John Andrews: The Early Years

When Edward Andrews married Sarah Nevins it was a happy day for their grandfathers, David Andrews and John Nevins who had served together in George Washington’s army and had been close friends ever since. Edward and Sarah Andrews chose to settle down in Poland, Maine and before long they had their first child, a son, whom they named John Nevins Andrews after Sarah’s grandfather.  John had three other siblings only one of whom survived.

As a young boy, John suffered bouts of ill health and was forced to drop out of school as a result. However, he didn’t let his lack of schooling deter him from learning and from the moment he dropped out of school he began to teach himself. He had a voracious appetite for reading and developed the habit of carrying a book with him wherever he went.

When he was 13 years old he was converted and accepted Jesus as his savior. He had cultivated a love for the Bible early in life and he taught himself to read the Bible in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. For a few years during his teens, he lived with his Uncle Charles and his wife Persis in Dixfield, Maine. Charles Andrews was a congressman and saw great potential in John and sent him to school. He had high hopes that John would go to college, become a lawyer and eventually become a congressman like himself but God had other plans for John Andrews.

As the Millerite movement began to swirl across the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, the Edward Andrews family was swept up into its current. They attended some lectures and would retreat to their home after each one to carefully pore over the Bible, verifying the arguments they had heard. They were convinced and soon joined the Millerite movement embracing the prejudice and scorn that came along with being part of it.

In the aftermath of the great disappointment of 1844, the Andrews family sheltered the Stowells who had sold everything they had in order to spread the message of Christ’s soon return. While the Stowells were living with the Andrews, their daughter Marian came across a tract written by T.M. Preble detailing the Biblical basis for the Seventh-Day Sabbath. Marian read the tract and believed every word of it, she then showed it to her brother Oswald Stowell who in turn showed it to John Andrews. Eventually, all three teenagers were convinced that Saturday was the true biblical Sabbath and chose to start keeping it. They went on to share what they had learned with their parents and soon the Andrews and Stowell families were all keeping the Sabbath. Before long they had shared what they learned with seven other families in Paris Hill, Maine who also started keeping the Sabbath with them.

Immediately after the disappointment fanaticism in its various shapes and forms swept through the ranks of Millerite Adventists. Fanaticism was especially rife among the little community of believers in Paris Hill and the Edward Andrews family was not untouched by it. Some reports state that Edward Andrews chose not to work or send his children to school because he believed that Christ would return at any moment after the great disappointment. James and Ellen White visited Pari Hill in 1849 and held a series of revival meetings there to help the believers. During these meetings, John Andrews was so inspired and revived that he exclaimed: “I would exchange a thousand errors for one truth!”

Early Ministry

After these meetings, John committed his life to full-time ministry and over the next five years, he traveled from place to place preaching the three angels message and writing for the Review and Herald almost incessantly. He wore himself down to an almost skeletal state, drawn on by a single chord that thrummed persistently in his soul; a desire to seek and to save the lost. Among those who were converted by the labors of John Andrews was J.N. Loughborough who would himself go on to become one of the most itinerant preachers and able administrators of the fledgling movement.

Teaming up with Hiram Edson, John Andrews roamed through the new states opening up in the West, traveling 600 miles in six weeks in Edson’s horse and buggy. It was exhausting, bone-crunching work. But it wasn’t just the physical struggles that John grappled with, his heart was burdened for many people. One of them was O.R.L. Coriser who had partnered with Edson to write the article about Christ’s ministry in the heavenly sanctuary immediately after the disappointment. Crosier had once accepted the Sabbath but was now bitterly opposed to it. Then there was T.M. Preble who wrote the tract that converted John to the truth about the Sabbath. Preble had since given up his belief in the Sabbath and was preaching for a Sunday church.

Burdened for these men John Andrews would pray fervently for them well into the night, asking God to help them. Earnestly he wrote to both Preble and Crosier “I have loved you both for the witness you once bore to the truth of God. My heart has bled to witness your strange course since. But I leave you to the mercy of God, whose commandments you dare to fight”. Regarding John Andrews’ able and heartfelt defense of the Sabbath James White wrote “thank God for John Andrews. He has become our strongest champion for God’s true Sabbath.”

But John Andrews was playing with fire and it was only a matter of time before he got burned. The long hours and almost continuous travel wore him down to a pale emaciated shadow of the man he once was. One day while at work at the Review and Herald office on 124, Mount Hope Avenue in Rochester, James White happened to glance out the window and do a double take. A haggard beggarly man was shuffling slowly up the path to the house while leaning heavily on a cane. Jumping to his feet White rushed to the door and went outside to greet the stranger. The man looked up at him and feebly croaked “don’t you know me?” It was only then that James White realized that the stranger was, in fact, John Andrews but there was nothing in his appearance that gave that away.

The Whites and the publishing house staff sprang into action offering him a warm bath, clean clothes, and a hearty meal. James White raised enough money to buy him some new clothes and he ended up staying in Rochester for three months before he was able to make his way home to Paris Hill, Maine.

When he reached Maine, John began to work on restoring his health. Lots of good home cooked food and good hard work on the farm out in the fresh air did wonders for his health and he began to improve in no time.

Waukon and Beyond

A short while later the Andrews family decided to move to Waukon, Iowa. Several other Adventist families were also making the same move in the hopes of setting up a small Adventist community in the new farming town. The plan was to come together in the hopes of reaching out to the local farming community with the three angels messages while running and operating their own farms. The Cyprian Stevens family and J.N. Loughborough and his wife Mary were among those who moved to Waukon. Here in 1856, John Andrews married Angeline Stevens.

However, it wasn’t long before the little Adventist community was too tied up with the busyness of day to day life that they struggled to execute their original plan of evangelizing their neighbors. They began to fall into a state of Spiritual lethargy and God gave Ellen White a vision instructing her to make her way to Waukon to revive the believers there.

Obeying the call James and Ellen White together with Josiah Hart and Elon Everts made their way to Waukon in the most adverse conditions in the dead of winter, even making a dangerous crossing of the Mississippi river within an inch of being swept away by the icy water. The journey proved to be well worth the hassle and the danger. The Adventists in Waukon were revived and recommitted their lives to service.

John Andrews continued working in Waukon and preaching in the surrounding area for two years after the Whites’ visit. During those years he and Angeline had a son, Charles Melville, born October 5th, 1857. Later on September 29th, 1861 they had a daughter Mary.

In 1862 the Andrews family moved to New York State where John was busy holding tent meetings. Angeline made the trip from Waukon alone with the two children. Charles was five and Mary just 17 months old. They traveled to New York via Battle Creek where they spent a few days with Angeline’s sister Harriet and her husband Uriah Smith. When they finally reached New York and John, Angeline and Charles were overjoyed to be reunited with him but Mary didn’t remember her father because he had been away preaching and traveling for most of her short life. Her first response to him was fear but after a period of adjustment and lots of quality time together Mary bonded with her father.

Adversity And Advancement

In 1863 tragedy touched the little family when they had another little girl added to their family only to be laid to rest four days after her birth. A year later, Carrie Matilda, a fourth child was born but she too died only a month after her birth of dysentery. Both babies were buried in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York. About the time that his daughter Carrie died John Andrews was asked to visit the Provost Marshal General in Washington D.C. to request non-combatant status on behalf of Seventh-Day Adventists. John spent several weeks in Washington speaking to members of President Lincoln’s administration explaining to them the reasons behind the denomination’s request and answering any questions they might have had. Finall,y after weeks of tactful and diplomatic negotiations Seventh-Day Adventists were allowed to apply for non-combatant status.

Then in 1867, John Andrews was elected President of the General Conference and then re-elected in 1868. While he was president of the General Conference the first Seventh-Day Adventist camp meeting was organised in Michigan in 1868. Writing to the members of the denomination in the Review and Herald Elder Andrews encouraged them to “bring a hungry heart” urging them “come up to this feast, brethren”

The camp  meeting proved to be a joyful time of fellowship and spiritual nourishment for members and leaders alike. Every night when the campers had retired to their tents for the night Elder Andrews would visit each tent with a lamp in his hand. Stopping by the tent he would ask “Is everything alright? Do you need anything?” If anyone did happen to need something Elder Andrews dutifully went and fetched what was needed. It is one of the most touching accounts of the love and watchcare demonstrated by the President of the General Conference towards the members of his flock.

John Andrews did a considerable amount of travelling with James and Ellen White and they formed a close friendship. Commenting on John Andrews and the relationship they shared with him James White wrote “Brother Andrews is a man of God. He is a close Bible Student. He talks with God and shares largely of the Holy Spirit direct from the throne. Brother and Sister White often find relief in counseling with Brother Andrews and listening to words of wisdom from his lips”

In 1871 John spent a considerable amount of time revising and expanded his classic book The History of the Sabbath. In order to assist him in this endeavour James White solicited funds from over 200 people to provide Andrews with the library he would need to complete the work. Elder Andrews installed himself in the Boston area to work on his book and his brother-in-law and close friend Uriah Smith left his responsibilities at the Review and Herald and spent 13 weeks in Boston helping him with the research for the book. They all concluded that the expense and effort was well worth it when the book was finally released.

Then in February 1872, Angeline Andrews suffered a massive paralytic stroke that left her right arm useless and her speech impaired. A few weeks later, seeming to have improved she was preparing to go outdoors for a short walk. While John was helping her into her coat she collapsed and passed away the next morning, March 19th, 1872. Paying tribute to her in the midst of his grief Elder Andrews wrote in the Review “ I here bear record to the fact that she has done the utmost in her power to help me go out to labour in the cause of God and had never once complained while I have remained long absent. During the entire period of our married life, no unkind word ever passed between us and no vexed feelings ever existed in our hearts”

Elder Andrews was grief stricken after his wife’s death at the relatively young age of 48. After hre death he moved his family to South Lancaster, Massachusetts and when he traveled the children stayed with the Harris family.

Missionary To Europe

At the General Conference session of 1874, John Andrews accepted the call to become the denomination’s first missionary overseas. Writing about the appointment Ellen White told the European brethren “We have sent you the ablest man in our ranks.” Elder Andrews, accompanied by Charles 16 and Mary 12 set sail for Europe shortly after. They docked in London, taking the train from London to Paris where they were met by Ademar Vuilleumier who hosted them in his home in Neuchatel, Switzerland. They lived in Neuchatel for two years.

The Andrews family immediately embraced the awesome task before them. Charles began to learn the ropes of the printing business from the bottom up while also learning French and German. Commenting on his son Elder Andrews wrote that Charles was steady and quiet and seemed to enjoy spending time with his father rather than hanging around with other young people his own age.

Meanwhile Mary began to learn French, soaking it up so quickly and so efficiently that before long she was copy editing her father’s work in the new paper “Les Signes Des Temps.” So dedicated were the three Andrews to their work of learning French that they made a pact between them to only speak French in conversing with one another. In his report to the General Conference in 1875 Elder Andrews revealed that he had discovered other Sabbath keepers throughout Europe making special mention of a large group of Sabbath keepers he had found in Russia. Soon after the General Conference voted to establish a printing office in Europe and plans were laid to raise $10,000 for the press. James and Ellen White pledged the first $1000 “for the mission and the press in Europe”

From Neuchatel, the Andrews family moved to Basel owning to the fact that the best printer in Switzerland was housed there. It was in Basel in 1876 that the first copy of Les Signes Des Temps was printed and published. Elder Andrews divided his time in Europe between writing and personal work among the people. Both these endeavors motivated him to learn both French and German as quickly and as fluently as possible.

Three years after arriving in Europe John fell ill with pneumonia. The doctor who was summoned to treat him was appalled at his thin emaciated state exclaiming “why this man is starving to death!” While shouldering the heavy burden of moving the work forward in Europe, Elder Andrews neglected his own physical well being and that of his children as well. In order to save money and ensure that the maximum amount of funds was channeled into the work, Andrews took only the smallest stipend which covered the bare minimum in terms of living expenses. They lived on thin cabbage soup and white bread, supplemented by potatoes and graham porridge. They skimped on milk and butter and barely ate any fruit. In addition to all of this, their living conditions were unsanitary.

The arrival of more workers from the United States helped matters considerably. Elder and Mrs. William Ings and Miss Maud Sisley arrived in Basel and Mrs. Ings took over the cooking and housekeeping, writing to Mrs. White “We can find everything here necessary to live hygienically and since we have a stove to bake our bread we are happy”

In 1878 Elder Andrews attended the General Conference session and took Mary with him because he was certain that she had contracted tuberculosis. As soon as he arrived at the Battle Creek Sanitarium his fear were confirmed and he spent Mary’s last days keeping a vigil by her bedside. On November 27, 1878, Mary Andrews passed to her rest at just 17 years of age. The grief-stricken father buried her beside her mother and sisters in Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York.

Alone in Europe, Charles wrote to his father “Our separation will be but short and then if faithful we shall meet our loved ones. So Pa, don’t feel discouraged. We pray much for you”. It was a difficult time for both of them. Ellen White wrote to John “we deeply sympathize with you in your great sorrow but we sorrow not as those who have no hope. Mary, dear precious child is at rest. She was the companion of your sorrows and disappointed hopes. Through faith’s discerning eye, you may anticipate your Mary, with her mother and other members of your family answering the call of the life giver and coming forth from their prison house triumphant over death. The Lord loves you my dear brother. He loves you.”

Elder Andrews remained in America for a year after Mary’s death before making his way back to Europe. On his way back to Switzerland he fell ill in Glasgow and it was three months before he could return to Basel. Back in Basel he never fully recovered and was too weak to work, dictating letters and articles and conducting church business from his bed.

His health continued to decline and he soon found out that he had contracted tuberculosis, possibly from his close contact with Mary during her illness and death. The church rallied to pray for him and J.N. Loughborough, at that time serving in England, travelled to Switzerland to anoint him. Meanwhile, S.N. Haskell was sent to Europe to help Elder Andrews with the work in there. In October 1883, John Andrews passed peacefully to his rest as his ministering brethren prayed at his bedside.

His example for faithfulness and whole hearted service to God is a witness to each of us to not only take up our cross but to take it up with joyful earnest hearts, in the full hope of hastening the coming of our Lord. John Andrews was the ablest man in our ranks because he was a man that was deeply connected to the throne of God. May we have that same level of consecration in each of our lives today.    

Further Reading

  • 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)
  • Robinson, V.E. (2004) – J.N. Andrews: Flame For The Lord
  • Collins, N.J. (2005) – Heartwarming Stories of Adventist Pioneers (Book 1)
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)