S.N. Haskell: The Formative Years

Stephen Nelson Haskell was born on April 22, 1833, in Oakham Massachusetts. His parents were Congregationalists and when he was 15, Stephen was converted and joined his parents as a member of the same church.

That same year he was hired as a farm hand by an elderly farmer named How. How’s wife had passed away, leaving him with a disabled daughter to care for. How’s daughter Mary was almost forty years old when Stephen Haskell came to work on the How farm.

When Haskell was seventeen pushing eighteen, How died. On his deathbed How asked the young farm hand if he would be willing to take care of his only daughter Mary, who would be left without anyone to care for her. Haskell agreed and shortly after he asked Mary to marry him. He was eighteen and she was forty when they tied the knot.

In order to support himself and his wife, Haskell learned to make soap. A year later in 1853 at the age of nineteen, he heard his first Advent Sermon on the Second Coming of Jesus. He was so enthused by it that the man sitting next to him challenged him to preach. Haskell accepted the challenge and from that point forward he became an itinerant preacher while also managing to continue his soap making business to provide himself with an income.

In 1853 while en route to Canada on a preaching trip he stopped in Springfield Massachusetts. Here he met a man named William Saxby who shared the truth about the Sabbath with him. Saxby passed him a tract titled “Elihu On The Sabbath” which had been published by James White at the Review and Herald printing press. Haskell read the tract and shortly thereafter he started keeping the Sabbath.

A year later he attended a first day Adventist conference where he eagerly tired to preach the Sabbath to the delegates there. Their first reaction was to repulse his efforts but Haskell was undaunted. He was finally able to convince Thomas Hale of Huberston regarding the Sabbath and the Hale family became Sabbath keepers shortly thereafter. Later that year Joseph Bates visited the Haskells and shared more of the truths surrounding the three angels message with them. Convinced by Bates’ clear exposition of the Bible they chose to be baptised as Sabbatarian Adventists. 

Faithful In Service

In 1864 the Haskells moved to South Lancaster Massachusetts. While they lived there Stephen Haskell gathered together some of the ladies of the church who had a burden for their children and formed a prayer group. This prayer group started with four members and soon expanded to forty-five. In 1869 they organised themselves into the Vigilant Missionary Society, which was essentially a tract and missionary society that mailed out tracts and papers to people and offered prayer on behalf of those who needed it. This would be the precursor of what is now known as The Adventist Book Center.

Recognising his gifts as a preacher, administrator and man of action James White ordained Haskell in 1870 and made him president of the newly formed New England Conference which covered New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. For a period of time, Haskell was president of both the New England and California Conferences. He then founded South Lancaster Academy in 1882. This school would go on to become Atlantic Union College.

In 1874 when Ellen White had a vision regarding the global expansion of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church Haskell began planning a mission trip to Australia. More than ten years later in 1885, he led a small group of missionaries to Australia and New Zealand to establish a Seventh-Day Adventist presence down under. He was successful and organized the first Seventh-Day Adventist church in 1886 in Melbourne, Australia.

In 1889 he travelled across the world with Percy T. Magan in tow as his assistant. They hopscotched through South Africa, India, China, Japan and Australia. In China and Japan, they had the privilege of baptising the first converts to Adventism in those lands.

In 1894, at the age of 81, Mary Haskell passed to her rest. Stephen Haskell was grief-stricken and wrote to Ellen White “I loved her and she loved me”. He struggled to move on after his wife’s death but rallied and continued to forge ahead in the service of God. Returning to Australia he helped found Avondale College in Cooranbong. Shortly after that in 1897, he married Hetty Hurd, a Bible Instructor and a deeply spiritual woman. They served together in Australia and the United States, setting up an effective city mission in New York City in 1903.

The Haskells were working in Nashville when they got word that Ellen White had passed to her rest in 1915. Stephen Haskell spoke at sister White’s funeral, delivering a message filled with hope and triumph. The later years of his life were not as active as they had been and this was something that bothered him.

In 1922 at the age of 89, he passed peacefully to his rest and was buried in Napa, California beside his first wife Mary.

Stephen Haskell was a powerhouse. At once an administrator and an evangelist, a prolific author and a meticulous organiser. He was a man of varied gifts and strengths, all of which he poured out, unhindered, for the service of God.

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)
  • White, A.L. (1983) – Ellen White – The Australian Years
  • Collins, N.J. (2005) – Heartwarming Stories of Adventist Pioneers (Book 2)