Ellen White: Early Years and Accident

Ellen Harmon ducked her head down low and kept her eyes trained on the sidewalk as she hurried away from the angry taunts being hurled at her. Her sister Elizabeth did the same, struggling to keep pace with her. Ell recognized the voice behind her as belonging to one of the older girls that attended the Brackett Street School along with herself and her sister. I wonder why she’s so angry Ellen mused as she quickened her pace across the small park they were crossing. The Harmon kids had been taught never to retaliate or engage in a fight which is why both sisters chose to ignore the enraged rants that followed them. It sounds like she’s getting closer though Ellen thought worriedly doubling her pace into a run. She threw a quick glance over her shoulder to gauge the girl’s progress and was immediately assaulted by blinding pain.

“Ellen!” Elizabeth screamed as she saw the rock that the older girl threw smashing forcefully into her sister’s face. Ellen collapsed and a steady stream of blood began to seep out of her nose. Together with the school friend that was accompanying them Elizabeth managed to haul her sister to a nearby store. A little crowd of gawkers soon began to gather around the girls as blood began to pool on the floor of the hapless merchant’s store.

When Ellen opened her eyes the sight that greeted her was hazy. So many people, so many voices. Would she like a carriage ride home? No, she heard herself say in a strange faraway voice. She would manage to walk home. “I don’t want to get blood all over your carriage sir” she heard herself mumble thickly. It’s bad enough that I got blood all over your floor she thought foggily as she managed to struggle to her feet. Then with the help of Elizabeth and her friend Ellen half walked and was half carried the rest of the way home.

The incident proved to be a turning point in the life of Ellen Harmon. Robert was away selling hats when Ellen was injured. After the incident, Ellen was unconscious for three weeks. During this time her mother cared for her tirelessly and nursed her back to health though the initial prognosis of her condition was bleak. When Ellen regained consciousness she was extremely frail and in a great deal of pain. Her face was so altered by the attack that she couldn’t recognise herself and when he father came home after his time away he couldn’t recognize her either.

The days, weeks and months of rehabilitation and healing that followed were painful and difficult in more ways than one. Ellen struggled to concentrate in school and was unable to read or write without difficulty. Eventually, she was forced to give up her education altogether. In addition to that, she had to endure an endless round of teasing at the hands of other children her age. It was a bitter and difficult trial to endure.

The Millerite Meetings and The Great Disappointment

In 1840 William Miller preached in a little church on Casco St in Portland. The Harmon’s were among those who attended the meetings. Miller’s messages were both convincing and convicting and the Harmons embraced the Millerite movement wholeheartedly. So devoted were they to the message of Christ’s imminent return that they were eventually disfellowshipped from their local Methodist congregation. This would have been a significant blow to Robert and Eunice Harmon, who according to records had been Methodists for 40 years as of 1843.

Ellen was seventeen years old when the Millerites experienced the great disappointment of 1844. Her sister Elizabeth and older brother Robert gave up their faith in the Millerite message though Robert would later reclaim it. After the disappointment, Ellen Harmon was called by God to be his special messenger. Her work became instrumental in raising up and, to a great extent, preserving and advancing a movement which was established for the purpose of preparing a group of people to meet their God.

Call to Ministry

Ellen’s call to ministry came at a time when she was extremely sick and weak. The disappointment had taken its toll on her health and consumption raged through her body almost unchecked. The coughing was incessant and brutal and she would often cough up blood. She found it so difficult to breathe that she would often have to be propped up into an almost sitting position in order to be comfortable.

While she was in this condition her friend Elizabeth Haines who lived across the causeway in South Portland invited Ellen to spend a few days in her home. Though hesitant at first Ellen decided to take her up on her offer, feeling the need for the encouragement that fellowship with like-minded believers would bring.

A few days after her arrival, on a cold December morning in 1844, Ellen Harmon, Elizabeth Haines, and three other young women knelt together for family worship. While they were praying Ellen felt the power of God resting on her as she had never felt it before and she was given her first vision. In it, she was shown the Advent people traveling to the New Jerusalem with a bright light, which was the midnight cry behind them and Jesus Himself leading the way before them. After the vision, Ellen felt prompted to share what she had been shown but she shrank from it choosing instead to jump into a sleigh and run away from her home in order to avoid a meeting of Advent believers that was scheduled to take place there.

One of Ellen’s main concerns about sharing her vision was the opposition she was sure she would face. At the time the vision was given, she along with all the other Adventists in Portland had lost their confidence in the midnight cry. While they still believed in the 2300 day prophecy they had lost confidence in the October 22nd date and were looking for the fulfillment of the prophecy sometime in the future. Ellen’s vision struck directly at the heart of that popular concept and reaffirmed the midnight cry. When she ran away from home in order to avoid the Advent meeting she found herself in the home of a close friend. When she arrived she found Joseph Turner in the house. Turner was the leader of the Portland Adventists and was also a leading Millerite Editor. Turner encouraged her to go back home and share her vision but Ellen refused to do it.

She prayed and wrestled over the conviction to share the vision for several days and finally at another meeting of Adventists which took place in her home she shared the vision. The first time she shared the vision was only a few days after she had received it in Elizabeth Haines home. A week after she shared her first vision she was given a second vision. In it, she was shown the trials and the opposition she would have to face as the Lord’s messenger but the attending angel assured her that the grace of God would be sufficient for her and that God Himself would sustain her. Ellen fought against the call. She pleaded with God to take the burden away from her and place it upon someone qualified to bear its responsibilities but all she could hear were the words of the angels echoing loudly in her ears; “Make known to others what I have revealed to you”.

But she couldn’t bring herself to submit to such a phenomenally large calling and the more she resisted it the more she felt the peace of God being withdrawn from her. Soon she began to refuse to attend meetings that were held in her home. One evening however she was persuaded to attend a meeting and John Pearson, another Adventist who was present at the time, encouraged her to accept God’s calling. Ellen struggled against his words and those present, seeing her anxiety began to pray for her. While they were praying she felt the thick blanket of darkness that had enveloped her begin to lift and light shone all around her. Suddenly out of nowhere something like a ball of fire struck her right over the heart and she collapsed. She then seemed to be in the presence of angels and one of them repeated the words “Make known to others what I have revealed to you”, then adding “deliver the message faithfully. Endure unto the end and you shall eat the fruit of the tree of life and drink the water of life”.

The entire episode provided the assurance that Ellen needed to surrender to God’s call. Gathering her courage and with trembling faith, she placed her frail hand in the hand of God. Over the following 70 years of service, God never failed her and she never looked back.

Citations and Further Reading

  • Maxwell, C.M. (1976) – Tell it to the World: The Story of Seventh-day Adventists
  • White, A.L. (1985) – Ellen G. White: Volume 1 – The Early Years: 1827-1862
  • Knight, G.R. (1999) – A Brief History of Seventh-day Adventists (3rd Edition)
  • Collins, N.J. (2005) – Heartwarming Stories of Adventist Pioneers (Book 1)
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)