The Farnsworth Family of Washington, NH

Washington, New Hampshire was an important location for early Sabbatarian Adventism. It was the site of the first Sabbath keeping Adventist Church and is often referred to as the birthplace of Seventh-Day Adventism.

One of the most prominent Sabbath keeping families in Washington was the Farnsworth family. Daniel Farnsworth and his son William were among those who founded the Washington Christian church in April 1842. They later went on to accept the Advent message and sacrificed much on behalf of it.

William Farnsworth started keeping the Sabbath soon after the great disappointment of 1844 and his brother Cyrus followed suit shortly thereafter. William Farnsworth had 22 surviving children. His first wife had 11 children before she died and his second wife did the same. Each of his children went on to make significant contributions to the Seventh-Day Adventist church.

The Washington Adventist Church was organized in 1862 but soon began to experience a spiritual decline despite many attempts to revive it. By 1867 the spiritual state of the church had declined to such an extent that the building was no longer in use. The most serious casualties of the spiritual atrophy were the children and young people.

In 1867, James and Ellen White along with J.N. Andrews came to Washington just before Christmas. They were fuelled by a desire to bring revival to the once thriving church. They arrived on the 20th of December and stayed in the home of Cyrus Farnsworth. Over the next few days, they held several meetings but the work proved to be extremely challenging.

Playing Hard Ball

One of the hardest cases that Ellen White dealt with was that of Worcester Ball. He was a particularly difficult man who had a penchant for using her testimonies as a club to attack and condemn members of the church congregation. His critical spirit was a source of discouragement and irritation to many of the church members. Over time he had become a critic of Ellen White herself and had abandoned much of the main doctrinal tenets of Seventh-Day Adventism. Ellen White tenderly appealed to him to see the error of his ways, especially in his dealings with his fellow church members. J.N. Andrews tearfully pointed out his errors and appealed to him to change his critical ways.

For his part Ball was greatly touched by the appeals and was repentant. The congregation was also willing to forgive him and embraced him back into fellowship with open arms. The entire episode brought much-needed healing to the church.

Another powerful conversion story was that of William Farnsworth. Over the years Farnsworth had begun to cultivate the habit of chewing tobacco and secretly indulged in it whenever he found the opportunity. None of his family knew about it except his son Eugene. The boy had seen him spitting tobacco juice into the snow and covering it with his foot.

Over the years Eugene’s faith in the gift of prophecy had begun to wane but in 1867, when the Whites visited Washington, Eugene realised that he had the perfect opportunity to test Ellen White’s claim once and for all.

He figured that if she was a prophet, she would know about his father’s secret habit. Eugene watched and waited to see if Ellen White would call his father out on his secret sin. During one of the meetings, as Ellen White was speaking personally to those present, she turned and looked at William Farnsworth, quietly proceeding to detail his secret use of both pork and tobacco while giving the appearance of defending the health message.

She explained to him that his conduct had proved to be a great hindrance to the work of God in Washington, New Hampshire. Farnsworth was cut to the heart and humbled himself, confessing his sins and publicly turning his life around. It was a turning point for the Farnsworth family as a whole but especially for young Eugene, whose faith in the Advent message was soundly restored. He along with 9 other young people from the Washington church would go on to become full time workers for the denomination.

The confessions and transformations of the adults proved to be a catalyst for change in the lives of the young people. The Christmas Meetings in Washington, New Hampshire proved to be a success and a significant turning point the life of both the church and its congregation.

Further Reading and Citations

  • Maxwell, C.M. (1976) – Tell it to the World: The Story of Seventh-Day Adventists
  • Schawrz, R.W. and Greenleaf, F. (1979) – Light Bearers: A History of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church (Revised Edition)
  • Knight, G.R. (1999) – A Brief History of Seventh-Day Adventists (3rd Edition)
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)