Uriah Smith Begins Again

Lying on the kitchen table, 12-year-old Uriah could feel the panic rising up in his throat. He willed himself to stay still when every nerve and muscle in his body was screaming at him to stand up and run. He was glad for the strong arms that held him down. He would not trust himself alone on this kitchen table.

Amos Twitchell fussed over his instruments, laying them carefully in a neat row. Uriah stole a furtive glance at the array before quickly averting his eyes and squeezing them shut. He could feel a cold bead of sweat making an icy track down his back.

It’ll be over soon he told himself desperately, Dr. Twitchell is one the best surgeons in these parts. And he was, mainly because he was quick and accurate. He had to be because in his line of work there was a very thin margin for error and even less room for second chances.

“Make sure you hold him still” the doctor murmured absently, adjusting the apron he wore over his clothes.

Uriah stiffened in panic, his eyes still tightly shut. The next moment he felt a sharp sting race through his leg and then he let out a blood-curdling scream.

Dr. Twitchell had been summoned to amputate Uriah Smith’s leg.

At the age of three, Uriah had contracted an infection which had caused his left leg to wither. Now at the age of twelve, it needed to come off. Dr. Twitchell had the dubious honor of detaching it, which he did, in 20 minutes, on the Smith kitchen table without the use of an anesthetic.

Uriah would never forget that day or the weeks of recovery that followed. But neither the trauma of the surgery nor the disability it left him with deterred him from reaching his full potential. Uriah Smith completed his education with a serious physical disability and excelled.

He was well versed in the classics having studied at the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. He was also a talented artist and was responsible for the first illustrations in the Review and Herald as well as the first illustration in a book published by Sabbatarian Adventists.

After he completed his education Uriah became a public school teacher. In 1852, he attended a Sabbatarian Adventist Conference in Washington, New Hampshire and heard James and Ellen White speak for the first time. Though he, along with his family had accepted the Advent message and joined the Millerite Movement, the great disappointment struck a sharp blow to his faith, leaving him floundering spiritually.

Turning Points

Hearing the Whites speak and especially hearing their explanation of the great disappointment reignited his faith. He accepted the Sabbath and the three angel’s message and reconsecrated his life to God.

Six months later he joined the staff of the Review and Herald office in Rochester, New York. He was 21 years old at the time and had turned down a job offer of about $1000 a year in order to do so. In 1855 he moved to Battle Creek, Michigan and was connected with the work of the Review and Herald for almost all of the remainder of his life. He became resident Editor of the Review and through the editorials he wrote provided guidance to thousands of Seventh-Day Adventists scattered across the United States.

Uriah Smith was also a talented inventor accumulating 8 patents during his life. One of which was a school desk and another being a significantly improved version of the prosthetic leg. He was a prolific writer, churning out more than 20 books and tracts during his lifetime, the most famous being “Thoughts on Daniel and The Revelation”

Uriah went through a period of spiritual backsliding in the 1880’s but came through the ordeal repentant, continuing to serve faithfully in the cause he loved so much.

In 1903 when the Review and Herald office was burned to the ground, the insurance only covered a fraction of what was needed to rebuild. The decision was made to relocate the publishing house to Washington D.C. During this time Uriah wrote “in the shadow of great calamity, we are of good courage”

 On the 6th of March 1903, Uriah Smith was walking to work in Battle Creek when he collapsed, having suffered a large stroke. He died hours later. A special front cover of the Review was printed in memoriam bearing his picture and a poem by his sister Annie, which she had written about him before he died.

Among Smith’s literary accomplishments was his ability to write hymns. One of his most deeply touching hymns contains these words which perhaps sums up the keynote of his life;

O Brother be faithful, soon Jesus will come

For whom we have waited so long

O soon we shall enter our glorious home

And join in the conqueror’s song

O Brother be faithful, for why should we prove,

Unfaithful to him who has shown?

Such deep such unbounded and infinite love

Who died to redeem us his own?

Further Reading and Citations

  • Maxwell, C.M. (1976) – Tell It To The World – The Story of Seventh-Day Adventists
  • Collins, N.J. (2005) – Heartwarming Stories of Adventist Pioneers (Book 1)
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)

Recommended Listening 

  • Pathways of The Pioneers (1998) – Volume 9, Episode 6 – Founding the Good Old Review
  • Pathways of The Pioneers (1998) – Volume 10, Episode 1 – Move To Rochester
  • Pathways of The Pioneers (1998) – Volume 13, Episode 4 – The 1888 Minneapolis General Conference
  • Pathways of The Pioneers (1998) – Volume 13, Episode 5 – Fallout of The Righteousness by Faith Debate