The Case of D.M. Canright

Chapter 15 - The 1867 Diary

On May 21, 1960 the one who claims to have been Canright’s secretary wrote to Mr. Dey, beginning thus:

"Very recently I had the pleasure of meeting Howard Pierce and wife of Otsego, Mich. They gave me your name but had no address, so I’m making an effort to reach you without one. Of course you readily know you are cousins but seldom see each other.1
"By the way of introduction, I was secretary to your grandfather Dudley M. Canright in the years 1912 and 1913 in Battle Creek, Michigan, and of course knew he had a daughter living in Hillsdale as the years slipped by. Because of past memories, I have taken upon myself a hobby of writing histories of family trees and I find Canright’s family history most interesting yet because of so many deceased, very difficult.
"Howard Pierce has been most helpful and he thinks what he didn’t know you would be glad to furnish. To refresh your memory, I’ll sketch a few dates — ask a few questions and you probably can fill in the rest. I am interested enough of course to make a trip to Ann Arbor or Hillsdale to have a personal talk which would be so much more satisfying, or perhaps if you were coming this way to visit your cousin or on other business, you could stop and pay me a visit."

Then come many statements and questions about Canright and his family, followed by these words:

"Now I’m not expecting you to sit down and answer all these questions — I have listed them in the order I would like to know them and to refresh your memory. If this letter reaches you and we can make some appointment for a visit, I would be glad to do that. Then also perchance you still might have your grandfather’s diary or papers, books, anything with dates, perhaps pictures, I would solicit the privilege of reading them and seeing them.
"It might be of interest to know the 40 acre farm he had in Grand Rapids is now built into a subdivision and a part of the city of Grand Rapids with the main street in it named Canright St. I visited the Berean Baptist Church where he was pastor, also Otsego Seventh-day Adventist Church where [he] had a pastorate and visited the Canright burial plot last week.
"The Pierces live in the old family home, retired and looking fine. It is a beautiful structure.
"May I hear from you if you receive this, and thank you kindly.
Most Sincerely,
Mrs. ———

There is not the least intimation in the whole letter that the writer was a Seventh-day Adventist. Had there been, Mr. Dey would not have responded with his characteristic cordiality, remembering, as he did, that Adventists had defamed his grandfather to himself, and that his Uncle Jess Canright had "had some. . . . unpleasant experiences with devout Adventists who [had] deliberately spread vicious lies about his father" (to quote his own words in a letter to Mrs. ———toward the end of January, 1961.)

On Saturday, August 6, 1960 Mrs. ——— and her husband called on Mr. Dey. In a letter to his Uncle Jess, written Dec. 28, 1960, Dey said: "She talked so nicely of Grandpa when she was here and told how much she thought of him and was so interested in any information I might give her." Accordingly, Dey either gave or lent Mrs. ——— Canright’s diary for 1867. He would have done neither had he known her identity.

When Canright’s son, on Nov. 13, 1960, sent me a letter which Mrs. ——— had written him on W.C.T.U. stationery, I ascertained, by telephoning some W.C.T.U. representatives, that she was an Adventist. Immediately I informed Jess Canright of this fact, and he forthwith requested his nephew to get the diary back — but, apparently, without telling him of her connections. Accordingly, on Jan. 10, 1961, Dey wrote me: "Have you found out if Mrs. ——— is an Adventist? If I remember right, they won’t lift a finger on Saturday until sundown. They were here on a Saturday afternoon, which might indicate they are not members." So it is plain that when Dey handed over the diary he was ignorant of the Adventist connections of the recipient.

Dey lost no time in communicating with Mrs. ———-. On Jan. 1, 1961 he sent her his third request for the return of the diary. He said: "I am at a complete loss to know why you have ignored two requests to return the personal items I let you take last Sept. [August, really]. The time has been ample for you to obtain any data you might want. Now, I was good enough to trust you as a responsible person, and hope it doesn’t prove that I was just plain gullible." On Jan. 17, 1961, he wrote me: "She is sly"; and on the 29th: "Her letters sound so sincere, but she hasn’t acted that way."

On Feb. 23, 1961, Dey wrote Mrs. ——— as follows: "Because of the many statements in the past by members of the Adventist faith that have been intended to slander and degrade my grandfather’s character, I feel that it is only natural for me to wonder if you are gathering information about D.M.C. to be turned over to your church or some member thereof, to be used in a derogatory manner... I wondered why you refused to acknowledge my several requests to return the diary." He enclosed in his letter the following statement for her to sign in the presence of a notary:

"I, Mrs. ———, of ——— St., ——— Mich., desire to have it known that no part of the material, findings or data that I have compiled or procured about the person of Rev. Dudley M. Canright (deceased), will be used by me or turned over to the 7th day Adventist Church or any members thereof to denounce or defile in any way the person above mentioned." The statement was never returned.

On Memorial Day, May 30, 1961, Mr. and Mrs. Dey called at the home of Mrs. ———, but she was not there. That night Mr. Dey telephoned her. When he asked for the return of the diary, she told him that she "wouldn’t" give it back, that "it was in escrow in Berrien Springs," where she could not get at it. On June ninth, he wrote me all this and added: "I got this information by intense questioning."

Another communication from him on Aug. 10, 1961 reads: the diary "was obtained because she made false statements to me about its intended use." On April 9, 1962 he wrote:

"She misrepresented to me the reason she wanted it. She admitted that when I called her long distance"; on June 4th: "It’s a cinch that had she not misrepresented the use that she was going to put it to, she wouldn’t have taken it away from me"; and on June 21st: "She grossly misrepresented the reasons that she gave to obtain information about D.M.C."

In the preceding chapter I have referred to the visit Mrs. ——— and her husband made to our home on another Saturday, May 5, 1962. In the course of her depreciation of Canright, she made use of items taken from his diary. At this, I asked to see the record myself. She hedged but, on the advice of her husband, agreed to arrange for this with the representative of the Ellen G. White Publications in Berrien Springs.

On Thursday, June 14, 1962, my wife and I drove to Andrews University, in Berrien Springs, to see the diary. It contained nothing that could fairly be used to discredit either Canright or the Whites. The former’s self-reproaches, confessions to God, entreaties for mercy and strength, and expressions of gratitude and praise, bore witness to his sincerity of heart and served to heighten our estimate of him. But we were forbidden to make any notes whatever of the things we read.

It had occurred to me that Mrs. ——— might, perhaps, release the diary if Canright’s son — to whom it really belonged — should frankly ask her for it, so I suggested this to him. Accordingly, on June 8, 1962 he wrote to her saying: "I would like you to send it to me. I think you will recognize the propriety of this request, seeing I am D.M. Canright’s son and I cherish his memory." She never replied. He therefore wrote her again on June 28th, sending her an airmail, special delivery, registered letter, which she accepted. In it he warned her of litigation if she did not respond.

When Jess Canright sent me a copy of his second letter to Mrs. ———, I felt it was only fair to spread the entire matter before the Ellen G. White [Estate] Publications, for litigation would involve that body as the holder of the diary. Therefore, on July 13, 1962, I had an interview with the associate secretary of the White [Estate] Publications and a local Elder, at the Adventist camp grounds near Grand Ledge, Mich. I began with the fact that the diary had been entrusted to the White Publications by Mrs. ———, and proceeded to say that I assumed that it was not known that it had been procured under false pretences. When I had spread before these gentlemen substantially the facts delineated above, they both said that the diary ought to be returned. However, final decision was to be made by the Secretary of White [Estate] Publications himself.

I was, therefore, asked to send to the Secretary a written account of the facts which I had set forth orally. This I agreed to do. Accordingly, on July 23rd, I mailed a carefully documented record to the Secretary at the General Conference in San Francisco, and called upon him to turn the diary over to its rightful owner without delay. I told him that I had copies of all the correspondence from which I had quoted, and that he or his representatives were welcome to see them at my home. I also told him that I would myself inform Mrs. ——— of my communicating with him about the matter.

It was not until I had asked another leading Adventist to prod the memory of the Secretary of the White [Estate] Publications that I received a vaguely-worded letter from him, written Sept. 20, wherein he said:

"I am not sure that my interpretation of certain matters accords entirely with yours." On Sept. 24 I replied, requesting an elucidation of these words. On Oct. 11, 1962— just 80 days after I had sent the document by airmail — I received this plain answer: "It is our understanding that the D.M. Canright diary for the year 1867 is the property of Mrs. ———, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, it having been given to her by Mr. Clifton Dey. Mrs. ——— is a layman and her contacts were made on her own volition and without the knowledge of any official of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Inasmuch as this diary is not our property, we are not at liberty to dispose of it in harmony with your suggestion."

The impartial reader will, I believe, not be inclined to concur in the view that the diary is "the property of Mrs. ———," because it had "been given to her by Mr. Clifton Dey." Furthermore, inasmuch as Mrs. ———, on July 17, 1962, had put it in writing that she had "turned over the diary to the Board of Trustees of the White Publications," and inasmuch as the Secretary of that body now declared that "this diary is not our property," it would seem that the volume belonged to neither — which is what the preceding data demonstrates.

It will be observed that no responsibility is taken by this Adventist leader for what "a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church" may do privately. The New Testament makes it clear that a church is accountable for what its members do. As a matter of fact, Adventist leaders do not hesitate to impose discipline upon members who do not act in a manner pleasing to themselves. The cases of Robert D. Brinsmead, Dr. Jack O. Ford and A. L. Hudson, who have recently been subjected to such discipline, are illustrations.

The same day that the letter to me was written, another was directed to Jess Canright. Therein we read:

"Mrs. ——— informed me about a year ago that the diary had been placed in her hands as an out-right gift and that it was her property. Arrangements were made by Mrs. ——— to deposit the diary with the White Estate vault at Berrien Springs where she could have access to it. Mrs. ——— is a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and we have no reason to question the statements which she as made to us concerning this and other matters. ... Inasmuch as the diary is not our property, we are instructing the custodian of the materials in our vault in Berrien Springs to request Mrs. ——— to remove the diary from our vault."

Mrs. ——— gave Mr. Dey to understand that the diary was beyond her reach (his letters, dated Aug. 10, 1961, April 9, 1962, and June 4, 1962) – which is contradictory to the above statement that "she could have access to it," as her property. It may fairly be asked why Mrs. ——— has been requested to remove the diary from the vault if the White [Estate] Publications is so sure that it belongs to her?

The reader will, I am sure, be interested in the final sentence of the letter addressed to me by the Secretary of the White [Estate] Publications: "I think, Mr. Douty, you are making far too much of this matter." Maybe our first parents thought that far too much was being made of the matter of a little fruit being eaten in the Garden of Eden. Plainly, too much as been made of the present matter for the comfort of the Secretary of the White [Estate] Publications. I submit that he is making far to little of what is a serious moral issue.


1 As Mr. Dey’s mother was the daughter of Canright’s first wife, and Mr. Pierce is a nephew of his second, they are not related at all.

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