Frances Howland Is Stricken

It was springtime in Maine and Ellen Harmon found herself enjoying the beauty of the blossoming countryside as her buggy wound its way down country lanes towards her destination of Tosham. She was on her way to the home of Elder and Mrs. Stockbridge Howland and she was eagerly looking forward to the visit.

It was the spring of 1845, just five or six short months after the disappointment of October 1844. Ellen was only just settling into her role as the Lord’s messenger and the work was not only exhausting but also daunting. The Howlands were Millerite Adventists like herself and spending time with them was sure to lift her spirits. She was close friends with their daughter Frances Howland as well which added an extra perk to the visit.

When she and her traveling companions arrived at the Howland home they were pleasantly surprised to find a small gathering of Advent believers huddled in the living room. Among them was Ellen’s traveling companion and friend James White.

Her happiness at seeing the group of Advent believers was short lived however when she learned that Frances Howland was in fact extremely ill. Hurrying upstairs to Frances’ bedroom Ellen was shocked to see Frances’ frail form lying in bed.

“Frances?” she whispered hesitantly, pausing in the doorway “Frances?”

“Is that you Ellen?” Frances’ voice was hoarse and extremely faint

Ellen stepped into the room and hurried to Frances’ bedside. Kneeling beside her friend she looked down at her feverishly flushed face and her heart squeezed.

“What happened Frances?” she asked pushing back tears as she saw Frances’ face twist in a spasm of pain.

“Rheumatic fever” Frances rasped trying to lift her hand for emphasis. It was only then that Ellen noticed that both Frances’ hands were swollen to almost double their normal size. So swollen that her joints were not visible.

“I am in so much pain Ellen” Frances gasped. Her lips were dry and cracked. Ellen placed a gentle hand on her forehead and was alarmed.

“Frances, you’re burning up with fever” she whispered

“The doc…doctor says there is nothing more he can do for me,” Frances said feebly “Will you…will you pray for me, Ellen?”

“Of course! Dear Frances….of course, I will pray for you” Ellen looked down at the still form of her friend, marking how Frances struggled to breathe. Standing up she made her way downstairs to the parlor where the rest of the group were gathered.

They were all kneeling in front of the fireplace ready to pray.

I Believe

“Won’t you join us, Sister Harmon?” James White said motioning for her to come into the room.

“How is Frances?” Mrs. Howland asked looking up at Ellen. Ellen shook her head sadly “She is very sick” was all she could manage to say.

Elder Howland nodded “The doctor has given up hope,” he said sadly, squeezing his wife’s hand as she choked back a sob.

“Do you believe the Lord can heal Frances? In answer to the prayer of faith?” Ellen didn’t know who asked the question but the moment she heard it her eyes snapped sharply to take in Elder Howland’s face.

“I…” he hesitated a moment “I will try to believe” he finally stammered. There was a long pause and the silence hung thickly in the air, heavy with expectation.

Finally, Elder Howland spoke again “I do believe” he finally said, his eyes lighting up and the corners of his mouth lifting ever so slightly “I do believe that the Lord can heal our Frances in answer to the prayer of faith”

“Then let’s pray” someone called out and immediately the group closed their eyes and began a season of fervent prayer. They claimed Matthew 7:7; “ask and ye shall receive” and pleaded with God to restore Frances to health.

When there was a pause one of the young men in the group spoke quietly “is there a sister here who is willing to go to Frances and bid her rise in the name of the Lord?”

Before he could finish speaking Mercy Curtis was on her feet and heading for the stairs. She made her way to Frances’ room and opened the door gently. Taking a deep breath she walked into the room and laid her hand on Frances. “Sister Frances,” she said in a firm voice “in the name of the Lord, arise and be whole”

Frances eyes flew open and fixed themselves on Mercy’s face. For a moment there was wide-eyed fear and then a look of calm assurance spread over her features. Frances sat up, pulled aside the bed covers and climbed out of bed. Lifting up her hands she inspected them and then twirling around showed them to Mercy.

“I am well” she whispered joyfully “Oh Mercy! I am well” she laughed and grabbed Mercy hugging her hard. The two girls laughed joyfully and began to praise God for his providence.

Frances hurriedly changed her clothes and bounded down the stairs. The group in the living room erupted into a full-blown celebration as they saw Frances coming down the stairs looking as though she hadn’t been sick a day in her life.

There was a season of thanksgiving and laughter. Pure joy bubbled through the entire home that had only hours before been thick with despair.

Completely Whole

The next day they all crowded around the big farmhouse table for a hearty breakfast. Mrs. Howland was only too happy to feed the multitude of young Millerites, most of them under the age of 25. After breakfast, they lounged back in their chairs, dishes strewn across the table, cutlery folded on their plates and gazed expectantly at James White. He pulled out his bible and flipped it open to the book of James and started reading in chapter 5.

They were interrupted when the door burst open and a man stood pale-faced in the doorway, his eyes darting frantically around the room.

It was the doctor.

He had driven over to check on Frances, almost certain that she had worsened to the point of no return overnight. Not wanting to bother the Howlands he had made his way up to Frances’ bedroom to check on her. Opening the door he stared in dismay at her neatly made bed.

Surely…surely she hadn’t…

He felt the blood drain from his face as he rushed downstairs in a panic. Where was she? She couldn’t be moved in her condition, why she couldn’t even raise her head…which meant only one thing.

But surely they would have called him if that had happened.

Now he stood pale and shaking the doorway, his eyes flickering away from the jovial face of Elder Howland in confusion and settling on the face of none other than Frances herself.

“Ah….so…so Frances is feeling b..b..better then” he managed to choke out

“Yes,” he father said grinning “the Lord has healed her”

As if on cue James White continued reading from the passage of scripture he had opened  “Is there any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord and the prayer of faith shall save the sick and the Lord shall raise him up”

A few days later Frances Howland asked to be baptized. It was a cold day and the water she was baptized in was freezing but the girl who had just been healed of Rheumatic fever went into the water joyfully and came up a new creature. She never suffered from a bout of Rheumatic fever for the rest of her life.

Further Reading and Citations

  • White, E.G. (1888) – Life Sketches
  • Collins, N.J. (2005) – Heartwarming Stories of Adventist Pioneers
  • Burt, M.D. (2011) – Adventist Pioneer Places (New York and New England)

Recommended Listening 

  • Pathways to the Pioneers – Volume 7, Episode 1 (Healings of Howland and Hyde)