Religion in Ellen G. White’s PortlandDecember 14, 2006
This post comes about in a rather round-about way. For some weeks I have been an avid reader of the Strange Maps blog. I got to thinking about adventist history & maps, and googled those terms. most of the links were modern–maps of SDA college/university campuses, directions to SDA churches etc. I did however follow a link that led me here. The article is a preview of a historical project–the development and publication of an historical atlas of Maine. The article was first published as: Hatlen, Burton, Joshua M. Smith, Peter Lodge and Michael Hermann. 2002. “A Sampler from the New Historical Atlas of Maine: Religion in Maine.” Maine Policy Review 11(1): 48-57. The article discusses the religious settlement of Maine–and importantly for my purposes–focusses on Portland; with a .pdf of an 1847 map of Portland’s churches. Portland–as all historically literate SDAs will know–was where Ellen G. White spent her childhood and first heard and accepted the Adventist message.
Ellen and her fraternal twin sister Elizabeth were born on November 26, 1827 in Gorham, Maine to Robert and Eunice Harmon. They were the youngest of the eight Harmon children.
A few years after the birth of Ellen and Elizabeth, Robert Harmon (left) gave up farming and moved to the city of Portland, about twelve miles east, where he began work as a hat-maker.
While living in Portland, the Harmon family attended the Chestnut Street Methodist Church; and it was there that Ellen and her siblings received their early religious instruction.
In March, 1840, the Harmon family attended a revival at the Casco Street Christian Church in Portland, (below left) and heard William Miller preach on the second coming of Christ.
“In March 1840, William Miller visited Portland, Maine, and gave a course of lectures on the second coming of Christ. These lectures produced a great sensation, and the Christian Church on Casco Street was crowded day and night….In company with my friends, I attended these meetings. Life Sketches, p20.
“At the age of thirteen [in 1842] I heard William Miller deliver his second course of lectures in Portland, Maine. I then felt that I was not holy, not ready to see Jesus. And when the invitation was given for church members and sinners to come forward for prayers, I embraced the first opportunity, for I knew that I must have a great work done for me to fit me for heaven. My soul was thirsting for full and free salvation, but knew not how to obtain it.” Early Writings, p12.
On June 26, 1842, after attending a camp-meeting at Buxton, White was baptised by immersion in Casco Bay, Portland. That same day she was received as a member of the Chestnut Street Methodist Church. She saw her baptism in very emotional terms, reflecting later,
“When I arose out of the water, my strength was nearly gone, for the power of God rested upon me. Such a rich blessing I never experienced before. I felt dead to the world, and that my sins were all washed away.” Spiritual Gifts, 13.
The Harmon family’s Second Advent beliefs soon placed them at odds with the majority of Methodists in their local congregation. Following a visit from the Methodist minister and a church hearing, White recorded that,
“The next Sunday [September 1843], at the commencement of the love feast, the presiding elder read off our names, seven in number, as discontinued from the church. He stated that we were not expelled on account of any wrong or immoral conduct, that we were of unblemished character and enviable reputation; but we had been guilty of walking contrary to the rules of the Methodist church. He also declared that a door was now open, and all who were guilty of a similar breach of the rules would be dealt with in like manner.” Life Sketches, 53
The Harmon’s final expulsion followed a lengthy examination process by four committees that met between February and June 1843, and a “committee of trial” that met on August 14, 1843. Robert Harmon appealed the decision at the September 2, 1843 “Quarterly Meeting Conference for the Portland Station,” but the decision was unanimously upheld.
The article mentioned gives some insight into the religious life of Portland while White was growing up there:
“As our 1847 map shows, Portland, as a center of commerce, early offered a diverse array of religious possibilities. The map shows four “parish” churches, listed on the map as the First, Second, and Third Parish and the High Street meeting houses. These all began as Congregational churches. However, the oldest and most socially prestigious of these churches, the First Parish church, had become effectively Unitarian in 1809, when it called an avowed Unitarian, Ichabod Nichols, to serve as pastor; in 1831 the church renamed itself as Unitarian. The Third Parish meeting house, only two blocks from the First Parish church, apparently developed in some measure as an alternative to the increasing liberalism of the First Parish church. The church met for a time after its founding in 1807, but then suspended operations; only after 1825 did the Third Parish church assume a distinct identity, as a robust Trinitarian alternative to the Unitarian First Parish church.
Both the Baptist and the Methodist churches had established a presence in the city by the 1840s, with two Methodist churches, on Chestnut Street and Pleasant Street respectively, and with two Baptist churches, on Federal Street and Free Street. Also, the Freewill Baptists had come to town, with a church on Casco Street. One of the first Episcopal churches in the state, originally named St. Paul’s, had formed a parish in 1764 and built a church a year later; Irish immigrants established a Catholic parish in 1827 and built a church in 1830; and the only African-American church in the state, the Abyssinian Religious Society, began meeting on Munjoy Hill in 1828. The Universalists, the Society of Friends, the Christians, and the Swedenborgians also had established regular meetings in Portland by 1847. The Portland map suggests a religious geography that is typical of Maine cities: the main line Protestant churches are clustered together on the high ground around the conjunction of Congress and Federal streets, while the Catholic church, the radical Free Will Baptists, the heretical Swendenborgians, and Abyssinian church are on the outskirts, near the waterfront or out toward Munjoy Hill. There are exceptions, however—in particular, the relatively radical Universalists, at this stage of their history very different in their emotional fervor from the more rationalistic Unitarians, found a home near the center of the city.”
For an interesting overview of Portland in White’s time, see: Frederick Hoyt, “Ellen White’s Hometown: Portland, Maine, 1827-1846.” In Gary Land (Ed.) The World of Ellen G. White (Washington, Review and Herald: 1987), 13-31.
Maine Memory Network: http://www.mainememory.net
Burton Hatlen, Joshua M. Smith, Peter Lodge and Michael Hermann. A Sampler from the New Historical Atlas of Maine: Religion in Maine:
Loma Linda University Heritage Room :