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ON THURSDAY morning, January 2, 1913, at nine-thirty, I in a formal way met Dudley M. Canright. He was a man of 72 years. I was 18 and an advanced student of Cornell Business College, in Battle Creek, Michigan. The school was situated in the heart of the city on the second floor of the arcade. On this particular morning W. E. Cornell, owner and director of the college, and a former Adventist, approached me in the typing room. I was afraid he was going to ask me to pay my overdue tuition bill or leave school. Instead, he asked whether I would become an employee of his and, if so, he said he would cancel my bill.
I was so thrilled that I had been selected from among others, who, I thought, were better qualified, that I forgot to ask about the nature of the work or for how long I would be thus employed. Mr. Cornell proceeded to explain the work, saying it was important and that I was to begin at once. I was told that the man for whom I was to take dictation and provide other secretarial services was already waiting "in my [i.e., Mr. Cornell's] private office." Mr. Cornell stated that the man was a former prominent Seventh-day Adventist. "I was his first secretary," said Mr. Cornell, referring to himself, "and you will be his last." That spiced my ego, because I knew Mr. Cornell was the foremost shorthand reporter in the State of Michigan. Now I was chosen to work for the same prominent man for whom he had once worked! I left my typewriter and followed Mr. Cornell as we started toward his office.
On our way, Mr. Cornell added somewhat cautiously, "It is part of your training never to repeat anything you see or hear, or divulge any dictated matter or information. Please be good to him." After he extracted a pledge of secrecy and of loyalty from me, he opened the door to his private office. There I was introduced to the man for whom I was to workMr. Canright. While this was our first formal meeting, the name was strikingly familiar to me, for I had heard it eight months before, and I had seen him recently in the Battle Creek Sanitarium kitchen on several occasions, but at the time I did not associate the man with the name.
I was surprised at his unkempt appearance and recoiled at the thought of having to serve as secretary to the author of the book Seventh-day Adventism Renounced, which I had seen and from which I had read. But I had given my word to Mr. Cornell and felt I could not back down now. The door was locked, and I was reminded of my pledge of secrecy, both as to the work I was to do and as to the identity of the man for whom I was to work.
But before going on with the account of my experience with Mr. Canright, what I am to report will be more meaningful if I trace here in detail the background of this rather strange yet intriguing man, as I have come to know him from subsequent research. We will see him first as a young man growing up in the States of Michigan and New York, then as a successful Seventh-day Adventist evangelist and church leader, and following that as a Baptist pastor who aspired to be in the forefront, but died almost in obscurity.
Kinderhook and Coldwater, two small Michigan towns ten miles apart, set in the midst of fertile, open farming country, began to grow and expand when waves of settlers, many from New England and upstate New York, drove stakes and claimed farmland not far from their borders. To this part of southern Michigan the Canright family came in the late 1830's and took out a claim on an eighty-acre farm. Father Hiram and Mother Loretta were true pioneers. Though the climate of southern Michigan might be less extreme than that of upstate New York, settlers were still subject to the rigors of frontier life. Winters were long and cold.
Wandering Indian tribe's people could still cause apprehension. When very old, Mother Canright recalled a day when two Indians visited her, alone at the time. Her nearest neighbors were two miles away; she bravely invited the men into her house. They entered and sat down on the floor. She gave them food, and they soon afterward departed, leaving her and her possessions unharmed.
At the time of their move the Canright's had two daughters, Sarepta and Salina. These little girls would be able to help their mother in the heavy tasks performed by farmer's wives in those days. A son, Dudley Marvin, was born soon after their arrival at Kinderhook. The date, September 22, 1840. Father Hiram rejoiced, visualizing a muscular youth helping him in the fields and at some future date taking over the farm. Four years after Dudley's birth, John arrived, then Jasper three years later. Two more little girls, Mary and Eva, completed the family.
Religion was a vital force in the lives of most of the families who settled in Michigan. But as Dudley Canright later wrote concerning his early years: "I had no religious training till I was sixteen," after he had left home.
Hiram Canright may have been disappointed when his first-born son decided that obtaining an education was preferable to the monotony and toil of farm life. The boy, Dudley, attended the nearby public schools. At the age of 16, the last year he was in school at Kinderhook, he was baptized into the Methodist faith. The year 1859 found him nineteen years old and attending an academy near Albion, in western New York, and living with an uncle.
In Albion, Dudley met a Seventh-day Adventist farmer and minister, Roswell F. Cottrell, who witnessed for his faith while the two worked together planting corn (Review and Herald, May 17, 1877). The young man had never heard of Adventists. While the soil was being prepared to receive the seed for the future crop, Dudley's heart was being prepared to accept the message as taught by that denomination.
Unbeknown to Dudley, plans were being made to hold a brief Adventist tent meeting not far from Albion that summer of 1859. The following notice appeared on the last page of the
Review and Herald:Note 1 "Providence permitting, we will meet the brethren in Western New York, August 20th and 21st. The tent will be pitched in Carlton, Orleans Co., on the farm of Bro. Buckland, five miles north of Albion. Those coming on the cars will stop at Albion, on the Rochester and Niagara Falls road." (Signed) James White.Ibid., Aug. 18, 1859.
The September 1 issue of the Review described how the tent was going up "just over in the field," and notice of the meeting was being given in the region roundabout. "Hope to have a good meeting." The same report continued, "Aug. 22nd Our tent-meeting in this place is closed, and the tent on its way" to another locality. "The number present was small compared with such meetings in Michigan," wrote Elder White, but "quite a number came forward and bought our books."
An eager listener under that canvas roof, one who doubtless hurried to the stand to purchase Adventist books and pamphlets, was young Dudley Canright. The seed of truth that had been planted in his heart grew and developed. He was converted there. Elder Cottrellthe one who had planted the seedafter several months of further study with Dudley, baptized him. "I expect to see him in the kingdom," wrote the young man of his spiritual father.Ibid., May 17, 1877. Describing his conversion, Canright wrote that he "heard Bro. White's sermon on first-day [Sunday]Note 2 I there came to the conclusion to keep the Sabbath of the Lord; and by his grace assisting me, I have been enabled to do so."Ibid., Jan. 26, 1860, p. 78. Some years later, in recounting his experience, he told Cottrell how he listened to the preaching, devoured Adventist books, and studied his Bible day and night. He was an enthusiastic believer, and longed to convert others to his new found faith.
His first convert was his own mother. He hurried home to Kinderhook and shared with her the light he had so joyfully received and accepted. He reported in the Review,
"My mother kept the last Sabbath, so that I shall not be alone hereafter in keeping the seventh day, for she intends to obey God by keeping His Sabbath henceforth."Ibid.
By January 1861, two more members of the family had begun keeping the seventh-day Sabbath. Dudley's uncle, Theodore V. Canright, reported in the Review: "It is only about three months since I commenced keeping the Sabbath; . . . I meet with scorn and ridicule on every side, yet I feel to look up and ask my Father in forgive them, for they know not what they know [sic]. My wife and myself are the only Sabbath keepers in this place. . . But when we read the letters from the brethren and sisters [in the Review and Herald], we feel to take new courage to go on till we shall be permitted to enjoy the blessings of eternal life in the new earth."Ibid., March 12, 1861.
Dudley kept in close touch with the church he had so recently joined. He became a Seventh-day Adventist before the church was fully organized. He read the Review as it came every week to his home, and occasionally wrote to the editor. An item appearing in the issue of December 30, 1862, three years after his conversion, revealed his studiousness, his earnestness, and his hopeful spirit:
His devotion and loyalty were shown in the manner in which he labored on the farm to sustain his godly mother (Ibid., May 20, 1873) and by his diligent efforts to obtain an education. Commenting on this, Elder James White at a later
time said, "He knew what money cost, and had some appreciation of the value of education, and the importance of a calling to this work. God blessed him."
Dudley felt called to the ministry. It was not surprising, therefore, that when about twenty-one years of age he traveled the nearly forty miles north to Battle Creek to talk with Elder James White about entering this line of work. Elder White recounted the experience a few years later:
Dudley faithfully followed this advice. He threw himself wholeheartedly into whatever he did and did it with all his might. During the next few years we find in the Review many reports of earnest work being done by Dudley M. Canright.
In July, 1864, Dudley, with Elder Van Horn, held meetings in Vassar, Michigan, Fifty-four discourses were given, leading more than forty men and women to embrace the doctrines of Seventh-day Adventists. The next series was held at Alma, Michigan. It was the time of harvesting, haying, and threshing, but the "congregation ranged from eighty
to two-hundred and fifty," wrote Canright.
"As near as we can learn the result of this tent meeting, about thirty have decided to obey the truth. . . As we left Alma for St. Johns by way of Ithaca, we could but rejoice that we had to stop at nearly every house for over ten miles to bid some Sabbath-keeper good bye."Ibid., Sept. 13, 1864.
November found him on his own in Jackson, Indiana, giving forty-eight lectures in about six weeks' time to a crowded meetinghouse. There fifteen began to keep the Sabbath, twelve subscribed to the Review and Herald, and in all $40 worth of books were sold. (Ibid., Dec. 6, 1864.)
The meetings met with favor. In an adjoining district the people offered to furnish the workers with wood, lights, board, et cetera if they could also enjoy a course of lectures (Ibid.).
In late April of the following year a conference meeting was held at Lovett's Grove, Ohio. The workers there were dependent on Michigan for visiting speakers. They were overjoyed when "Brother Canright" came to help them. "Never in Ohio have we had a better conference than this," the Review reported. "One brother and his companion, came a three days' journey to meet with us; and they departed rejoicing in the blessed hope, not regarding time or expense, that they might hear the preached word, and mingle their devotions with the people of God."Ibid., May 9, 1865.
With so fruitful a ministry, it is little wonder that D. M. Canright was ordained to the gospel ministry when he was only twenty-four years of age. On May 29, 1865, the ordination service was conducted in Battle Creek, Michigan, by J. N. Loughborough, and by James White. (Ibid., June 6, 1865.)
When Elders Canright and Van Horn returned to Michigan and held meetings in Watrousville, other denominations began to take notice of their advance. A Presbyterian journal telling of what was happening in Watrousville reported:
"They have set up a large and commodious tent. It is sixty feet in diameter, and will seat a large number of persons. Here are three preachers. They hold meetings every night and are found in the tent through the day studying, or conversing with all that come to them."Quoted in the Review and Herald, Dec. 19, 1865.
After the Watrousville meeting the believers determined to build a meeting house. The brethren gathered materials and planned to put up their own building. But the sisters"how could they help?" According to Canright, "They proved the old saying true, 'Where there is a will there is a way.' They concluded to weave a hundred yards of rag carpet and sell it for the benefit of the meeting-house. Each one furnished a few pounds of carpet rags and a few shillings to buy the warp with, while other wove the carpet. This readily sold for one dollar per yard. Thus they will raise $100 in money which is quite an item with them."Ibid., June 19, 1866.
In mid-1866 Canright was commissioned to join Elder J. N. Andrews in an evangelistic thrust into New England. In early July the two ministers left for the "Eastern Mission," as it was called (Ibid., July 3, 1866). On the way they attended a "Monthly Meeting" at Olcott, New York, during which a baptism was conducted on the shore of Lake Ontario. Many curious villagers watched the ceremony with interest. Some launched out upon the water in boats. "The lake was calm, the people respectful and attentive to the prayer that was offered, and it seemed that angels looked down well pleased to witness" the baptism of "three precious youths" that day. (Ibid., June 19, 1866.) such an event must have filled the hearts of the traveling pilgrims with joy, making them feel hopeful that the blessing of God would attend them all the way.
But in New England the team found themselves in conservative territory. The response was less spontaneous than it had been in Michigan. The workers made Norridgewock, Maine, their center, and planned to visit other New England communities, while continuing with regular appointments at Norridgewock. Cornville, Eddington, Topsham, Portland, Falmouth, Hartlandin all these towns Andrews and Canright labored and the people benefited from their ministry.
They proved a great source of encouragement to the scattered Adventists, one of whom wrote: "Our hearts have been much comforted by the coming of Bro. Canright among us, and the return of our dear Bro. Andrews."Ibid., Nov. 6 1866.
At least once Canright reported a "complete failure" of his meeting-at Canaan, Maine (Ibid., Feb. 5, 1867). Winter storms, cold hearts, and the natural conservatism of the people made labor in New England difficult.
When Elder Andrews returned to Norridgewock after a visit to New York he heartily commended the "zealous, devoted, and faithful labors of Bro. Canright," and stated that during his absence eighteen had joined the church, and "between thirty and forty take an active part in the evening prayer-meetings." Tobacco had been "banished from the ranks." (Ibid., Feb. 19, 1867.) There was great hope for the future.
It was during this period that certain perplexing weaknesses first began to reveal themselves in Canright's character. For lengthening periods of time he would be deeply discouraged. Doubt would sweep over his mind. He belief in God would waver and on at least one occasion he veered toward atheism. Then, with success in his work and encouragement from his brethren, he would rise from the gloomy depths of depression. In a small handwritten diary kept during 1867, he described how at times he almost doubted "present truth."Note 3 He wrote of his temptation toward exhibitions of pride, self-exaltation, and a spirit of harshness toward others. He once declared that he was spiritually sick; he feared that God had forsaken him, and was tortured with the thought that he would be eternally lost. He suffered from frequent headaches and often mentioned that he was ill. But on the last day of that year he wrote that God had saved him from falling and that he still trusted in Him. The year, he said, had been a mingling of deep sorrow and great joy.
The happiest event of that year was his marriage. In late March, 1867, Canright wrote with keen anticipation, "I now go home to spend a few weeks in Michigan" (Ibid., April 23, 1867).
He was looking forward to two outstanding eventshis marriage to a nineteen-year-old maiden, Lucretia, and his attendance at the General Conference session in Battle Creek.
Lucretia, born in 1847, the daughter of an ex-Methodist minister, was six years old when her father accepted the Sabbath. At the age of twelve she wrote this description of her experience:
When their mother followed her husband in death, John, Ella, and Lucretia Cranson were taken in by the large hearted Amadon family in Battle Creek. George Amadon was the superintendent of the Review and Herald Publishing Association. James and Ellen White also took an active interest in the welfare of the three children. Lucretia grew up, an earnest little orphan, and an avid reader of The Youth's Instructor from the time she was six years old! (Ibid.) This was the girl who now united her life interests with those of Dudley Canright. The young couple were married on April 11, 1867, in the Amadon home. Visitors came and went all that morning helping in the preparations for the wedding. The groom enjoyed it much and felt that Lucretia never seemed half so lovely and good. About thirty people assembled in the Amadon home at 1:00 P.M., and Elder Loughborough married them. Following the service the guests joined the newly married couple in a meal together. Dudley felt that this was the happiest day of his life.
Almost immediately Canright began feeling the financial
obligations of marriage. The wedding was on Thursday. The following Sunday he wrote in his cash account that he had given ten dollars to his wife, and two dollars to Elder Loughborough, "for marrying us."
Exactly one month after the Canright wedding, on Sabbath, May 11, the Battle Creek congregation moved from their humble place of worship on Van Buren Street, two blocks to a "new house, with accommodations, when closely seated, for about seven hundred persons" (Review and Herald, May 14, 1867). The same minister who had officiated at the Canright wedding, Elder Loughborough, president of the Michigan Conference, led the congregation in a day of fasting, prayer, and thanksgiving.
Dudley and Lucretia observed the day, eating but little. The Bridegroom of one month preached at the Battle Creek Health Institute in the morning; in the afternoon he and Lucretia walked out in the woods until sundown. They ended that Sabbath with a pleasant visit to the home of Brother Uriah Smith, editor of the Review and Herald.
1. Church paper of Seventh-day Adventists published
weekly at Battle Creek, Michigan, 1855-1903 and then in Washington, D. C., from 1903 onward. The title of this paper has varied slightly throughout the years, but it has generally been called the Review and Herald or simply the Review. [back to text]