Mrs. White's Weak References in the Israel Dammon Incident
By Bruce Weaver
At the end of Spiritual Gifts 2, the only publication in which Ellen White tells the Israel Dammon story, there are fifteen lists of individuals whose names are published as vouching for various segments of Mrs. White's auto-biographical sketches.
Of these fifteen lists, five pertain specifically to events she experienced in the state of Maine (including the Dammon incident in Atkinson) during the first fifteen to eighteen months of her public ministry (roughly January 1845 to June 1846). These five lists of testimonials include sixty-one entries; but when they are sifted for repetition, thirty-eight different names remain.
By examining the 1850 United States Census Bureau records for Maine, and reviewing dozens of Maine local histories housed at the Library of Congress, I was able to identify twenty-eight of the thirty-eight individuals (73%) printed on the five lists. (Three or four others have been identified only tentatively.)
Twenty of the twenty-eight witnesses (71%) I was able to identify were from five families. Nine of the twenty-eight were sixteen-years-old or younger (the youngest being six) when the time passed in 1844. Two were charged in 1845 with vagrancy and/or disturbing the peace. Two others were deceased before 1859 or 1860 when the lists probably were compiled. One of those, Uriah Smith's father-in-law, Cyprian Stevens, died on September 6, 1858, five days after being bitten by a rattlesnake.
It seems surprising that eight (or 29%) of the twenty-eight individuals I was able to identify were strongly denounced by Mrs. White in 1860 - the same year that she published their names - for fanaticism and for not receiving her visions, including Cyprian Stevens' daughter, Harriet (Mrs. Uriah) Smith:
"Harriet, I was carried back and shown that there has never been a reception of the visions given in Paris....I was pointed back, away back to the time when those in Paris, especially Brn. Andrews' and Stevens' families were ensnared in error, and for years were in a perfect deception of Satan. They suffered while in this error, but they will never obtain a particle of reward for it. If they had been willing to be taught, and receive light in God's appointed way, they would not have been held in error, fanaticism and darkness all that length of time." ("To Brother J.N. Andrews and Sister H.N. Smith," W58, 1860, Advent Source Collection, pp. 7 & 10.)
The lists of names at the end of Spiritual Gifts 2 vouching for Mrs. White's stories were discussed in 1874 by Isaac Wellcome in his History of the Second Advent Message and Mission, Doctrine and People, page 408:
"The most of these signers were as deeply in fanaticism as [James and Ellen White] themselves; some were leading ones. But signers who had not been personally associated in the fanaticism being scarce, to certify in these prepared papers, the names of two young ladies (perhaps more) are added, who, at the time specified for the events, were aged, respectively, nine and fourteen years. Prodigies in intellect and judgment, surely, or, perhaps, endowed with the "gift of discerning spirits." But it is no difficult task to procure the names of partisans, associates, accomplices, their children, cousins, and aunts, to certify to one's rectitude, sanity, or orthodoxy. It is more safe and important, however, to have a good "record in heaven."
Of the five lists of names under scrutiny, one list was made up of five individuals who were supposed to have signed the following statement:
"We bear cheerful testimony to the truthfulness of the statements relative to Elder Dammon, on pages 40, 41 [of Spiritual Gifts 2]. As near as we can recollect we believe the circumstances of his arrest and trial to be fairly stated."
As references go, this list of five is not very impressive. None of the five were witnesses at Dammon's trial. James Ayer, Jr., owned the home in which Dammon's arrest took place and he did testify at the trial. But it is his father who was seventy-two at the time of the incident, and eighty-seven when Spiritual Gifts 2 was published, whose signature apparently was obtained.
The remaining four witnesses resided in Orrington, across the Penobscot River from Bangor. The four were sufficiently close neighbors to be included on the same page of the 1850 federal census. Laborer William Hannaford, his wife, Dorcas, and their daughter, Hester A., comprised three of the four Orrington testimonials. They were ages forty-three, forty, and sixteen, respectively, in 1845. It is quite possible that William was the Mr. Hannaford who figured reluctantly in a 28 March 1845 report from a Piscataquis Farmer correspondent in Atkinson:
"The Millerites have been collecting for the past four days and held their meetings at the house of Mr. James Ayer, Jr., in the southwest part of this town. All secular business has been suspended by them, to await the coming of the Lord, which they say will take place on the 4th day of April next. From 10 to 15 have been baptised daily, many of them six or eight times each. Last evening a party of Indians or anti-Routers arrived on the ground about nine o'clock, and upon being refused admittance, burst open the doors and took the Millerites belonging out of town and carried them off with them. They harnassed [sic] Mr. Ayer's horse to a sled, and packed on a load, and pressed a Mr. Hannaford one of their number to drive the team through the woods to Dead Stream, about five miles distant, where they intended to tar and feather them in case they continue to hold their meetings any more."
"In a private letter dated May 16, 1888, Mrs. Wood denies that she ever signed this statement and she did not know that her name was attached to it until many years after. She also denies the accuracy of Mrs. White's statements regarding the [Dammon] affair. She was present and remembered the experience very well, and her account does not agree with Mrs. White's account. If they will forge Mrs. Wood's name to a document they would forge other names; therefore we have good reason for doubting the value of their testimonials."