Uriah Smith’s Beginnings

Lying on the kitchen table Uriah Smith tried to calm himself down. He had known for some time that this moment would come. It was inevitable. But anticipating it and living through it were two completely different things altogether.

When he was four years old he had gotten seriously ill. Thankfully the illness had passed but it left him with a cankerous and gnawing ulcer on his leg which slowly began to wreak havoc on the limb. By the time he was 12 both he and his parents realized the inevitable reality before them.

The offending limb had to go.

Now as he lay on the table, taking in deep breaths, he listened to his mother moving quietly around him helping the doctor with his preparations. Rebekah Smith had summoned Dr. Amos Twitchell a noted surgeon who didn’t live far from the Smith home in West Wilton, New Hampshire. Dr. Twitchell was known for his speed and accuracy but that was cold comfort to Uriah.

Raising his head a notch he stared down at the offending limb that had brought him to this point. It lay useless on the table, shriveled and pale. His knee was stiff and refused to bend. Sighing he laid his head back against the hardwood beneath him.

He was waiting patiently for Dr. Twitchell to work his magic.

“Are you ready Mrs. Smith?” Uriah heard the doctor ask his mother. Rebekah Smith’s mumbled reply was too muffled for Uriah to hear.

A moment later Uriah saw his mother’s strained face hovering over him. She smoothed back his hair and offered him the ghost of a smile before gently but firmly pinning him onto the table.

Dr. Twitchell efficiently and accurately amputated Uriah’s leg without the use of an anesthetic. The operation took 20 minutes.

Poor Uriah lived to the tell the tale and he didn’t seem to be any worse for the wear. The trauma didn’t seem to leave behind any lasting emotional or psychological effects and he was soon roaming around on a prosthetic limb.

The operation took place about a year after Uriah had accepted the Advent message in the early summer of 1844 and after the great disappointment. Rebekah Smith along with two of her four children, Annie and Uriah had been baptized into the Millerite movement that summer.

The Smith family were financially comfortable and Uriah was extremely well educated. He studied at the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire for three years from 1848-1851. The Academy was a Protestant private school and one of the oldest nurseries for classical education in America. While he was here Uriah excelled not only academically but morally and spiritually as well.

After he graduated in 1851 Uriah had plans to go to Harvard but the death of his father forced him to change track and he accepted a job as a public school teacher for a short period of time. Not only was Uriah academically gifted, but he was also a talented artist, inventor, and innovator. His bird’s eye view sketch of West Wilton remains the town’s earliest lithographic representation.

While he was working as a teacher Uriah attended one of the Sabbatarian Adventist Conferences held in Washington, New Hampshire in 1852. Here he heard James and Ellen White speak for the first time. They clearly explained the reasons behind the disappointment and unpacked the truths about the Sabbath and the 3rd angel’s message. It was a turning point in Uriah’s life. Though he had been baptized in the summer of 1844, the great disappointment had dealt a crushing blow to his faith. Discouraged he had drifted away from the movement and focused his attention on his academic pursuits in the hope of making a name for himself.

The Good Ol’ Review

James and Ellen White’s lectures touched his heart and reconverted him. After 3 months of further careful study, Uriah Smith put his hand to the plow and never looked back. Not only did accept the Sabbath and the third angel’s message but he also dedicated his life to full-time ministry. Within six months of the 1852 conference, he had joined the Review and Herald office staff at 124, Mount Hope Avenue in Rochester New York. He turned down a high paying job as the headmaster of Mount Vernon Academy in order to do so. The Review and Herald was only able to offer him room and board without pay but he loved the work.

While he was in Rochester he lived with 19 other workers, including James and Ellen White in the house on Mount Hope Avenue. The entire operation was run on a shoestring budget with a little Washington hand press that cranked out the first issues of the Review and Herald. It took three days to produce an issue of the paper on the press. The entire paper was then put together manually. John Loughborough punched holes and George Amadon used them to sew the paper together. At the end of the production line was Uriah Smith with his trusty pocket knife who would trim the edges of the paper.

Smith was known for his dry sense of humor and literary talent. He married Harriet Stevens the sister of Angeline Stevens who became John Andrews’ wife. Smith had four sons and two daughters and was able to provide his family with a comfortable life from the money he made by patenting his inventions.  In 1863 he patented a more flexible prosthetic limb that allowed the wearer to kneel. Shortly after that he improved the design of the classic school desk and patented that as well. In addition to both these inventions, there were six other patents that bore his name.

When he was just 23 years old Uriah Smith became the resident Editor of the Review and Herald, a position he would hold for much of the rest of his life. He wrote over 4000 Editorials for the paper and more than 20 books and tracts including the classic commentary “Thoughts on Daniel and Revelation”.

As Editor of the Review, Uriah became a pastoral figure for the scattered flock of thousands of Seventh-Day Adventists in the 19th century. His editorials in response to letters provided continued guidance and encouragement to the small communities of Adventists around the United States.

Smith also loved to sing and was always ready and willing to lead out in singing during Sabbath School and Divine Worship. He was also a gifted poet and hymn writer. In fact, one of his earliest submissions to the Review and Herald was a 35,000-word poem which he sent to James White, who was then the editor of the paper. Despite its mammoth size, White liked the poem and published it in segments over a period of five months. Smith wrote the words to four hymns in total; O Brother Be Faithful, O Happy Day, Passed Away and Dark Is The Hour. He also assisted in the preparation of several denominational hymnals working closely with James White and J.N. Andrews.

Yours In The Blessed Hope

Smith was a fairly even-keeled man and was rarely anxious or excited. He was often silent in meetings and under criticism, rarely retaliating with harsh or unwise words. Despite this, he had his fair share of conflicts, notably with A.T. Jones and E.J. Waggoner in the 1880s over the controversial topic of the law in Galatians and the 10 tribes mentioned in Daniel 2. The latter conflict was mainly between Smith and Jones during the 1888 General Conference Session in Minneapolis. During this time Smith went through a period of spiritual backsliding but he rallied, repented and continued faithfully at his post of duty, serving God wholeheartedly.

In early 1903 fire struck the Review and Herald Publishing Association in Battle Creek and the building was burned to the ground. Commenting on the tragedy Smith wrote “in the shadow of great calamity we are of good courage…fire has wiped from the face of the earth the visible symbol of what has long been regarded as an object of love and veneration. But God lives and his truth endures.”

Smith had been present when the work began in Rochester and had seen it grow to encompass a full printing operation with the latest equipment and a circulation of 15,000 copies at the time of the fire. Soon after the press was destroyed it was decided that the Publishing House would move to Washington D.C. Unfortunately, Smith did not move with his beloved publishing house.

On March 6th, 1903 while he was walking to work Smith collapsed near the Battle Creek Tabernacle. He died a few hours later from a massive stroke. Battle Creek was in a state of shock and the foreman of the press was given the word to stop the presses. The next edition of the Review and Herald carried a black-bordered photograph of Smith on the front page, a distinction that was never before given to any other Adventist Pioneer. A poem, written by his sister Annie White, before her death was also printed in his honor. His funeral was held on March 8th, 1903 at the Battle Creek Tabernacle. It was the largest funeral in Battle Creek since that of James White in 1881. A.G Daniells and W.W. Prescott spoke at the funeral and a quartet sang a hymn written by Frank Belden an hour after Smith’s death.

The last words he wrote were in an address he planned to deliver at the General Conference Session of 1903. The last part of the address reads as follows; “I am with you in the endeavor to send forth in this generation this gospel of the kingdom, for a witness to all nations. And when this is completed it will signal the coronation of our coming king, Yours In The Blessed Hope, Uriah Smith.

He never had a chance to speak the words. They were found in a sheaf of manuscripts he carried in his pocket the morning he died.

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