The Harmon family were Mthodists but became interested in the teachings of William Miller, whose reading of the Bible had convinced him that Jesus was returning soon. Eventually the date of October 22, 1844 was calculated. Jesus did not of course return and many of the Millerites gave up their beliefs in the second coming.
Some 2 months after this Great Disappointment, Ellen White received her first vision from God—a message of hope and encouragement to the Millerites.
During 1845, Ellen Harmon was invited to share her early visions with Adventist groups. A young preacher, six years older than Ellen, became convinced that her visions were genuine and that her message of encouragement was needed. And so James White entered young Ellen’s life, but not with romantic thoughts—at first. After realizing that his joint ministry with young Ellen, though always chaperoned by her sister Sarah or other faithful friends, was activating gossip, he proposed marriage. Ellen accepted his proposal and they were married by a justice of the peace in Portland, Maine, on August 30, 1846.
The earliest known photograph of James and Ellen White c. 1855.
“ We were married August 30, 1846, and from that hour to the present she has been my crown of rejoicing....It has been in the good providence of God that both of us had enjoyed a deep experience in the Advent movement....This experience was now needed as we should join our forces and, united, labor extensively from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific....” James White
“ Although I miss you very, very much, and love you, yet I feel at present I belong to God to wait for and do his will. I tell you freely it is a great sacrifice to my feelings to have you separated from me as you are, and yet it seems to be that it is as God would have it, and I must be reconciled. It has been hard, so hard.” Ellen White to James White.
Ellen recalled after James’s death: “It was not over a year before James White talked it over with me. He said something had come up, and he should have to go away and leave me to go with whomsoever I would, or we must be married. He said something had got to be done. So we were married, and have been married ever since. Although he is dead, I feel that he is the best man that ever trod shoe leather.” Ellen White
James and Ellen had four children, all boys: Henry Nichols, born August 26, 1847; James Edson (known as Edson), born July 28, 1849; William Clarence (known as W.C. or Willie), born August 29, 1854; and John Herbert, September 20, 1860. Henry, Edson, & Willie White 1862.
Herbert died after living only three months, a victim of erysipelas. The 33-year-old mother recalled this heartbreaking experience: “My dear babe was a great sufferer. Twenty-four days and nights we anxiously watched over him, using all the remedies we could for his recovery, and earnestly presenting his case to the Lord. At times I could not control my feelings as I witnessed his sufferings. Much of my time was spent in tears, and humble supplication to God.” Spiritual Gifts , vol. 2, p. 296
She described the infant’s final hours: “My babe was worse. I listened to his labored breathing, and felt his pulseless wrist. I knew that he must die. That was an hour of anguish for me. The icy hand of death was already upon him. We watched his feeble, gasping breath, until it ceased, and we felt thankful that his sufferings were ended. When my child was dying, I could not weep. I fainted at the funeral. My heart ached as though it would break, yet I could not shed a tear....After we returned from the funeral, my home seemed lonely. I felt reconciled to the will of God, yet despondency and gloom settled upon me.” Spiritual Gifts , vol. 2, p. 296
“ Henry N. White’s picture taken when he was three or four years old. Preserve carefully.” Signed Ellen G. White.
Ellen White’s eldest son, Henry, died at the age of sixteen. In late November 1863, he caught a cold which turned into pneumonia.
For Ellen White, her children were high priority. Her diary entries, letters to others and to her sons, all indicate her unending concern for them, especially their spiritual growth. She took their shortcomings as well as her own very seriously. After a difficult encounter with young Edson, she wrote in her diary: “Had an interview with Edson. Felt distressed beyond measure, feeling that it was not conducted wisely.” Manuscript 12 , 1868.
“‘ Oh,’ say some mothers, ‘my children bother me when they try to help me.’ So did mine, but do you think I let them know it? Praise your children. Teach them, line upon line, precept upon precept. This is better than reading novels, better than making calls, better than following the fashions of the world.” The Adventist Home , p. 289.
Life with Ellen White Ellen White enjoyed gardening. On February 10, 1896 (at nearly 70 years of age), she wrote in her diary: “ I arose at half past four a.m. At five I was at work spading up ground and preparing to set out my flowers. I worked one hour alone, then Edith Ward and Ella May White united with me, and we planted our flowers. Then we set out twenty-eight tomato plants, when the bell rang for morning prayers and breakfast.” MS 62, 1896 Ellen White also enjoyed knitting.
Ellen White enjoyed many forms of travel. In 1876, while in San Francisco, she enjoyed a cruise on a sailboat owed by church members: “ The waves ran high and we were tossed up and down so very grandly. I was highly elevated in my feelings, but had no words to say to any one. It was grand. The spray dashing over us. The watchful captain giving his orders, the ready hands to obey. The wind was blowing strong and I never enjoyed anything so much in my life.” Letter 5, 1896
In her later years riding in her carriage became an important part of Ellen White’s life.
In 1913 she was taken for her first ride in an automobile by her twin grandsons Henry & Herbert. She commented: “ It is the easiest machine that I have ever ridden in.” Letter 11, 1913
Ellen White enjoyed the outdoors. While visiting Colorado she wrote: Mr Walling took us up, up, up in the mountains. We feared sometimes that we should never reach the top. We had a commanding view of the country….It looked fearful so high, and below was a fearful precipice of rocks. If the horses had stepped over to one side we should have fallen hundreds of feet… The mountain scenery of Colorado can never be described so that the imagination can gather distinct and correct ideas of this country. It is wonderful! It is marvellous! The scenery of the grand old mountains, some bald and others covered with trees! Instinctively the mind is awed and deep feelings of reverence bow the soul in humiliation as the imagination gathers a sense of the power of the Infinite. I would not be deprived of the privilege of seeing what I have of the mountain scenery of Colorado. Letter 12, 1872.
Ellen White enjoyed helping others. In the 1890s Australia—and most of the world was undergoing an economic depression. Ellen White helped many people personally: “ While in Cooranbong I tried to set an example of how the needy should be helped. I tried to work in the way set before me by the Lord.” “ There were many here who were poor and in need. Men who were trying to serve the Lord and keep His commandments could not provide food for their families, and they begged us to give them something to do. We employed them, and they ate at our table. We gave them suitable wages until their families were fed and comfortably clothed. Then we let them go to find work somewhere else.” Letter 105, 1902; Letter 33, 1897
“ Last evening we had a Dorcas Society in our home, and my workers who help in the preparation of my articles for the papers and do the cooking and sewing, five of them, sat up until midnight, cutting out clothing. They made three pairs of pants for the children of one family. Two sewing machines were running until midnight. I think there was never a happier set of workers than were these girls last evening. We made up a bundle of clothing for this family, and thought it was about all we could do….There are also other families to be supplied….Thus it has been ever since we came to this country. We shall certainly heed the call to send a box of clothing to these needy ones. I merely tell you these things that you may know that we are surrounded by poverty.” Letter 113, 1897
Ellen White was not a stern or unhappy person. When you “gather around the table to partake of God’s precious bounties, make this a season of cheerfulness. Do not make it season of grave decorum as though [you] were standing around a coffin, but have it a social season where every countenance is full of joy and happiness, where naught but cheerful words are spoken.” Letter 19, 1886.
In 1900, while travelling from Australia to the USA, the ship Ellen White was travelling on stopped in the islands of Samoa. The ship’s boat was unable to travel right to the shore and as the women wore long dresses, the local men waded out to help them. Her daughter-in-law Ethel May recorded the following: “ The natives of Samoa were hefty fellows who didn’t wear too many clothes. Two of the men clasped their hands together, making a chair with their arms, and carried Mother White to the beach where she sat on a large rock. Another man took my 4-month-old daughter…in his arms and held an umbrella over her to shelter her from the sun. Then he motioned for me to get on his back. So I scrambled onto his back and wrapped my arms and legs around him, and off we went. Mother White laughed so hard at that sight that she couldn’t stop. She laughed until she fell of the rock. ( Adventist Review , July 7, 1983).
Ellen White enjoyed her grandchildren. Once, while in Switzerland there was a heavy snow the day before Christmas. White described the view of the large park in front of the publishing house as “the most beautiful picture I have ever seen in winter.” Then she wrote of playing with her 4-year-old granddaughter Ella: “Ella,” she said, “has a fine time trying to snowball her mother and grandmother,” but paid a price by way of a cold, thought to be from eating some of the snow. Manuscript 30, 1885
Recommended Reference: Knight, George R. Walking With Ellen White: the human interest story . Hagerstown: Review and Herald, 1999.
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