Bracket St School—Portland, where Ellen White attended.
There are two incidents in Ellen’s early life that had a major impact on her later life. The first involved a childhood accident: Ellen’s childhood was uneventful until at the age of nine, she was severely injured in the face by a stone thrown by another student. For three weeks she was unconscious, and in the years that followed she suffered greatly as a result of the serious injury to her nose.
“ At the age of nine years an accident happened to me which was to affect my whole life. In company with my twin sister, and one of our schoolmates, I was crossing a common in the city of Portland, Maine, when a girl about thirteen years old followed us, threatening to strike us. My parents had taught me never to contend with any one, but if we were in danger of being injured, to hasten away and return home. We were doing this, running towards home, but the girl was following us with a stone in her hand. I turned to see how far she was behind me, and as I turned, the stone hit me on my nose. I fell senseless. When I revived, I found myself in a merchant's store, the blood streaming from my nose, my garments covered with blood, and a large stream of blood on the floor.”
A kind stranger offered to take me home in his carriage. I knew not how weak I was, and told him I should greatly soil his carriage with blood, and that I could walk home. Those present were not aware that I was so seriously injured. I had walked but a few rods when I grew dizzy and faint. My twin sister and my schoolmate carried me home. I have no recollection of anything for some time after the accident. My mother says that I noticed nothing, but lay in a stupid state for three weeks. No one thought I would live except my mother. For some reason she felt that I would not die. A kind neighbor, who had interested herself much in my behalf, at one time thought me to be dying, and wished to purchase a [burial] robe for me. Mother said to her, ‘Not yet;’ for something told her that I would not die.” Spiritual Gifts , vol. 2, 7-8
Ellen’s descriptions of this event—nearly twenty-five years later, also emphasised the severity of her physical injuries, stating that the injury had destroyed her “natural looks”—“Every feature of my face seemed changed. The sight was more than I could bear….The idea of carrying my misfortune through life was insupportable.” Spiritual Gifts , 9.
Ellen White and her twin sister Elizabeth in 1878.
Later photographs of White however, show no indication of any facial scarring or disfigurement.
Ellen did suffer recurring medical problems throughout her life that may have been related to this injury. These problems included “frequent fainting spells, dizziness, physical and emotional exhaustion, and recurring periods of excruciating depression.” Delbert H. Hodder, "Visions or Partial-Complex Seizures?," Evangelica , November 1981, 30. Ellen herself attributed some of her many illnesses to this incident: “ I have, since a child, been afflicted with dropsy and heart disease, occasioned by my misfortune when about nine years old.” Ellen G. White, Spiritual Gifts , vol. 1 (Battle Creek: James White, 1858), 154
White attempted to continue school but was able to attend classes only intermittently. She records her struggles as follows: “ My hand trembled so that I made no progress in writing, and could get no further than the first examples, which are called coarse‑hand. As I labored to bend my mind to my studies, the letters of my book would run together, large drops of perspiration would stand upon my brow, and I would become dizzy and faint. I had a bad cough, which prevented me from attending school steadily. My teacher thought it would be too much for me to study, unless my health should be better, and advised me to leave school .” Spiritual Gifts , 11.
Some three years later Ellen attempted to begin studies again, enrolling in a girls school, but she was physically unable to cope with the strain and had to withdraw. Her formal education ended abruptly at this point. Later Ellen was to say “It was the hardest struggle of my young life, to yield to my feebleness, and decide that I must leave my studies, and give up the hope of gaining an education.” James White, "Mrs Ellen G. White- Her Life, Christian Experience, and Labors ," Signs of the Times , January 13, 1876.
Authors such as Delbert H. Hodder , and Molleurus Couperus have suggested that Ellen’s head injury resulted in her suffering partial-complex seizures that were mistakenly identified as visions from God. Such claims are refuted by Donald I. Peterson, in his book Visions or Seizures: Was Ellen White the Victim of Epilepsy? (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1988). Likewise Ronald Numbers refutes these claims, stating, “her behaviour [in vision] also differed in many ways from what might be expected of someone experiencing complex partial seizures… [she] did not suffer the amnesia, disorientation, or terror so often associated with complex partial seizures.” Prophetess of Health: E. G. White and the Origins of SDA Health Reform , ed. Ronald L. Numbers (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 215.
It should be noted however, that Ronald L. Numbers and Janet S. Numbers view Ellen’s illnesses as relating rather, to the development of a “full-fledged somatization disorder and a histrionic personality style.” We will discuss in more detail these and other claims about Ellen White’s health in a later class.
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, and heard William Miller preach on the second coming of Christ.
This was the second event that had a major impact on Ellen’s later life. William Miller’s message of Christ’s soon return had a great impact on Ellen and her family. Later Ellen wrote: “ [Miller’s message] had a great effect upon me. I knew that I must be lost if Christ should come, and I be found as I then was. At times I was greatly distressed as to my situation. But it was hard for me to give entirely up to the Lord. I viewed it a great thing to be a Christian, and feared that I never should be one if I professed religion, and remained some months suffering distress of mind.” Spiritual Gifts , 12.
“ 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.
In her early teen years, deeply affected by William Miller’s preaching, Ellen longed for a deeper religious experience: “ As I prayed, the burden and agony of soul that I had so long felt left me, and the blessing of God came upon me like the gentle dew. I gave glory to God for what I felt, but I longed for more. I could not be satisfied till I was filled with the fullness of God. Inexpressible love for Jesus filled my soul .” Early Writings , p12.
On June 26, 1842, after attending a camp-meeting at Buxton, Ellen was baptised by immersion in Casco Bay, Portland. That same day she was received as a member of the Chestnut Street Methodist Church. Ellen 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.
Ellen fully accepted William Miller's presentations and continued to attend the Millerite meetings in the church on Casco Street.
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, Ellen 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 of Ellen G. White , 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.
An image of the membership records of the Chestnut Street Methodist Church showing Ellen’s date of exclusion.
THE GREAT DISAPPOINTMENT When Christ did not return to earth on October 22, 1844, William Miller’s followers were emotionally and spiritually shattered. Like the rest of the Millerites, Ellen experienced great distress following Christ’s non-return. She did not however, lose hope: “ It was a bitter disappointment that fell upon the little flock whose faith had been so strong and whose hope had been so high. But we were surprised that we felt so free in the Lord, and were so strongly sustained by His strength and grace….We were disappointed, but not disheartened .” Life Sketches of Ellen G. White , 61.
Shortly after the Great Disappointment—around December 1844, when she was 17 and not yet married, Ellen had two dreams. In the first dream she visited the temple in heaven; in the second, she was taken up a stairway to see Jesus who blessed her. These two dreams were a turning point in her spiritual experience. They providing the impetus for the beginning of her public ministry.
Fearing a negative reception, Ellen did not share her visions with the wider Millerite community until—while in a meeting at her parent’s home—she received what she regarded as supernatural confirmation of her ministry: “ While praying, the thick darkness that had enveloped me was scattered, a bright light, like a ball of fire, came towards me, and as it fell upon me, my strength was taken away. I seemed to be in the presence of Jesus and the angels. Again it was repeated, ‘Make known to others what I have revealed to you .’” White, Spiritual Gifts , 37. The outcome of this experience was Ellen’s commitment to share her visions publicly.
This PowerPoint presentation has been produced by Jeff Crocombe for a class on EGW: Life and Writings at Helderberg College in Semester 1, 2007. It should not be used without giving credit to its compiler, nor reproduced in any way without permission. You may contact Jeff Crocombe at: [email_address]