The Israel Dammon TrialOctober 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.
“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!