The Case of D.M. Canright

Chapter 12 - Personal History: Part II

We now propose to survey the second main section of Canright’s life, namely, from his departure from Adventism in 1887 until his death.

Dudley and Lucy Canright’s first child died while he was yet in Adventism. There other three children were born after he had left it. It was shortly after that crisis that Jesse and Bessie were born on March 24, 1887. Nellie was born on March 6, 1888.

Though Canright ceased to be pastor of the Baptist Church of Otsego on Oct. 1st, 1888, he continued to reside there for the next two years. It was the place where his wife’s people lived, and this made it pleasant for his family when he was away – as to the West coast – time and again. But during the week of Sep. 26, 1890, the Canrights moved to North Park, Grand Rapids, Mich. Canright’s son told me (in a letter dated May 23, 1962) that his father "first bought ten acres at North Park and built house and barns there."

In the spring of 1891, on March 30, at 11:00 a.m., the Canright family sustained a heavy blow in the untimely death of the older boy. The record published in Otsego Union on April third reads:

"Fred Canright, son of Rev. D.M. Canright, died at their home in Grand Rapids, Monday, of malignant diphtheria and was brought here for internment the following morning. Fred was an unusually bright boy of sixteen, a student in college, studying hard to finish the course this coming June."

It was about the year 1897 that Canright moved to Toledo, Ohio. Under date of Dec. 12, 1962, his son wrote to me that in the 1897-1900 period, the family lived in Toledo, Ohio, in Adrian and Kalamazoo, Mich., and in South Bend, Ind., "while my father was selling religious books, The Story of the Bible, mostly." I have found a description of this book in the fourth edition of Seventh-day Adventism Renounced. It reads thus: "The story of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, told in simple language adapted to all ages, 704 pages, 300 pictures, bound in fine English cloth, richly ornamented, gift binding, a treasure in any home, postpaid...$2.00." In the fall of 1900 we find Canright back in Grand Rapids, though not in a pastoral capacity.

It seems clear that when the Canrights returned to Grand Rapids, they returned to their North Park home, and that at this juncture Canright purchased some adjoining land. His son, writing to me on May 23, 1962, said:

"When I was ten or twelve, he bought thirteen acres on the north side of the ten, and another ten on the south side a few years later. After I was out of school, we had a small dairy of twelve or fifteen cows for about five years. We also leased thirty or forty raise feed for the stock. After we sold the cows (1907-1908), he had a good income from selling off the land in lots. (A letter from Canright’s son, dated Oct. 27, 1960, said: "He didn’t need financial help, as he had a good income from lots which he sold now and then out of our farm land.") The taxes were always paid up."

Berean Baptist was the Canright church home ever after. There he often preached in the absence of the pastors, and there he used to teach the Adult Bible Class. (SDAR, p. 10) In a letter written by his son on Oct. 27, 1960, we read: "Up to the time I left [for France, in Sep. 1917] I know of many visitors from the Berean Church who came out to see him. .... I believe I can say without hesitation that all the members of the Berean Church had (and still have) the greatest respect for him, and often called on him for advice in church matters."

During the summer of 1912, Canright was busy at North Park. In the letter from his son just referred to, he wrote: "I spent most of the year of 1912 in Alaska, coming home in October, I believe. My father took care of the farm while I was away and also had an addition built on to the house, and I helped finish it on my return." At that time Mrs. Canright was not at all well. Her nephew, Howard Pierce of Otsego, told me that she was "ailing for some time" before she died of goiter and heart failure (Jan. 2, 1913). This is confirmed by her husband in the following obituary which was published in the Review and Herald on June 12, 1913 (p. 575).

"CANRIGHT. – Died, recently at Grand Rapids, Michigan, Mrs. Lucy Hadden Canright, wife of Elder D.M. Canright, of pneumonia and heart failure, aged 57 years. She had been failing for nearly a year, but neither she nor the family supposed it was anything serious. At last she was persuaded to see the family physician. All were shocked when told that she was in the last stages of heart disease, could live but a few months at the longest, and might die any day. This was kept from her, and everything possible done to make her life as pleasant as possible. She expected to be well again soon, but caught a slight cold, pneumonia set in, and six days later she died. She suffered very little, and quietly fell asleep, all her family being present. She leaves one son and two daughters, all of age, unmarried, and at home when not away teaching, also two brothers and two sisters. The remains were taken to Otsego, Michigan, her old home, and buried in the family cemetery. The funeral services were conducted by her pastor, Rev. R.M. Scott.
"When she was a small child, her mother, with many others, embraced the Adventist faith under the preaching of Elder M.E. Cornell at Otsego, Michigan, where there had been a strong church ever since. Here Lucy grew up a Sabbath-keeper. Being an excellent organist, a good singer and an apt teacher, she was always a great help in the Sabbath-school. Later in life she was several times elected superintendent of a School.
"Mrs. Canright attended the College at Battle Creek, Michigan, where Professor Bell was teacher. In 1881 we were married by Elder James White, only a few weeks before his death. Together we visited many of the churches in Michigan, attended a series of camp-meetings in Canada, Maine, New England, New York, etc. One summer, we, with a large company, conducted tent-meetings in Worcester, Mass., and raised up a church there [in 1885]. This was the last time either of us ever saw Sister White.
"My wife was with me most of the time during my work in the church and college at Battle Creek, and thus was widely known among Sabbath-keepers. She greatly enjoyed entertaining the ministers and brethren in her own home and loved them dearly. Among these were Brother and Sister White and both their sons, Edson and W.C., also Elders Butler, Smith, Corliss and Fargo and many others. During all her life she often spoke of all these with very kindly words and tender feelings. She took little interest in doctrinal discussion, a big heart and tender sympathy for all dominating her life. She cried when circumstances separated her from these old ties, but she went with her companion, and greatly beloved by the church for her efficient and unselfish work. In my absence she conducted services in the pulpit, prayer meeting or Sabbath-school. If any in the neighborhood were sick or poor or in sorrow, she was the first to know it, the first to be there and see that something was done. She shortened her own life by caring for others when she needed to be cared for herself. She lived a long life in a few years; but often thought she did not amount to much because not eloquent in speech nor gifted in argument. But when brethren and sisters and neighbors gathered around her casket and their tears fell on her dead face, while they said, ‘She was a mother to us all’, that told a different story. It reminded me of our Lord’s parable where He selected those to sit on His right hand who were surprised to be told that they had ever done anything. There is no mention that Jesus selected anyone because he was smart and good in debate. I felt ashamed of myself, for one, that I had not been more like my good wife. By God’s grace there shall be hereafter less sharpness and more kindness to all.

Writing of the time following Mrs. Canright’s death, Jess Canright, in his letter of Aug. 18, 1960, said:

"Both of my sisters were away teaching school, so that he [Canright] and I stayed home and I farmed...and did the cooking... We had a housekeeper now and then, but he said he always liked to come back to my cooking. At this time he was spending most of his time writing his books. I remember people would come from all over the world to talk to him."

The arrangement continued "for several years," according to another letter, penned on May 23, 1962. "During that time, he went to Battle Creek several times, but only a day or two at a time. Believe he stayed with friends while there. Never heard him mention renting a room...there."

On July 16, 1915, Mrs. White died, at the age of eighty-eight. Her funeral service was conducted at the Tabernacle in Battle Creek. Adventists tell us that Canright was present with his brother Jasper. These two, according to the report, filed past the casket, along with the rest of the congregation, and returned to their pew, where they remained standing until Dudley suggested another view. Jasper, himself a loyal Adventist, is quoted thus: "We joined the passing throng, and again stood by the bier. My brother rested his hand upon the side of the casket, and with tears rolling down his cheeks, he said brokenly, ‘There is a noble woman gone." (W.A. Spicer, The Spirit of Prophecy in the Advent Movement, p. 127) This account is attested in writing on Jan. 17, 1933, by Prof. M.L. Andreasen, who declared that he was "one of the guards of honor when the body of Mrs. E.G. White lay in state." (W.H. Branson, In Defense of the Faith, p. 361, n.) This account indicates that, though Canright opposed Mrs. White’s peculiar views and her high claims, yet he entertained no personal animosity towards her. Indeed, it illustrates his magnanimity and tenderness of heart.

Early in March 1916, Canright, now 75, planned to go to Battle Creek to get more material for his books against Adventism. He seems to have sensed that something was going to happen to him there, for, prior to leaving Grand Rapids, he went to Benn M. Corwin, a lawyer, to provide an affidavit regarding his stand on this subject. Here is a copy of the document:

"State of Michigan
County of Kent
Dudley M. Canright, of the city of Grand Rapids, Kent County, and State of Michigan, being duly sworn, says:
1. I renounced Seventh Day Adventism in 1887, after twenty-eight years’ experience in that church, because I had lost confidence in some of its chief doctrines.
2. I have never once regretted that I withdrew from that church.
3. A further study and experience have strongly confirmed my conviction, that, as a system, it is an error, and must in time, end in failure.
4. I have never at any time, or anywhere, or to any person ever suggested that I wished to go back to that church.
5. I believe now, just as I did in 1888, when I first published my book, "Seventh Day Adventism Renounced," now in its fourteenth edition.
6. I gladly bear witness to the various excellent principles Adventists hold in common with Evangelical Churches. But these do not sanctify their numerous errors. I have only kindly feelings toward them.
7. Deponent further says that he make this affidavit for the purpose of correcting certain erroneous statements concerning himself, that have become current in various parts of the world.
(Signed) Dudley M. Canright
Subscribed and sworn to before me this 8th day of March, A.D. 1916,
(Signed) Benn M. Corwin, Notary Public, Kent County, Michigan.
My Commission expires January 12, 1919.

While looking up data at the Adventist Tabernacle in Battle Creek, Canright fell down the basement stairway and broke a leg. He was taken to the Battle Creek Sanitarium on March 13, where he underwent a general examination. Sometime during the week beginning April 2, his leg was amputated.

After the amputation of his leg, complications of some sort developed and further surgery became necessary. Another operation took place about five weeks after the first. It was, perhaps, at this point that Canright had grave doubts if he would survive. He summoned another ex-Adventist to his bedside. This was Edward S. Ballenger. Ballenger tells us of his call on Canright at this crisis: "I was living across the street from the hospital where Elder Canright had an operation – the removal of one of his legs after a severe fall. I called on him frequently. He sent for me one afternoon when he and the doctors thought the end was very near. I had a pleasant talk with him. He never expressed any regret [at having left Adventism]." (The Gathering Call, vol. 33, no. 4, p. 13)

Early in June, Canright was able to leave the Sanitarium, but he had to remain in Battle Creek until the latter part of July. Six weeks later Canright returned to his home in Grand Rapids, where he devoted himself to finalizing the preparation of his book on Mrs. White. When his son left for the army in September of the following year, his daughter Bess looked after him.

At the close of chapter 3, something was presented regarding Canright’s business ability, in connection with properties bought and sold in Battle Creek and Otsego. In earlier parts of the present chapter, we have seen that he subsequently purchased 33 acres of land on the northern limits of Grand Rapids, on which he erected a house and barns, and that he later made an addition to the house. Chapter 10 has told us, in Canright’s own words, that in 1915 he had a good home, worth, perhaps, $12,000. When he made his will the next spring, he plainly had various assets. The royalties from his writings are not to be forgotten in this connection. After his return home, following the amputation of his leg, Canright sold lots out of his farm, as the city of Grand Rapids was expanding in his direction. On Dec. 28, 1916, he sold lots 7 and 8 of "Canright’s Riverview Plat," for $650; on Jan. 10, 1917, lot 29, for $300; on April 12, 1917, lot 28, by land contract; on July 3, 1917, lots 3 and 4, by land contract; on Aug. 27, 1918, lot 30, by land contract; and on Oct. 23, 1918, lot 36, "in fulfillment of land contract of 1913." (At them time of Canright’s death, practically 28 acres of his farm were still unsold. The mortgages against his property amounted to about one-third of its value. His heirs received some income from the estate for twenty years, before its residue was finally divided, in accordance with the terms of the will. At that time, there were yet seventeen unsold lots.) It is clear, contrary to Adventist assertions, he was not in any financial straits during this period of his life.

Just a week before Canright died, his old friend, E.S. Ballenger, spent an afternoon with him. Says Ballenger: "I talked freely with him about his hope of eternal life. He was cheerful and expressed confidence showing no signs whatever of the fear of death." (G.C., vol. 33, no. 4, p. 13) "I had a very earnest talk with him. He knew that his days were numbered, and I asked him how he felt toward salvation. He expressed himself very freely, saying that he was not afraid of death, and prepared to meet his Lord." (Ibid., vol. 37, no. 2, p. 14) Canright soon suffered a stroke of paralysis and went home to Christ at 3:15 a.m. on Monday, May 12, 1919. He was 78 years, 7 months and 20 days old.

Jess Canright informs me: "I arrived in Otsego the day of the funeral. ... The church was crowded...people were there from many different places, all of whom had a great respect for him. ... There were many people who drove from Grand Rapids to pay their respects."

In the Mountain Home Cemetery in Otsego, Mich., stands a good-sized tombstone, bearing the following inscription:

Elder D.M. Canright
Sept. 22, 1840 - May 12, 1919
An Author of World Renown
Lucy H. – his wife
Dec. 22, 1855 – Jan. 2, 1913
"A Mother to all of us"
There rest the mortal remains of God’s servant, awaiting the coming of his resurrecting Lord.

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