cow to the shed for milking, the bossy that usually was there waiting for her was nowhere in sight. Ellen went down through the woods, frequently calling the cow. Not until she had reached a little brook in the valley below, did she hear a response. To her dismay she found the cow in the middle of the stream, with all four feet stuck in the mud. Immediately Ellen set about devising a plan to get the cow unstuck. Picking some luscious grass nearby, she reached out to the cow, who was grateful for something to eat. After repeating this several times, Ellen offered the cow another generous handful of grass, but this time held it just a little beyond her reach. Then with her free hand grasping the nearest horn Ellen urged, "Come, Bossy," and moved the grass away. The cow, fearful of losing the promised morsel, put forth extraordinary effort to break loose from the mud. Soon Ellen and cow were making their way back to home and shed.  {1BIO 20.4}
Early Experiences Recounted      Occasionally in later years Ellen mentioned her girlhood experiences. When she and her twin sister, who was rather chubby and could not climb as Ellen could, were going through the woods, Elizabeth would say to Ellen, "Help over log." Of course Ellen did, and as she recounted this years later to a nurse, Delia Walker-Lovell, she remarked, "I have been helping over logs ever since."  {1BIO 20.5}

In 1901 she wrote of the character-building discipline that had a mold on her life:  {1BIO 21.1}

When I was a child, and was told to do something, sometimes I would begin to speak words of complaint, and would go out of the room. But I would be called back, and asked to repeat what I     had said. Then I would repeat it. My mother would take that up, and show me how I was a part of the family, a part of the firm; that it was as much my duty to carry my part of the responsibility     as it was my parents' duty to take charge to me. She would carry that out to the letter. I had my times now and then for amusement, but I tell you there was no idleness in my home, and there was no disobedience there that was not taken in hand at once.-- MS 82, 1901.  {1BIO 21.2}
A "School Days" Experience      An experience at school, as recounted to a group of educators in the summer of 1891, gives us a glimpse of young Ellen and her character and her relation to people and circumstances.  {1BIO 21.3}

In the days that she attended the school on Brackett Street, two or three students often sat together at one long desk. The girl sitting beside Ellen one day did something that provoked the teacher. In a rage he threw a ruler at the head of the offending pupil. His aim was poor and the ruler hit Ellen instead, gashing her forehead. Here is how she told about it years later at the Harbor Springs teachers' convention:  {1BIO 21.4}

It hit me and gave me a wonderful wound. I rose from my seat and left the room. When I left the schoolhouse and was on the way home, he ran after me and said, "Ellen, I made a mistake; won't you forgive me?"  {1BIO 21.5}

Said I, "Certainly I will; but where is the mistake?"  {1BIO 21.6}
"I did not mean to hit you."  {1BIO 21.7}
"But," said I, "it is a mistake that you should hit anybody. I would just as soon have this gash in my forehead as to have another injured."-- MS 8a, 1891.  {1BIO 21.8}

But now back to the times when Ellen Harmon was born. On that Monday, November 26, when the twins arrived in the second-floor bedroom of the Harmon home, John Quincy Adams was President of the United States. The next year, after a bitter election campaign, he would be replaced by Andrew Jackson. Experiments were being conducted in building the country's first railroad. In 1826, just one year before, the American Temperance Society was incorporated in Boston.  {1BIO 22.1}

The Family Moves to the City of Portland    While the Harmon family enjoyed the rural location of their Gorham home, Robert found his work as a hatter more prosperous than his farming, and the family moved sometime between 1831 and 1833 to the city of Portland, where he could give his full time to his trade. They first lived in a house on Spruce Street on the growing western edge of the city. Later they moved a few blocks down the hill to 44 Clark Street, for according to the city records it was there that Robert Harmon the Hatter lived in 1844.  {1BIO 22.2}

When the family moved to Portland the population of the city was thirteen thousand. Business was good and growing. The city itself was situated on a peninsula jutting out into Casco Bay. When the Harmons moved there, the hills were virtually uninhabited, the main part of the city being concentrated in the center of the peninsula, which is about three miles long.  {1BIO 22.3}
Ellen's mother, Eunice Gould, had grown up in Portland and came from a highly respected family. The city directory of 1834 shows seventeen Goulds, including a hatter, a hat store owner, and a widow named Sarah Gould. The name Sarah was given to Ellen's favorite older sister.  {1BIO 22.4}

The Portland the Youthful Ellen Harmon Knew     Portland, Maine, from its infancy was an important seaport. At no time was this more true than during Ellen's childhood. The poet Longfellow was born in a home at the edge of Casco Bay, and had grown up there just twenty years earlier. He left a rich source of poetic descriptions of Portland life. "I remember," Longfellow wrote, "the black wharves and the slips, and the sea-tides tossing free; and Spanish sailors with bearded lips, and the beauty and mystery of the ships."--"My Lost Youth," Complete Poetical Works, p. 194.  {1BIO 22.5}

We can imagine Ellen and Elizabeth, perhaps in company with their older brother John, or even their father, visiting Portland Pier along Fore Street. Portland was noted for its trade with the West Indies, just as Salem, Massachusetts, specialized in the East India trade, and New Bedford in whaling. Along the Fore Street wharves were crowded a forest of masts: brigs, barks, majestic clippers, schooners, and even a few whalers. The "Spanish sailors with bearded lips" and with elaborate tattoos were there too. As Ellen and Elizabeth walked along, wide-eyed, under the pointed bowsprits of the graceful square-riggers, they could see the busy counting offices; the ship chandler's stores with their ropes, pulleys, anchors, chronometers, and other navigational instruments; and, here and there, the two-story sail lofts with their signs flapping from the upper windows.  {1BIO 23.1}
The stevedores, many of them black, were hoisting the heavy barrels of Jamaica rum and molasses from the holds of the ships, and along with the sweating and swearing came the rhythmic songs of the islands.  {1BIO 23.2}
The life of the sailors was hard and hazardous, and the Portland papers frequently carried stories about ships lost at sea or grounded and thrashed to shreds on the rocky coasts of New England. Many a home built in the city of Portland had its "widow's walk," a little porchlike area with a neatly painted white balustrade around it at the very top of a house. It is said that from these vantage points those who waited the return of a husband, father, or son could look out over Casco Bay to watch for the return of the ship that had been out upon the seas for months or perhaps even a year or more.  {1BIO 23.3}
The chief export from Portland was lumber. Portland's streets were often lined with teams of oxen hauling timber out of the virgin wilderness of Maine. While Portland sent its lumber out to different parts of the world, it received from the West Indies sugar, molasses, coffee, tobacco, spices, and of course, rum. The big share of the latter, considering the large sailor population in the town, kept things lively. Portland was early a center of temperance activity.  {1BIO 23.4}

The city directory of 1834 lists the professions of the men of the city and shows that it had 256 laborers, 220 mariners, 209 dealers in West Indian goods, 145 carpenters, and 131 ship captains. All of these jobs were related to the sea, for Portland was not only a seaport but also a shipbuilding center of considerable importance.  {1BIO 23.5}

The weather in Portland was colder than it is today. The average yearly temperature between 1820 and 1833 was a mere 43 F. February was the coldest month, with the temperature hovering around 20 F. most of the time. In July the temperature reached the upper 60s. Snow was heavy, a little under five feet annually, but in 1833 nearly eight feet fell. The homes were heated by wood-burning stoves, and for light, whale-oil lamps were used. Common use of kerosene was yet two or three decades away. The Harmon home was brightened outside by the flowers that Eunice Harmon loved. The inside of the house was equipped for hatmaking.  {1BIO 24.1}
We can imagine Robert Harmon taking his twin girls along to the wood market that occupied an entire block in the heart of the city, bounded by Brown, Congress, Center, and Free streets. Here farmers would unload cord wood and bargain with the townspeople. It might well have been here that Robert Harmon bought beaver and rabbit pelts of animals that the farmers had trapped. He would have to hire someone to take his wood and pelts home, for only a wealthy family kept its own horse and carriage or wagon.  {1BIO 24.2}

Hatmaking in the Harmon House     The animal pelts he bought would soon begin their transformation into fur top hats. First he would lay the pelt on a table and with a stout brush rub in a solution of mercuric nitrate. This highly poisonous solution was necessary to make the infinitesimal barbs on each strand of fur become more pronounced. Then with either large shears or a scraping knife he would remove the fur from the skin and place it in a stack. After the hair had been laboriously picked out of the fur, the most difficult part of the process began. A device resembling a violin bow but five or six times as big was brought down over the table. Snapping the catgut on the pile of fur on the bench separated, scattered, and gradually deposited the particles in a smaller and finer sheet. Each sheet represented one hat. With further manipulation, the fibers hooked themselves together into what ultimately became the fur fabric of the hat. The rest of the process is difficult to describe, but Ellen eventually learned the simplest part of it, which was shaping the crown of the hat.  {1BIO 24.3}

The price of a hat ranged all the way from 75 cents to $15, depending on the quality of the fur. It must be remembered that in those days 75 cents was the pay for ten hours of diligent work of a well-trained artisan.  {1BIO 25.1}
Robert Harmon soon discovered, as did others in Portland, that in the South, with its agricultural economy, the prices for hats were much better than they were for those sold locally. In early 1804 the hatters of New England had established stores in Savannah, Georgia. Hats worth $90 a dozen in the North went for $120 a dozen in the South. Robert Harmon made a business trip to Georgia in 1837, the year of Ellen's accident.  {1BIO 25.2}

Attending Brackett Street School    
It was probably in the autumn of 1833 that Ellen started school, just before her sixth birthday. It could have been earlier, for at that time children could be in school at 5 or even a bit younger. The school was conducted in a frame building on Brackett Street, some four or five short blocks from the Harmon home. In 1836 the wooden building was replaced by a two-story brick structure, and it was doubtless in this building that Ellen spent her last full year in school. School was conducted during both summer and winter in Portland, and once the grind began it was merciless on small children. But Ellen loved it, and she had great ambitions in obtaining a good education and making something of herself.  {1BIO 25.3}

As for textbooks, Samuel Worcester's first, second, and third books of reading and spelling were prescribed, but there were never enough books to go around. Ellen advanced rapidly, and soon the teacher was calling on her to read the lessons for the rest of the class. She moved upstairs with the more advanced pupils, but was sometimes called down to read for the little ones in the primary room.  {1BIO 25.4}
Years later, when she was traveling on the train with her husband, James White, she was reading to him an article he had written, and together they were correcting it. A lady leaned forward and touched her shoulder, saying, "Aren't you Ellen Harmon?"  {1BIO 25.5}
"Yes," she replied, "but how did you know me?"  {1BIO 25.6}

"Why," said the lady, "I knew you by your voice. I attended school on Brackett Street in Portland, and you used to come and read our lessons to us. We could understand them better when you read them than when anyone else did."--DF 733c.  {1BIO 25.7}

The Textbooks She Read   
Instead of Dick and Jane, the reader Ellen Harmon used had none other than a little girl named Ellen as a heroine. The sketches that illustrate the primer show Ellen wearing a long, straight, light-colored skirt. The hem had a little ruffle that came just to the top of her shoes. The blouse had a broad collar and short, puffed sleeves and was fastened down the front with hooks and eyes. Other pictures of the primer depict long-sleeved dresses for older girls and sometimes a hat with a gracefully upturned broad brim and a low, round top. One lesson about Ellen is titled "A Good Girl."  {1BIO 26.1}

No pains were spared to indoctrinate the youngsters with the virtues of hard work and obedience. In other lessons Christian theology was forthrightly taught, and every scholar who could read was required to have a Testament of his own from which several verses were read each day at the opening and close of school.  {1BIO 26.2}

Among the prescribed books for children, and possibly some of the same ones she referred to in later years, was the Methodist Sabbath School. Ellen was to recall that she had "read many of the religious biographies of children who had possessed numberless virtues and lived faultless lives." She would repeat to herself again and again, "If that is true, I can never be a Christian. I can never hope to be like those children."--1LS, pp. 146, 147. Such thoughts drove her almost to despair.  {1BIO 26.3}

Robert Harmon's Trip to Georgia    
In 1837, when Ellen was 9, America was struck with depression, and the hat business was severely affected. Robert Harmon found that the stock of hats made during the long winter months of 1836-1837 moved very slowly, so he decided to take his supply to Georgia in hope of a more ready sale. There was doubtless an air of excitement in the family the night before he was to leave, and they helped wrap the hats and place them in a large leather bag. We can imagine the whole family following the father to the stage depot early the next morning, first along the dirt paths near their home, and then on the wooden sidewalks down to the old "Elm House" on the corner of Federal and Temple streets, to catch the western stage for Portsmouth, Boston, and points south.  {1BIO 26.4}

This was the golden age of stage travel, and Portland was a major center on which all the lines converged. At times it was almost impossible to pass through Federal Street on account of the coaches drawn up two and three deep, morning and night.  {1BIO 27.1}
The horses of the leading coach were tied to the splendid elm tree that stood in front of the inn. Behind this there might be a great variety of vehicles, even an imposing Concord coach drawn by six or perhaps eight horses. This wonderful affair must have delighted Ellen and the other youngsters with its decorations of gold and yellow.  {1BIO 27.2}
The family probably waited outside on the sidewalk as Father Harmon went in to purchase his ticket. Perhaps as they waited they would hear the coachman's horn signaling an approaching stage. This was the best part of it all, for no matter how slowly the stages traveled between stops, the drivers had trained their teams to perfection in the art of arriving at the tavern door with great dash and spirit.  {1BIO 27.3}
And the stage driver himself, as he hopped down from his perch, was a sight to behold. He wore new store clothes in contrast with the homespun of most people, and with his fancy tailored overcoat and gorgeous-colored sash, he inspired the awe of any curious child.  {1BIO 27.4}
As Robert Harmon passed up his hat bag to the top of the stage, then climbed in and turned to wave Goodbye, he had his last look at the cheerful, perfectly formed features of Ellen's face. The next time he was to see her, she would be much changed.  {1BIO 27.5}
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