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The Israel Dammon Trial

October 24, 2006

Recently Wayne commented:
“I have been scratching around and have come across references to the Israel Dammon trial, and his connection to Ellen Harmon and James White. We did not cover this in the class I did in EG White some years ago, and am wondering what to make of it?”

Well I confess that I didn’t cover this topic in either of the classes I taught in this area this year: (SDA History & Heritage & Ministry & Message of Ellen G. White). I certainly don’t feel that I glossed over any difficult areas–I covered everything from racism in the SDA Church to Ellen White & masturbation–but you simply can’t fit every single thing in a course & the Israel Dammon trial was one thing that I did leave out.

For those who haven’t heard, information about this incident was uncovered by an ex-Adventist–Bruce Weaver, & was ultimately published in the now defunct Adventist Currents, 3:1, 1988. (If anyone has access to a complete set of these magazines , let me know, I’d love to turn them into .pdfs and make them available online, they were a response to a very important period of SDA history: the Glacier View meeting & aftermath, & have some interesting information not available elesewhere.) Weaver’s story is available on the web in a number of places, including ellenwhite.org (a non-official website).

A parallel account–and apparently an earlier one (though Weaver says that he wrote his in 1986-87)–was published in Spectrum 17:5 (1987). Spectrum published two articles: a reprint of the original account from the Piscataquis Farmer (Dover, Maine) March 7, 1845, (See here for information on the paper’s history & publication.) and a commentary and discussion by 5 SDA historians: Jonathan Butler, Ronald Graybill, Frederick Hoyt, and Rennie Schoepflin. According to Spectrum’s account, the document (the Piscataquis Farmer article) was discovered by Frederick Hoyt in about 1984, however he did not share his find until 1987.

The SDA Church’s official response (via the EGW Estate) can be found here. They make the very valid point that “none of the witnesses in the record of Israel Dammon’s trial allege any fanatical activity by 17-year-old Ellen Harmon.”

It should also be noted that Ellen White does make brief mention of some of the events in Spiritual Gifts, Vol. 2, pp. 40-42. (Available online here.) Much has been made by some concerning differences between White’s account & the Piscataquis Farmer article. See here. Judge for yourself how important many of these “contradictions” are. (Such accounts always seem to assume that the Piscataquis Farmer‘s account is 100% accurate.)

Contemporary historians generally recognize that at least part of the early Adventist Church was heavily involved in what we could call “enthusiastic religion”, and that the Dammon incident should be seen in that light.

Arthur Patrick has a helpful article: “Early Adventist Worship, Ellen White and the Holy Spirit: Preliminary Historical Perspectives” published online on the At Issue website.

Spectrum has published a review entitled “The Shouting Ellen White“, a review by A. Gregory Schneider of Ann Taves’ book: Fits, Trances, and Visions: Experiencing Religion and Explaining Experience from Wesley to James (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999); which is helpful if you don’t have access to Taves’ book itself.

Spectrum also published an article by Frederick Hoyt: “‘We Lifted Up Our Voices Like a Trumpet’: Millerites in Portland, Maine” 17:5 (1987), p15-22; which gives some helpful background.

Another useful article–though only available online through JSTOR (most colleges & universities will have access) is Jonathan M. Butler, “Prophecy, Gender, and Culture: Ellen Gould Harmon (White) and the Roots of Seventh-Day Adventism.” Religion and American Culture 1:1 (1991): 3-29.

A final interesting reference on enthusiastic religion generally (focussing on Western New York) is Saints, Sinners and Reformers: The Burned-Over District Re-Visited by John H. Martin.

Gregory A. Schneider concludes his aforementioned review with the following words:
“Adventists informed by critical historical study of their community are as much a part of the making of Adventism as those who would demonize such study. They may use their broader, deeper knowledge of the Adventist story to help form a spirit in self and community that is in turn broader, deeper, and, we may hope, less defensive. Less defensive because our critical knowledge, if acquired and used in faith, lets us understand that our Adventist community is but one of those “earthen vessels” into which our Savior is pouring grace and favor for the world’s salvation.”

To Schneider’s statement I’d add two more quotes:
“When studying certain phases of history, particularly with reference to our movement, some fear that our faith might be weakened. Some fear that an intensive study of certain records and documents might change our viewpoint of the truth. Some are being discouraged to study too closely certain chapters of history lest they discover disquieting facts. But if truth cannot stand the test of historical research, then it is not truth. Our cause has nothing to hide, and nothing ought to be hidden from our cause. There must be a loyal and complete study of all available material.” Daniel Walther, “How Shall We Study History?” Ministry August 1939, 12.

and finally:
“In reviewing our past history…I can say, Praise God! As I see what the Lord has wrought, I am filled with astonishment, and with confidence in Christ as our leader. We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has lead us and his teaching in our past history.” Ellen G. White, Life Sketches, 196.

History IS important!

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12 comments

  1. Wow.
    Dude, this is a LOT of work for a blog. I am thoroughly impressed.
    Kudos!


  2. Yeah, probably too much work given that I’m behind in my marking & am still finalizing exams!


  3. I really appreciate your response to my question. I am still reading through the various links and processing what I find. Thanks again for your comprehensive response.


  4. I ran across your site while just surfing around, wanted to say hi and I like the blog.


  5. Thanks for dropping by Butler.


  6. Just surfed in and found your site. Outstanding!

    A few clarifications on chronology about my Dammon piece:

    1) I began a systematic review of about a dozen selected Maine newspapers published 1842-1846, beginning with the “Bangor Whig & Courier” in March, 1986. Specific goal: to check out the Dammon story against Ellen White’s account.

    2) My discovery of the “Trial of Israel Dammon” in the “Piscataquis Farmer” was made the evening of July 15, 1986. I could hardly sleep for 3 nights, I was so excited. That was what I was hoping to find! And, yes, it vastly exceeded my expectations.

    3) Finally, after a few days of sitting on this astounding find, I shared my finding with several select people: Doug Hackleman, J. B. Goodner, Delmer Johnson and Walter Rea, all by phone. Walter begged and cajoled for me to send him a copy. I relented as a professional courtesy under the condition he not share the findings publicly, to which he agreed.

    4) Walter called me upon receipt of the material. He promised to keep it under wraps as I was writing an article for Adventist Currents.

    5) Early February 1987: Just as I submitted my draft to Doug Hackleman, I received a call from him. Walter Rea had grown impatient and had leaked the Dammon finding to “Limboline,” the first to spread it out, an amazing venue for initial release. Moreover, he sent copies of the transcript to Bob Olson of the White Estate and William Johnsson of the R&H. Doug & I were disappointed. Doug suggested I carry on my research.

    6) In the interim, “Spectrum” got together their roundtable discussion. Note the timing, here. Doug suggested a rewrite, mainly due to the tone of my piece. Although I was initially resistant, I have to say that he was correct to reformat as it was published.

    7) On the afternoon and evening of August 13, 1987, Doug & I met in Frederickburg, VA for a dialog and to review with him my extensive research. He was clearly impressed with the extent of the resources I had uncovered.

    8) I was relieved when the article was finally published in May 1988. I have noted how studiously White Estate staff avoid mentioning my article. They don’t even cite it, lest they have to address its contents.

    9) A follow up article on another aspect of that period was being researched and drafted, but I never completed it as “Currents” ceased publication. Maybe someday…In the interim, I have recently began work on another area of focus of early adventism, long desired. Maybe by summer it will be ready for distribution.

    PS: Delmer Johnson rang me sometime in 1996 or 1997 announcing that my article had been put on the web at the ellenwhite.org web site. I thought it was great! At least now people will be able to access it. BTW, never once have I had the courtesy of any type of speaking engagement or roundtable discussion about the Israel Dammon material. ;)

    Bruce


  7. Hi Bruce. Great to have you here. Thanks for clarifying the chronology–it was unclear what had happened just from reading the two published articles. Hope to see more work from you in the future.


  8. May I ask who owns this site? (I’m pretty computer illiterate) Thanks.


  9. I do! see: http://h0bbes.wordpress.com/about/ for my details.


  10. The White Estate has this detailed article: “Another Look at Israel Damman” by James R. Nix, from a talk at the 2004 Ellen G. White Summit at Avondale College, Australia.


  11. Here’s the link from my post above: http://www.whiteestate.org/issues/israel_damman.html


  12. Greetings, Jeff,

    I only recently stubled onto your very rich blogsite.

    The discussion you had in 2006 regarding the Israel Dammon incident is eliciting my note–that and the desire to hawk my new book, Who Watches? Who Cares? Misadventures in Stewardship.

    The book covers recent history (1979 to 2000)and features seven stories of Adventist administrative and financial misadventure–379 pages, nearly 1,200 end notes and a name index.

    Who Watches? is available at http://www.hacksplace.com along with several other Adventist classics that are not generally available now.

    You mention somewhere the desire to PDF the back issues of Adventist Currents. I have done that; and you can read them at http://www.hacksplace.com–especially if you use your mouse on the “Magazines” button. Sets of back issues can be purchased at the same location.

    Perhaps you know that back issues of Adventist Heritage have been PDFed (or deja vu docced) for reading at the Loma Linda University Heritage Room’s website. That service was performed by Michael Campbell during the brief period that he supervised the Heritage Room.

    In the interest of Adventist history I would like to shamelessly promote another bit of my own writing that lays out I think quite convincingly how it was that Adventists shifted abruptly (even jarringly) in 1898 from semi-Arian to Trinitarian. The heavily referenced item is entitled, “When the Visions Led,” and is a hot link among the four or five articles posted at the Adventist Society of Religious Studies website.

    I look forward to exploring your engrossing site more thoroughly.

    Doug



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