The Case of D.M. Canright

Chapter 4 - Canright's Integrity

F.D. Nichol, the editor of Review and Herald, has listed some elementary rules, which for centuries have been used to ensure that an accused person is accorded a fair trial. In a volume of over 500 pages, devoted to the defense of the character and conduct of William Miller an his followers, including James White and Ellen G. Harmon, Mr. Nichol says:

"The accused is to be considered innocent until proved guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. He has the right to bring in character witnesses. If the testimony of these witnesses clearly shows him to be a man of good character and reputation in the community in which he resides, that fact may rightly be stressed by counsel for the defense as a piece of presumptive evidence bearing on his innocence. The accused has a right to be heard in his own defense, and if his character witnesses have established his standing as a reputable citizen, his personal testimony is entitled to great weight. Hearsay and rumor are inadmissible as evidence." (The Midnight Cry, p. 14)

I intend in the present chapter to bring in character witnesses who will clearly show that Canright was "a man of good character and reputation in the communities in which he resided," after leaving Adventism. These communities were: Otsego and Grand Rapids, both in Michigan.

1. At the time of his withdrawal from Seventh-day Adventism, on Feb. 17, 1887, Mr. Canright resided in the town of Otsego, Mich. Eight days later the Otsego Union had this to say: "Rev. D.M. Canright and family have withdrawn from the Adventist church of this place, and will at once connect themselves with some other Christian denomination. Mr. Canright has long been known in the church as one of the very ablest ministers in the Advent Society. We publish a letter from the Rev. Gentleman this week. Mr. and Mrs. Canright are held in highest esteem by our whole people," i.e., by the residents of Otsego."

A year later the following document originated in the same town:

"Otsego, Mich., Feb. 21, 1888. We the undersigned are acquainted with Rev. D.M. Canright who has resided in this village for the past seven years. As a citizen he is held in respect by the community, and in moral character and Christian integrity, he stand above reproach.
Hon. W.C. Edsell, Banker and Ex-Senator
Rev. J. Chaplin, Pastor of Congregational Church
J.D. Woodbeck, Editor of Otsego Union
H.L. Miller, M.D.
C.A. Bowles, Post-master
Hon. J.M. Ballou, Member of State Board of Education
Geo. Smith, Ex-township Clerk
P.W. Travis, Merchant
Milton Chase, M.D. and J.P.
L.E. Clark, M.D.
H.C. Stoughton, Attorney at Law
P.J. Hoag, Merchant
Sherwood Bros., Meat Market
G.A. Osinga, Supt. of Schools"

Two of the above signatories later provided individual commendations. Rev. J.R. Chaplin, the Congregational pastor in Otsego, wrote: "I labored for over two years side by side with Rev. Canright, in Otsego where he has a home and has lived for many years, and know him to be a Christian gentleman; and he is regarded as such by all in Otsego, except Adventists." Prof. G.A. Osingo, the Superintendent of the Otsego Schools, said: "Mr. Canright is noted here for his pure moral character and exemplary Christian life." Another Otsego man, Rev. George R. Kulp, the Methodist Pastor, wrote on Jan. 24, 1889: "Rev. D.M. Canright has been favorably known to me during my pastorate in this place, some sixteen months,. He is a Christian gentleman of good repute in this community, of decided influence for Christ, and as pastor of the Baptist church, succeeded in placing it on a good basis, resigning a few months past to the great regret of his people." (SDAR, 1st ed., ch. 1, preface to 2nd ed.)

Canright’s successor as pastor of the Otsego Baptist Church, L.B. Fish wrote thus to him: "Since I have been pastor of the Otsego Church, I have been more than pleased to see how universally you and your family are beloved by the church and citizens generally. Except a few of the Advent people, all speak of you in very high terms as a man and Christian." (Ibid.)

On March 2, 1889, the Baptist Church of Otsego adopted some resolutions concerning Mr. Canright "at a regular and full church meeting, by an unanimous vote." The first of these ran thus: "That we have the fullest confidence in Bro. Canright as a Christian gentleman of strict integrity, above suspicion, an earnest and faithful minister, a most excellent neighbor, an ardent lover of the truth, and an earnest defender of the same. We take pleasure in giving this testimony after having known him for many years as a neighbor, preacher, and pastor, and still a member with us." The pastor of the church at that time was L.B. Fish. The resolutions were printed in the local paper on March 15, 1889 (p. 5).

In the fall of 1890, Mr. Canright moved to Grand Rapids. The letter of demission for himself and his family from the Otsego church to the Wealthy Ave. Baptist Church – as it was then called – in Grand Rapids, was accompanied by this letter: "We wish to say that as we lose four of our highly prized members, we are glad to send them to you, hoping you will love them as well as we do. We hold Rev. D.M. Canright in highest esteem as a faithful minister of the New Testament and shall continue to pray for his success in the Lord’s work. Signed Mrs. C.I. Clapp, Clerk Rev. L.B. Fish, Pastor" (Ibid.)

Twenty years afterward, on Nov. 18-20, 1910, when the Otsego Church held its 75th anniversary services, the report in the Otsego Union tells of D.M. Canright’s place on the program. On three occasions he led the services: on Saturday afternoon at 2:30, the devotionals; on Sunday morning at 9:30, the devotionals again; and on Sunday afternoon at 4:00, the communion service. This in itself demonstrates in what esteem he was held in the Otsego Church.

2. Mr. Canright spent most of the last 30 years of his life in Grand Rapids. He was there held in the same esteem in which he was held in Otsego. Here is what some of his fellow-citizens had to say of him as a resident in that place:

In 1893 the Baptist ministers of the Grand Rapids area issued this statement: "

It is a pleasure to us to state that we are acquainted with Rev. D.M. Canright, pastor of the Berean Baptist Church of this city. He is in good standing with us, beloved by his church, and very successful as a pastor.
Jno. L. Jackson, Pastor Fountain St. Baptist Church
Jno. Heritage, Pastor Wealthy Ave. Baptist Church
J. Swashall, Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church
I. Butterfield, Grand Rapids
R.W. Van Kirk, Pastor 2nd Baptist Church, Grand Rapids
D. Mulhern, D.D., Grand Rapids
F.E. Wright, Pastor Baptist Church, Rockford, Mich. Henry Renshaw, Pastor Baptist Church, Rockford, Mich." (SDAR, preface to 3rd ed.)

Between Canright’s two pastorates of the Berean Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, the following letter was published on July 16, 1894:

"This is to certify that Rev. D.M. Canright has been a member of the Berean Baptist Church of this city ever since the church was first organized and is in good standing with us now. Not the slightest difficulty has ever existed between him and the church. He enjoys the full confidence and esteem of all, and we commend him to Christian people everywhere. Mrs. E.D. Dixon, Clerk
Frank Mills, Deacon
James Whitney, Deacon
Edward Dale, Deacon" (Ibid., preface to 4th ed.)

Some years later, on Nov. 1, 1907, Rev. Robert Gray, who was then pastor of the Berean Baptist Church (Mar. 25, 1903 - July 1, 1908), referred to Canright as "for many years an active member of the Berean Baptist Church of this city and twice its pastor, a man above reproach and above all a noble Christian." This letter was certified by W.H. Andrews, a former clerk and a charter member of the church. (Ibid., preface to 2nd ed.)

On April 9, 1910 several Baptist ministers addressed a letter wherein they spoke of Mr. Canright as one "known to the undersigned for many years as an earnest, consecrated Christian man, and a true minister of Jesus Christ." One of these ministers I knew somewhat, namely Dr. Oliver W. VanOsdel, who at that time as Moderator of the Grand River Valley Association. Another was Alexander Dodds, President of the City Baptist Mission Society, who was founder of the Scribner Ave. Baptist Church; and the third was W.I. Coburn, the President of the Baptist Ministers’ Conference. (Ibid.)

Mr. Canright’s own son wrote on Oct. 27, 1960:

"At the time of his funeral in Otsego, there were many people who drove from Grand Rapids to pay their respects." An article concerning his funeral appeared in the Grand Rapids Herald for June 1, 1919, which said in part: "His funeral was conducted by the Baptist pastors of the Berean Church (of which he remained honorary pastor and member until his death), the Scribner Avenue, the Second, the Calvary and the Wealthy Street Baptist Churches."

Furthermore, the historian of the Berean Church, who joined that congregation about 40 years ago - when there were many in it who had known Mr. Canright - has assured me that he was held in high esteem by everyone acquainted with him. There were absolutely no exceptions. The same testimony to Mr. Canright’s character was given me by two of the daughters of my revered friend, the Baptist pastor, Isaac Van Westenbrugge, who according to his affidavit, "knew D.M. Canright intimately for over 25 years." (See Van Westenbrugge’s affidavit quoted in chap. 13)

If anyone is so uncharitable as to challenge the witness of Mr. Canright’s fellow Baptists, there is the testimony of the Methodists. The Methodist ministers of Grand Rapids, at their regular monthly meeting on April 11, 1910, declared that all their knowledge and information concerning Canright were "of the most favorable kind." They added: "He is honored among his brethren, respected in his own community, and is commended by us as being worthy of confidence and trust." (SDAR, pp. 12-13)

J.T. Husted, Pastor of the Wallin Congregational Church of Grand Rapids, said:

"I have been acquainted with the Rev. D.M. Canright of this city for more than 45 years." After speaking of Canright’s good reputation as an Adventist minister, Mr. Husted concluded: "For at least 20 years, he and his beloved family have lived in this city and he has maintained the same reputation that he had, as a Christian gentleman and respected citizen." (Ibid., pp. 11-12)

Then there is the unqualified commendation of Charles W. Garfield, president of a bank in Grand Rapids. Mr. Garfield wrote thus on April 11, 1910: "It is with sincere pleasure that I write concerning the character and integrity of the Rev. D.M. Canright. I have known him and his family a good many years, and do not hesitate to say that they are very estimable people, and have the confidence of their neighbors and friends in the community.

"I consider Mr. Canright a Christian gentleman in every sense of the word; a man of the highest integrity and one who desires, in every project with which he is connected, to make righteousness his guide to action.

"He has done business with our bank for a good many years and I have personally had reason to test his integrity and am unequivocal in my expression of confidence in him." (Ibid. p. 13)

Thus the character witnesses from both Otsego and Grand Rapids provide the kind of testimony required by Mr. Nichol. Their testimony clearly shows Mr. Canright to be "a man of good character and reputation" in the two communities in which he resided after leaving Adventism. "The fact," says Nichol, "may rightly be stressed by counsel for the defense as a piece of presumptive evidence bearing on his innocence." Moreover, the editor of Review and Herald asserts that "if his character witnesses have established his standing as a reputable citizen, his personal testimony is entitled to great weight."

I shall, therefore, not hesitate to utilize Mr. Canright’s own testimony as I proceed. We have already, in the preceding chapter, seen how thoroughly reliable his statements are. Whatever he says, then, is to be accepted, unless and until positively disproved by facts. "Hearsay and rumor," however, "are inadmissible as evidence," says Nichol, and in this he is right.

Although the preceding testimonies to Canright’s personal integrity are more than sufficient for fair-minded men, yet they are not, by any means, all that are available. However, in order to present my material in the best manner, I have withheld many of them for later chapters (chapters 10, 11, 12, and 13). All together, they constitute an imposing array.

It needs to be added that reliability is not to be confounded with infallibility. A good man can err in observation and in judgment. We shall, consequently, not consider everything Mr. Canright says to be necessarily correct. He was no more infallible than the pope, and he would have been the last to say he was incapable of making mistakes.

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