The Early Years
Ellen, with her twin sister Elizabeth, was born November 26, 1827, to Robert and Eunice Harmon. With eight children in the family, home was an interesting and busy place. The family lived on a small farm near the village of Gorham, Maine, in the northeastern part of the United States. However, a few years after the birth of the twins, Robert Harmon gave up farming, and, with his family, moved into the city of Portland, about twelve miles east.
During her childhood Ellen assisted about the home and helped her father in the manufacture of hats. At the age of nine, while returning home from school one afternoon, she was severely injured in the face by a stone thrown by a classmate. For three weeks she was unconscious, and in the years that followed she suffered greatly as a result of the serious injury to her nose. Ellen's formal education ended abruptly, and it seemed to all that the formerly promising little girl could not live long. In the year 1840, Ellen, with her parents, attended a Methodist camp meeting at Buxton, Maine, and there, at the age of 12, she gave her heart to God. On June 26, 1842, at her request she was baptized by immersion in Casco Bay, Portland. That same day she was received as a member of the Methodist Church.
The Advent Message
In 1840 and 1842 Ellen, with other members of the family, attended Adventist meetings in Portland, accepted the views presented by William Miller and his associates, and confidently looked for Christ's imminent return. Ellen was an earnest missionary worker, seeking to win her youthful friends and doing her part in heralding the Advent message.
The keenness of the Great Disappointment that Jesus did not return to earth on October 22, 1844 was not lessened by Ellen's youth, and she, with others, studied the Bible and prayed earnestly for light and guidance in the succeeding days of perplexity. When many were wavering or were abandoning their Adventist experience, Ellen Harmon, one morning late in December, joined four other women in family worship at the home of a fellow believer in South Portland. Heaven seemed near to the praying group, and as the power of God rested on Ellen she witnessed in vision the travels of the Advent people to the city of God. (Early Writings, pp. 13-20.) As the 17-year-old girl reluctantly and tremblingly related this vision to the Adventist group in Portland, they accepted it as light from God. In response to a later vision, Ellen traveled with friends and relatives from place to place to relate to the scattered companies of Adventists that which had been revealed to her in the first and in succeeding revelations. Those were not easy days for the Adventists who had been disappointed. Not only did they meet scoffing and ridicule from the world at large, but among themselves they were not united, and fanaticism of every sort arose in their ranks. But God, through revelation, opened up to Ellen Harmon the outcome of some of these fanatical moves, and she was charged with the responsibility of reproving wrong and pointing out error. This work she found difficult to perform.
Marriage of James White and Ellen Harmon
On a trip to Orrington, Maine, Ellen met a young Adventist preacher, James White, then 23 years of age. As their labors occasionally brought the two together, there sprang up an affection that led to their being united in marriage late in August, 1846.
During the first few weeks following their marriage, James and Ellen gave earnest study to a 46-page tract published by Joseph Bates, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The tract, entitledSeventh-day Sabbath, set forth the Biblical evidence for the sacredness of the seventh day. Convinced that the views set forth were scriptural, they began to keep Saturday as the Sabbath. Some six months later, on April 3, 1847, Ellen White was shown in vision the law of God in the heavenly sanctuary, with a halo of light around the fourth commandment. This view brought a clearer understanding of the importance of the Sabbath doctrine, and confirmed the confidence of the Adventists in it. (Early Writings,pp. 32-35.) The early days of James and Ellen White's married life were filled with poverty and sometimes distress. Workers in the Advent movement had no one but themselves to depend upon for financial support, so James White divided his time between preaching and earning a living in the forest, on the railroad, or in the hayfield. A son, Henry, was born to the Whites on August 26, 1847. His presence brought joy and comfort to the young mother, but Ellen White soon found she must leave her child with trusted friends and continue her work in traveling and bearing the messages God had entrusted to her. The next few years she wrote extensively, traveled widely to visit the “scattered flock,” and attended conferences.
Beginning to Publish
While at Rocky Hill, Connecticut, in the summer of 1849, James White began publication of The Present Truth, an eight-page semimonthly paper. The later numbers carried articles from Ellen White’s pen setting forth prophetic views of the future of the church and sounding notes of warning and counsel.
The year 1851 marked the appearance of Mrs. White’s first book, a paper-covered work of 64 pages entitled, A Sketch of the Christian Experience and Views of Ellen G. White. This early document and its Supplement (1854) are now found on pages 11-127 of the book Early Writings. The days of the beginning of the Review and Herald in 1850 and the Youth’s Instructor in 1852, the securing of a hand press, then the publishing of the papers in Rochester, New York, during the years 1852-1855, were strenuous and trying. Money was scarce. Sickness and bereavement played their part in bringing distress and discouragement. But there were brighter days ahead, and when in 1855 the Advent believers in Michigan invited the Whites to Battle Creek and promised to build a little printing house, the tide seemed to turn for the better.
The Move to Battle Creek
In November, 1855, the Review and Herald Publishing Association, with the hand press and other printing equipment, was moved from rented quarters in Rochester, New York, to the newly erected building in Battle Creek, Michigan, so liberally provided by the Advent believers.
A few days after Elder and Mrs. White, and those associated with them in the publishing work, arrived at Battle Creek, a conference was held to consider plans for spreading the Advent message. At the close of this general meeting a number of matters of importance to the church at large were revealed to Ellen White. These she wrote out and read to the Battle Creek church. The church members recognized that this message would benefit all the groups of believers, so they voted that it should be published. In due time there came from the re-established press a 16-page tract bearing the title, Testimony for the Church(Testimonies, vol. 1, pp. 113-126), the first of a series of writings that in 55 years totaled nearly 5,000 pages, as published in the nine volumes of Testimonies for the Church. The record of the next few years shows Elder and Mrs. White establishing the publishing work and church organization, and traveling here and there by train, wagon, and sleigh. It is a record of suffering from severe cold on long trips through sparsely settled country, and of God’s special protection from many dangers. It is a record with discouraging features as attacks were directed against the work, and also one of great encouragement as the power of God brought victory into the lives of the Sabbathkeepers and success to the work of those who were leading out in advancing the Advent cause.
The “Great Controversy” Vision
At an Ohio funeral service held on a Sunday afternoon in March, 1858, in the Lovett's Grove (now Bowling Green) public school, a vision of the ages-long conflict between Christ and His angels and Satan and his angels was given to Mrs. White. Two days later Satan attempted to take her life, that she might not present to others what had been revealed to her. Sustained, however, by God in doing the work entrusted to her, she wrote out a description of the scenes that had been presented to her, and the 219-page book Spiritual Gifts, volume 1, The Great Controversy Between Christ and His Angels and Satan and His Angels, was published in the summer of 1858. The volume was well received and highly prized because of its clear picture of the contending forces in the great conflict, touching high points of the struggle but dealing more fully with the closing scenes of this earth's history. (See Early Writings, pp. 133-295.
The Home in Battle Creek
Ellen White's diaries for the late 1850s reveal that not all her time was devoted to writing and public work. Household duties, friendly contacts with neighbors, especially those in need, claimed her attention, and occasionally she helped to fold and stitch papers and pamphlets when there was a rush of work at the Review office.
By the fall of 1860 the White family numbered six, with four boys ranging from a few weeks to 13 years of age. The youngest child, Herbert, however, lived only a few months, his death bringing the first break in the family circle. The culminating efforts to establish church and conference organizations, with the demands for much writing, traveling, and personal labor, occupied the early years of the 1860s. The climax was reached in the organization of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in May, 1863.